From bump-crushing roots at Wisconsin's Wilmot Mountain to the world of big mountain tele skiing, Dave Scanlan has always appreciated the underdog. Perhaps that's why, after shoveling bumps for the New Canadian Air Force and building lifts for Dopplemayr, the wide-grinning Midwesterner became one of skiing's small hill saviors. In 2010, he cofounded the community ski area advocacy group Mountain Rider's Alliance with ski journeyman Jamie Schectman.
Over the last half-decade, the group has become the guardian angel of the little guy, handling everything from resort consulting to free marketing. Scanlan's approach has been hands on, moving from Alaska to transform Maine's Mount Abram into one of the greenest ski areas in the country, equipped with solar panels, airless snowguns that use less energy, and wood-pellet heating systems. Last winter, Scanlan took his signature dreadlocks back to Alaska's Eaglecrest Ski Area, where the 40-year-old hopes to spread his message to skiers: Bigger is not better.
Kade: How did you manage to get from the Flatlands to the Last Frontier?
Dave: I grew up skiing at Wilmot in Wisconsin, 230 vertical feet. That place got us infected and bred some amazing talent. At Wilmot, you're either a bump skier or a stick dodger—I liked the bumps.
But Alaska was always in my blood. In the summer of '99, I didn't have any attachments. I had learned about the tie-dye shirt business the summer before, so I decided to make a go of it up there. I started a T-shirt company in Alaska, found the little town of Hope, and fell in love with the big mountain scenery. I bought a cabin, met my wife, and the whole time kept thinking, "Good Lord, don't pinch me now."
A guy that gave me a job in Park City, he and his wife made tie-dye shirts as their fallback. I traveled with them one spring and they made a bunch of tie-dye shirts at a campground on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. That's basically how they put gas in the tank to continue this ski journey. That was my first glimpse.
And you turned that into a ski bum career in Alaska?
We were cranking out like 1,000 shirts a week. It was perfect for the ski life. We would go seven days a week, April 1 to December 20. Then we'd ski five days a week from December 20 to April 1. It was really functional.
Why did you give it up for the ski industry?
Skiing is so deep in my veins and I wanted to make my impact on the next generation. My work with MRA gave me a bigger voice.
What's your attraction to the 'little guy?'
My draw is the ability to make an impact and develop relationships at these smaller mountains. With 40,000 to 100,000 skier visits, the pond is small enough to make a big wave.
How were you able to make that happen at Mount Abram?
We helped execute the solar project [co-owner] Matt Hancock helped design that generates three quarters of our total energy.
A lot of the work we've done, we've done for such a low cost because we've always had an eye on repurposing and reusing everything that we possibly can. I think we've proven the power of community.
What was the biggest surprise about East Coast skiing?
We heard about the asshole skiers of the East, but we didn't find them. Maybe that's the people Mount Abram attracts. We're fine with that kind of natural selection.
So why head back to Alaska?
I missed the steep powder, that terrain. Eaglecrest is one of the unknown hidden gems. On the West Coast, you're sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic just to get into the parking lot on a powder day. Eaglecrest is a short flight right from Seattle. People don't realize it even exists.
You've got a pretty serious collection of dreads. What's it like skiing with those things?
They gather a lot of snow, so you have to keep them tucked in. Also, you might need to sanitize your helmet accordingly.
So are dreads the new powder beard?
Maybe the old powder beard.
This interview was first published in the November 2017 (46.3) issue of POWDER. Subscribe here to get our award-winning magazine delivered to your door.