Glen Plake: Soul Man, Part 2

This guy just loves to ski. At the end of it, the Glen Plake story is as simple and beautiful as that.

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Still, it’s what a man does when he gets out of bed in the morning, if he gets out of bed in the morning, that defines him. What Plake did, in the winter of 1991–92, was something no one in skiing had ever done: Just as many were writing him off as a has-been, just as he was about to find his sustaining sobriety, he embarked upon an evangelical tour of the forgotten ski hills of America.

It was pure Plake, stomping out on a self-inspired, self-motivated pilgrimage. With a lot of blank looks and a meager handful of dollars from his sponsors, he got behind the wheel of an RV and headed east, into the lowlands, shrewdly reaching out to the core skiers the industry was ignoring. Over 68 days, Plake and new wife, Kimberly, (this was their honeymoon) hit 50 ski areas in 33 states and drove 13,000 miles. Spreading the word of skiing wherever he went, leading packs of eager-eyed kids and adults alike around their local haunts, he and Kimberly were in constant motion, sometimes skiing at one tiny ski area in the day, driving to another for a night session, and leaving again after the lights went off to be at a third microhill by the next morning.

The Down Home Tour was grueling and thankless. But Plake loved it. Skiing every day with local skiers, talking about skiing every day, living skiing every day—what could be better? And the folks Plake cared about most, the skiers who loved skiing just as he did, were won over by the very fact that Plake was there simply to ski with them, by the maniacal laughter that spilled out of him at every turn, and by the boundless pleasure he got teaching tip rolls and worm turns and other artifactual moves from the past. They saw what the people who should know better missed: That Glen Plake was as real as a skier gets.

Seen through the context of the tour, all the disparate elements of his life create a mosaic of Plake’s profound commitment to skiing: The encyclopedic knowledge of all things freestyle. The massive ski-movie archives, one of the largest private ones anywhere. The Nevada home that’s practically a museum of vintage equipment and memorabilia. The countless hours signing autographs and making personal appearances. The excitement as he describes getting Jean-Claude Killy to autograph a Killy poster Plake had had for 20 years. The water ramp he welded himself for summer training. The insistence on skiing long, straight skis so he can compare himself to the skiers of yore.

As Plake’s longevity stretches, maybe what’s remarkable isn’t that he didn’t go away, but that his commitment and hard work and substance weren’t recognized sooner. Maybe people couldn’t recognize what Stu Campbell, longtime ski school director and Plake’s first employer at Heavenly, did: “Plake is super intelligent, super sensitive. He has an underlying maturity, an underlying understanding of how things work that even his closest fans don’t recognize.” Maybe the mohawk got in the way. Maybe his delinquency so tarnished his reputation that no one could see past it.

Still, despite that, not only has Plake been the most recognizable skier in America for the last 10 years, he’s been one of its most important. In becoming one of the first nonracing sponsored skiers, he helped create a world of contracts that’s let a whole generation of freeskiers live on skiing alone. He drove the Jonny Moseley bandwagon back when he and Moseley were the only ones on it. Accompanied by Greg Stump, he produced Fistful of Moguls and rekindled interest in mogul skiing, reminding the rest of us why bumpers belong in the firmament of radness. And, after a couple years of the Down Home Tour, he added Glen Plake’s Hot Dog Tour, a popular series of homespun bump-bashing, wiener-eating fun fests where anyone can ski with Plake.

While there are skiers who’ve done more for the sport, there are none who’ve worked harder or spent more time in the trenches, none who’ve made their mark by touching thousands of skiers one at a time, eyeball to eyeball, ski to ski on a chairlift or bump field. As good as he is in film, as much as he loves to work a crowd, Plake is at his best when it’s just him, another skier, and a patch of snow. All the extraneous stuff is gone, and his motivation is right there in front of you, naked and pure: This guy just loves to ski. At the end of it, the Glen Plake story is as simple and beautiful as that.