By Brian Dix
Hello skiers and riders of the Southeast. I hope you are enjoying this offseason with the sprouting of a new summer accompanied by the sensation of warmer and brighter days. I assume you have a slew of other outdoor activities to enjoy while you have your winter gear stowed away. I am striving to get my golf score into the 90’s consistently and maybe, just maybe, break into the 80’s.
No matter your hobby, the offseason is also a time for remembrance to those great runs of the past at those thrilling destinations you enjoyed thoroughly. I find it intriguing, but not surprising, that when these stories are shared there are little to no negative remarks. Instead, there are laughs, sighs of relief, and joyful commentary. Talking about skiing and riding is a positive thing and hearing the history that others have experienced is beneficial.
Through the powers of the internet, I came across such an enthusiast that continues to log memories at multiple destinations throughout the planet, including some of our resorts in the southeast. His name is Ken Ries, and he is an agile eighty-three-year-old that bags somewhere between twelve to fifteen ski days per season. For the record he was able to squeeze out seventeen last year while the pandemic protocols were in place, and his personal record thus far in one season sits at twenty-two days. Have any of you made that many memories in one winter’s time?
Every season you can count on Ken to visit places way up in New England, possibly a few Catskill and mid-Atlantic spots on the way back, and of course some of our local places in the Southeast. While this is routinely scheduled in advance, he has also made tracks in faraway ranges such as the Cascades, the Rockies, and the Alps. Ken has seen some spectacular scenes such as Mount Rainer from Crystal Mountain in the state of Washington, the Bavarian part of the German Alps from Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski resort, and the Continental Divide in Colorado while driving over Loveland Pass to get to some amazing thrills at Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge. This goes to show that the historic ski film maker, Warren Miller, was spot on when he said, “The best place in the word to ski is where you’re skiing that day.”
I would imagine that statement was very true when Ken made his first turns around the age of ten in Pennsylvania on a set of old wooden skis that came with leather straps and springs instead of the standard bindings we find today. He told me that they were a set his cousin kept for use on a trail through the woods, and at that time the snow was deep loose powder. It amazes me that skiers were able to stay on top of their planks with so much snow, and so little security underfoot.
Regardless, powder tracks in themselves usually hook people right in, but in Ken’s case his moments were sporadic for decades thereafter due to raising a family and accompanied with a long stint of service in the Navy. Before I forget, I would like to say “Thank you” to all of you who have served in any of the branches of military. Without your efforts we would not be able to enjoy this skiing and riding lifestyle, plus other outdoor recreational activities that we cherish.
Ken said it was not until the mid-80’s that things turned the corner for him when his daughter was enrolled at Garrett County Community College next to our northern terminus resort, Wisp. The astonishing part of this story is that he had a torn deltoid ligament in his ankle that forced him into a cast, but yet he was able to make some simple turns and a memory to keep. A year later he admittedly was timid on skis, but made a journey to Wintergreen nonetheless. It was here where his confidence made a big stride on the Eagle Swoop run. Ken said he saw an injured skier on a toboggan, most likely a teenaged girl that unfortunately broke her leg, and yet he had to continue on to get on the lift. Ken described the run as being a choice between a snowmaking whale in the middle, moguls left, or glazed hard pack on the right. He chose glazed hard packed, learned it, never worried about it after. Perhaps you have had a similar situation, and if so, I would love to hear your story as well.
With a sense of accomplishment, and most likely a bit of financial flexibility, Ken then proceeded to get a timeshare at Silver Creek, which was a separate ski area next to Snowshoe at that time in history. At some point then things finally clicked, and he described it by saying “I got bit by the bug, and it was just Wham! Off we go.” That is when skiing and riding becomes a lot of fun, because our natural thirst for adventure can only remain quenched for so long before another sip is necessary.
It can be shown that with experience comes more confidence, and confidence can lead to passion, and passion can lead to a lifestyle. Throughout our discussion it was apparent that at certain moments Ken has taken some of that philosophy to the extreme. When asked if Ken gets cold his response was “Never. Dress for it.” I like that answer. In fact, he has even pulled a Rudy Ryback in which he has slept in his car on chilly nights just so he can wake up and make those crucial warm up runs early in the morning. Talk about dedication and preparedness.
Regarding anything that worried him during his skiing adventures, he said that the knee-deep powder on a 45-degree pitch atop Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington state scared him to death, but nonetheless he went up there for that beautiful view of Mount Rainier. Perhaps you have faced a similar situation in which you almost gave up on your goal, and yet you survived to ski another day. Overcoming these challenges is a great example of how boldness can defeat doubt.
Speaking of almost, I almost titled this posting as “If these tires could talk” due to the fact that Ken is a long-distance driving die-hard. Ken resides many hours away from the mountains along the coastal plains of North Carolina, but that has never stopped him from road tripping to far off locations. For example, a majority of us have Thanksgiving routines filled with watching football, cooking a hearty meal, eating way too much, and then sleeping it off. Ken on the other hand would finish eating and then pack his three kids, the luggage, and all the ski gear into their vehicle for a 12-hour trek to Vermont. Oh wow! I can only imagine the amount of energy and caffeine needed to complete this trek, but I can also envision the jolt of excitement they got when finally arriving at their destination such as Killington or Okemo. November turns are a great launching point for a stellar season, and hopefully mother nature will bless our region with proper conditions to make that happen next season.
Ken is a perennial skier in Vermont, and apparently he has quite a connection with a group of seniors that come back year after year for what was originally called the “Elderhostel” group formed in 2005. The number of attendees has varied throughout the years but will draw in roughly thirty-five or so regulars. This repetitive rendezvous is very rewarding by its own design since it is creating new stories with the same old faces, and yes folks this is very similar in design to our own Ski Southeast Summit. It was also in Vermont a few years back that Ken developed a reputation for being an older man that would lead a younger crowd of fellow Navy Midshipmen down the punishing Outer Limits run at Killington, and he would complete it with a smile on his face while others showed agony on theirs. Hopefully you have had a chance to take an extended weekend at a favorite resort with a group of good friends, and even some new acquaintances, because those chapters are worth reading again later on.
If Vermont is too far away do not worry, because Ken can be found in the Southeast region often. He taught his grandkids to ski at a few places such as Sugar Mountain and Wintergreen. He has been to Bryce Resort and Massanutten for those ski free weekends where you are required to listen to a condominium time share sales pitch. However, the one place Ken likes to carve out his turns the most in the Southeast is at the crown jewel, Snowshoe. Ken says that they have an excellent trail system, a nice variety of sections around the resort to explore, and a night skiing option that is top notch. The chair lifts could use some help, but essentially no two ski days are ever the same. Overall that place has offered great value throughout the years, especially since he has enjoyed their season passes and senior discounts. This reminds me of another great saying from Warren Miller was for us to “Be nice to senior citizens, because someday with luck you may be one too.”
However, he did share a concern that others have grumbled about online too, and that is the upcoming changes in lift ticket pricing, season passes, and senior discounts might deter him towards a new place such as Canaan Valley or Timberline. This is not an attempt to stir the pot or create controversy, but honest feedback from a paying customer has plenty of significance. On the other side of the coin these resorts just went through a very unique season where the demand was sky high, and yet they had to manage spacing people apart and limiting exposure to one another, all while trying to keep the revenue and operations in motion. It will be interesting to see where he, plus many others, choose to ski and ride in not only our region but throughout all of North America.
No matter where you, Ken, or I wind up skiing and riding next season please keep these bits of info with you. Read a good book about skiing like Ken did. His recommendation was “No Hill Too Fast” written by the US Olympic skiing champion Maher Brothers in 1985. They too have an incredible skiing story to tell, and Ken said that book is where you can find it. Next, watch videos as well because the image of technique is crucial in the improvement of oneself. This is where the aforementioned Warren Miller movies come in handy, especially the hilarious classics from the 80’s and 90’s. Also, enjoy time with your friends and family while skiing and riding. Ken was fortunate to have one of his children, Mark, become a great ski buddy for a very long time in which they laid tracks at all kinds of resorts. Unfortunately, Mark passed away a few years back, but Ken has those memories with him, and hopefully he is there in spirit with each new run that is conquered. May that be true for all of you who do not have that person beside you on each chair lift ride up the mountain.
Lastly, my final question to Ken was if there was one regret he has from all the years of skiing thus far, and he quickly responded with a simple “Take more lessons early on.”