Bruce McEwen is a 63-year-old ski bum turned baking powder salesman who had an idea 15 years ago—to be the first person to ski natural snow in all 50 states—and upon completing Hawaii later this year, he will have finally completed his mission. When McEwen learned from the Guinness Book of World Records that no one had before accomplished the feat, his fun idea turned into an epic journey, stretching from Fargo, North Dakota, to Century, Florida, all with a pair of ski boots along the way.
I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and I didn't really start skiing until the time I was 14. Then, I went to school in Utah where I really dove right in. When you go to school in Utah, you learn how to ski.
After working at Snowbird after school, I moved to Southern California when I got married. When I went out to look at Christmas trees one year, it was 94 degrees. I looked at my wife and said, "I can't do this." So we ended up moving to Wrightwood, a small little town in the mountains next to Mountain High ski resort. I started out there as a ski tech, and by the second year I got in as a pro patroller, which is what I did for the next 16 years.
I had skied about 19 states just having fun when I realized nobody had ever skied all 50 states. And if they had, I was going to do it anyway. From there I started picking four or five states a year that I would visit and ski. That was probably a good 15 years ago.
I would get some strange looks lugging my skis and boots around the Southern states. In North Carolina, I went to Beech Mountain, near Boone. When I was taking the shuttle bus to the hill, the driver asked where we were all from. When I said Utah, the entire bus went quiet and one guy asked, "What are you doing here?"
I make a living selling baking powder for a company called Clabber Girl. That gets me more questions than carrying my boots everywhere. It pays the bills and makes sure we have the insurance in case something happens when I'm doing something I probably shouldn't.
Following a storm into the South once, we drove into Louisiana after hitting Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. We get over the border and immediately pull into a park in this quaint little town. I'd bet there were no more than 20 houses in it. I boot up, grab my skis and start up the hill. As my wife takes out the camera to take pictures, she hears a low guttural "Helloooo." I look over and my first thought is "Uh oh, we have a problem." There was a man wearing a one piece, orange, insulated hunter's outfit. He had long gray hair coming out of the hood and a gray beard down to his chest. He looked a little rough around the edges, so I took off and skied up to them. As I popped out of my ski boots and walked up I said, "I bet you've never seen anyone ski here before," and he just broke into a big toothless grin. We stayed and talked for nearly 40 minutes. As we drove out of the parking lot, my wife realized she never took a picture of him. My only regret in all of this is not having a record of that memory.
For the Wizard of the Wasatch, the only life worth living is one full of skiing.
Florida has by far been the hardest state to get. I knew I was going to have to beat a storm in, because once it starts snowing, there's barely any way in or out. Florida only gets snow every two or three years, so when I saw it on the Weather Channel, I had to go. I flew into New Orleans and drove across the border to find a good park with some elevation before the snow hit. The Weather Channel was predicting snow between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., so I set my alarm for 1:30 a.m. and woke up to cars covered in snow. Skiing on a hill next to a church, I got enough turns in to justify skiing natural snow in Florida. I got number 49.
Hawaii is the last on the list. I fly Southwest a lot for business, and they're going to start flying to Hawaii later this year and I can do it on points. I guess I'm still a cheap old ski bum at heart.
Usually, Mauna Kea gets a good dump in December. They don't have any lifts, so you rent a 4WD and go up the road and take turns doing shuttle laps. I could go over there now and ski it and be done, and I could have skied it any time, but I didn't want Florida to be my last state. When I finish in Hawaii, it's going to be a big moment, and I can't think of a better place to do it. I want a Hawaiian powder day to bring it all home.
It's been incredible meeting all of these amazing and giving people along the way. I show up a lot of places with just boots and find somewhere to rent skis. A lot of times, they’d just rent me the skis for free, I didn’t even have to sign a waiver. It has part to do with what I'm doing, but mostly just shows how great the people are that work in this industry. No matter where I go, I meet good people.
During my journey I've spent a lot of time skiing with people a third my age. When I tell them I'm in my 60's, they always get a smile across their face and say, "Yes! There is hope!"
It will officially be a world record. To some people it won't be that big of a deal, but for me it's just been the joy in the journey more than the end result. I've just had a lot of fun doing it.