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My Life List

Mountain Life

Birders have their life lists, compendia of all the species they’ve encountered in a lifetime of watching. Why not skiers?Mine begins with a black-and-white photograph sharper than the memory. I must have been about 4 years old, standing on the backs of my father’s skis, holding a fistful of his gabardine pants. We’re at a ropetow hill in the Sierra foothills called Little Sweden (1).

That would be No. 1. No. 2 happened four years later when the family braved its first actual ski vacation to Mammoth Mountain (2). We took two more family trips to Mammoth, as well as day raids to Mount Baldy (3), Green Valley (4), and Snow Valley (5) in the Southern California mountains. When I was 14, my brilliant parents put me on a train to Sun Valley (6), Idaho, for a week at spring break.

Through high school and college-once I could drive-the list expanded to include Alpine Meadows (7), Sugar Bowl (8) and, thanks to a good friend in Salt Lake City, Alta (9), Utah.

Then came a dry spell as the draft, the war in Vietnam and a year in New York City kept me off what my hero, Arctic explorer Norman Vaughan, called “the winged boards.”

Following the self-imposed drought in the city, I moved to Colorado, to Keystone (10), then in its third year, and became an apprentice ski instructor. Ski teachers don’t usually stray far from home, but on our one day off per week we ventured out to the other Summit County areas: Copper Mountain (11), Breckenridge (12) and Arapahoe Basin (13). And, shorn of sleep, we also drove over the pass to Vail (14) and, once, way up north to Steamboat (15).

Teaching for three seasons in California, I skied at Bear Valley (16) and Squaw Valley (17), and we did clinics and instructor exams at Alpine and Mammoth again. Ski school brought me back to Colorado, to Telluride (18), but it wasn’t until I quit teaching in 1980 and began writing and traveling for the ski magazines that the life list really took off.

In Colorado, I’ve added: Aspen (19), Aspen Highlands (20), Buttermilk (21), Snowmass (22), Winter Park (23), Loveland (24), Berthoud (25), Monarch (26), Wolf Creek (27), the now-defunct Conquistador (28), Cuchara Valley (29), Purgatory/Durango (30), Sunlight (31), Beaver Creek (32), Crested Butte (33), the also now-defunct Ski Broadmoor (34) and Powderhorn (35) up on Grand Mesa.Down in New Mexico, assignments have taken me to Taos (36), Red River (37), Angel Fire (38) and Santa Fe (39). And to the state next door, to the Arizona Snowbowl (40) and native-owned Sunrise (41) on the White River Apache reservation.

I think I’ve skied every place with a functioning lift in Utah, except for Nordic Valley. South to north, they are: Brian Head (42), Elk Meadows (43), Sundance (44), Snowbird (45), Alta, Solitude (46), Brighton (47), Park City (48), Deer Valley (49), The Canyons (50), Snowbasin (51), Powder Mountain (52) and Beaver Mountain (53). In Wyoming: Jackson Hole (54) and Grand Targhee (55). In Idaho, in addition to Sun Valley: Silver Mountain (56) and Schweitzer (57). In Montana: Big Sky (58), Bridger Bowl (59) and the Big Mountain (60). West to Oregon: Mount Bachelor (61). And up to western Canada: Lake Louise (62), Mount Norquay (63), Nakiska (64), host of the 1988 Olympic alpine events, Panorama (65) and Whistler/Blackcomb (66). In Alaska: Alyeska (67).

In eastern Canada, I’ve skied Gray Rocks (68), Tremblant (69) and Mont Ste. Anne (70). In New England: Stowe (71), Smuggler’s Notch (72), Sugarbush (73) and Mad River Glen (74), all in the Green Mountain State of Vermont.

In France, work took me to: Chamonix (75), Flaine (76), Les 2 Alpes (77), La Grave (78), Courchevel (79), Val Thorens (80), La Plagne (81), La Rosière (82), Les Orres (83), and, in 1992, to the Olympic pistes at Méribel (84), Les Menuires (85), Val d’Isère (86), Tignes (87) and Les Arcs (88).

In Italy, I cruised Cervinia (89), Courmayeur (90) and La Thuile (91). In Switzerland: Verbier (92), Zermatt (93), Murren (94) and Engelberg (95)).

The 1994 Olympics led me to Norway where I survived the men’s courses at Kvitfjell (96) and the women’s at Hafjell (97). My wife and I skied Zakopane (98) in her ancestral homeland, Poland. I have skied twice in the Himalayas, once in Kashmir with the father of extreme, Sylvain Saudan, and then out of Manali, India, with Himachal Heliskiing.

Which begs the question: Do we include helicopter and snowcat skiing on the life list? And what about track skiing at nordic resorts? Surely, these are the whooping cranes and scarlet tanagers of the ski life list.

And how about the people, the heroes? Following Jean-Claude Killy through Bear Valley powder. Skating with Audan Endestadt at West Yellowstone. Shadowing Alf Engen at Alta. Sidestepping the speed course outside Silverton, Colo., with record-holders Franz Weber and Steve McKinney. And the backcountry peak bagging; how about that list? Nevada’s highest, Wheeler Peak. Switzerland’s Monte Rosa. The Red Lady above Crested Butte.

Hmmm. The list could get out of hand with families, orders and subspecies. I suppose for the purposes of this column, I should stick to lift-served ski areas. Wow. Ninety-eight-and I’ve probably forgotten to include a few-an embarrassment of riches. And yet the checklist of places I have yet to go, places I simply must ski before I die, is perhaps equally long.

In this country alone, I need to visit New Hampshire’s Tuckerman Ravine, home of Toni Matt’s 1939 schuss. I want to check off Nevada’s Mount Rose and Heavenly Valley and Badger Pass in California. Mt. Baker and Crystal Mountain, Wash. A couple of the big volcanoes, say Shasta and Hood. The steep trees of Red Mountain and Fernie up in B.C.

I must, before I’m too old, ski the snowfields of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii-and maybe get in a surf session that same afternoon.

I have never skied the Midwest. What about a cheesehead tour of Wisconsin? Or the chill pleasures of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? I would dearly love to ski in the Southeast at Canaan or Snowshoe. And at Snow Ridge, outside of Turin, N.Y., where my wife ski-bummed for the wise Swiss, Otto Frei.

I have never skied in Austria, the birthplace of alpine skiing. And then there’s Scotland and Japan and New Zealand’s Mount Cook glaciers. How could I not make the trip to Portillo, Chile? What about the Atlas Range in Morocco? And I hear there are big mountains in Turkey, Iran, Georgia and…