This is the latest installment of Pay It Forward, an interview series designed to find THE guy or girl in every single ski town, everywhere. And the next guy, and the next girl after that. The catch: Each person I interview will recommend the person I talk to next. It's a journey. We'll see where it takes us. Click here for more interviews.
Michele Manning ends every sentence with a contagious giggle. Driving home from Leavenworth, Washington, after celebrating her 33rd birthday, Manning, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, pulled off the freeway somewhere in Oregon to give me a call before she lost cell-phone service on the roads winding high up to the Cascades. Bright, loud bursts of laughter littered our conversation. Karl Kelley said it first when he recommended I speak with Manning next. A lover of the mountains and former competitor on the Freeskiing World Tour, she bounces from place to place, driven by a desire to meet new people and live among snow-covered volcanoes and peaks in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Utah. Here's her story:
So you're living in Oregon this summer?
Yeah, I lived there last summer a little bit, too. For like three or four months or whatever. It's called Elk Lake. It's on the Cascades, just outside of Bend, by Mount Bachelor.
What do you do there?
I bartend. It's a lodge right on the edge of a lake.
Sounds beautiful. How long have you been doing that for?
A couple weeks. I kind of live my life a couple months at a time. I've been living seasonally since I was 18 or so. I discovered I could bartend and make good money and live wherever. I've bounced around from Utah to Alaska to Washington, Oregon, back and forth between those four places for the last 12 years or so.
You go to all these different places. Do you have the travel bug, or what pushes you?
I think it's definitely a travel bug. I just want to see new places. I have always wanted to go all over the place and see everything. I get real itchy when I stay in a place for longer than six months. My real drive—I always find a place with big mountains. Elk Lake is at the base of the Three Sisters. There's like four 10,000-foot volcanoes and you can ski them up until the middle of July. I'm striving for all the volcanoes. I'm trying to summit and ski all the Cascade volcanoes.
When did you start that mission?
Three years ago. Maybe four.
How many volcanoes is that?
I think its somewhere around 24 or 25, starting from Mount Shasta all the way north to where the farthest one is in Canada. I have five left in the U.S. I've summited and skied 18 or 19 of them in the last couple years. That's my goal right now, to finish doing that.
When did you start skiing?
I skied three or four times in high school. My sister would drag me out and write notes so that I could leave school. I moved to Alta and to the Peruvian Lodge in employee housing with my two sisters when I was 18. They're two and four years older than me, and we lived up there together, the three of us, and started skiing and working and just made it our lives.
Three sisters at the Peruvian? You must have gotten some attention.
It was ridiculous. We had so much fun. We all worked the front desk together and we were roommates, too. We lived in a tiny room with bunk beds and a sink in the room and the bathroom was next door and we shared that with however many people—20 people or something. We didn't really ski before. We just thought we wanted to ski because we lived in Salt Lake City and, you know, the "greatest snow on earth" is on our doorstep. It's like, OK, let's go see what this is all about. We all got completely addicted to it.
The Peruvian was a jumping point for you. What other doors opened while you were there?
I started to feel like I wanted to go ski more places. A recruiter from a new hotel in Denali National Park, in Alaska, was walking around to all of the hotels to do interviews and see if anyone wanted to come up there. My sister, Sherry, she's two years older than me, was like, "Hey, do you want to go live in Alaska for the summer?" And I was like, totally.
That was my first love for Alaska. After that, I went back to Alaska for five summers, and then I lived in Girdwood for 18 months.
It sounds like you and your sisters are close.
I have four older sisters and two older brothers. I'm the youngest of seven.
That's a huge family.
I know—nine of us. We used to drive around in my dad's old CJ5 in the desert. It's almost like a clown car when I think about it. Recently, my one sister, Sandra, we've been hiking around Utah a lot, and then I went to Ecuador with my two sisters, and we went for two weeks in May. We hiked a bunch of mountains. We got up to 17,000 feet. It was just so nice to be with my sisters doing something like that. It's great to have sisters.
How would you describe your skiing? What kind of skier are you?
Well, I competed on the Freeskiing World Tour for six years. I started doing that in 2005, and then I retired from competition life. It was super fun, high stress, big mountain skiing. That was a lot of my focus: I ski so I can get stronger so I can compete. Now I'm like, I just want to go hike in the trees and look at the fluffy snow.
So what changed? Why do you ski now, as opposed to why you skied when you were younger?
I was always a competitive person. I wanted to be the best and first for a long time. A lot of it is getting older and realizing I want to do something because I really enjoy it and it really makes you happy. Just in the mountains, or on the river. I think, so far, in my heart and soul, I don't ever want to quit skiing. I want to make it 'till I'm 80, so I can get the free Alta season pass.
Tell me about another moment in your travels.
I lived in an RV in Stevens Pass for the last two winters. Last winter, I lived up there for two months straight without ever really leaving. It was crazy because it snowed so much. Like one of the nights, not this season but last season, it snowed 40 inches overnight. In 12 hours, it snowed 40 inches. The RV was totally buried. The snow was amazing. True bottomless powder, you know? It was insane that day. But it does that a lot up there.
Last question, what defines you as a skier?
I just love to be outside, even if it's going for a short walk. I can't be inside for very long. I get restless. I've been skiing every month of the year. I miss a couple months, but for the last three years, I've skied almost every month of the year. That's what you can do up here in the Pacific Northwest. My skis are currently in my roof box still. I was going to go ski two days ago, but the fires are ridiculous here. So I just went in the river and that was great.
For my next interview, Manning picked Amy Stevens from Gunnison, Colorado. "I met her guiding in Alaska. We were roommates in a small house with 10 other people. She was always so happy, very silly, and super fun. She fell about 50 feet while we were climbing and almost died. She's fully recovered now and runs the Wanderlust Hotel in Gunnison."