Still teaching at 84
VAIL ” Stuart “Boot” Gordon likes to joke he’s the oldest ski instructor in the world. But at 84, he might be.
Gordon started skiing in the 30s and taught his first lesson in 1942. He started teaching skiing at Vail Mountain in the 70s and has been doing it on and off ever since.
“A lot of people say they started skiing when they were 5-years-old, but they’re lying,” Gordon said. “What they don’t say is that there parents took them out and taught them ” I stole my brothers skis and taught myself.”
You wouldn’t know he’s 84 by watching him ski.
He popped off Chair 11 on a recent day on Vail Mountain and had no trouble linking together turns on his way to the top the Northwoods trail.
“Is this the way down,” he said to a nearby skier.
“This is it,” the skier said.
Gordon dropped into the trail moments later and made his way, without trouble, to the bottom.
He didn’t ski a lot of powder growing up in Minnesota. He and his friends would play hockey until it snowed. They’d go skiing when it did, but the snow was wet and heavy.
Gordon discovered powder in the late 40s when he was stationed in Oregon and Washington during World War II and has been in love with it ever since.
“Beware,” Gordon said. “Powder skiing can be as addictive as a narcotic.”
Skiing ever since
After the war ended, Gordon hitchhiked to the Sun Valley ski resort in Idaho where he became a member of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol from 1947-1948.
He had a pair of short ” six and a half feet ” fat skis made by the Northland Ski Company that were as good as it got for powder in those days, Gordon said.
“They had pretty good tension and were wider than usual,” said Gordon, who just re-released his book “Ski Powder 5 Ways.” “I could out-ski everyone with those short skis ” they were just like water skis.”
He’s been skiing powder all over the country and Europe ever since.
Gordon is a charter member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and has taught skiing in Aspen.
‘That’s why it’s worth teaching’
Gordon has had thousands of students, but ask him which ones he remembers and a couple pop into his mind.
One is a lesson he taught at Vail. His student was a brain surgeon from Hawaii and had never seen snow before.
“He took a morning beginning lesson and then took a lesson from me and in an hour he was doing parallel turns,” Gordon said. “The next day I took him down Look Ma and he fell, but he laughed and laughed. He was probably the most amazing student I ever had.”
The most fun Gordon has had teaching skiing was during a lesson in Snowmass. He was showing a girl how to ski powder ” she was picking it up quickly, he said. They were about to head down a steep pitch with deep snow on it. Gordon warned the girl the trail didn’t finish with a smooth transition.
“When you hit the bottom you had to be in a traverse,” Gordon said. “I showed her what to do and said ‘don’t do what I do.'”
Gordon made it to the bottom of the hill, turned around and watch his student follow his exact path. She crashed when she got to the bottom, Gordon said.
“I thought she killed herself,” Gordon said. “I walked up to her and asked if she was alright and why she did that.”
She said she followed him because it looked fun and that if she got hurt it would have been worth it, Gordon said.
“When we said good-bye, she said ‘Boot, that’s the most fun I’ve had in my whole life,'” Gordon said. “That’s a student for you, that’s why it’s worth teaching.”
Gordon said his students have always made him better teachers, but he keeps doing it because he loves to see people learn.
Gordon’s favorite place to ski is in Zermatt, Switzerland. But In the United States, it’s Vail.
The best way to ski Vail is to get up early and get on the Eagle Bahn lift before it’s crowded, Gordon said. He recommends taking a run or two in Game Creek Bowl and then heading west and skiing Avanti or a run off Chairs 3 or 4.
“Then you go ski China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin,” he said. “You just keep ahead of the crowds.”
If you’re late, head to Golden Peak and ride up Chair 6, Gordon said.
Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.