Sandpoint Magazine

Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2009



Subscribe to Sandpoint Magazine

back country skiing"I love the snow," says Alison Murphy, who skis 100-plus days a year at Schweitzer. Photo by Doug Marshall

Ski obsessed

These zealous skiers are downright maniacal about snow

By Billie Jean Plaster

Obsessive-compulsive people get things done. They are driven, self-directed folks. Howard Hughes, for example, produced movies, built and engineered airplanes, and ran a major airline. While most of us don't suffer the same level of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as that famous billionaire, many do feel compelled to set goals and accomplish them.

Take skiers who schuss at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, for example. Some of the more passionate ones make it their aim to ski 100 days a year, or 1,000 runs in a season or every trail in a season or … well, the list is endless.

Who are these goal-setting skiers, and what compels them to do what they do?

Sandy Compton, 60, is the program director for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, and he also does a fair bit of writing. He started skiing in 1990 and somewhere along the line, about the time the Idyle Our T-bar was built, he made a conscious decision to ski every lift that's running every time he heads up the mountain, with the exception of the Musical Carpet (because it's for kids).

"I get to see the whole mountain. I would rather take a tour than see how much vertical I can get in one day," he said. "I go skiing just for the joy of it."

He calls his decision an "anti-OCD" one. "The only rule is I want to ride every lift. That's the only parameter of the day," Compton said.

A common goal among Schweitzer aficionados is to ski every named trail – all 92 of them – in a season. Dave Kulis, 39, the mountain's sales and marketing director, is one of those types.

"I take a highlighter and mark them on a trail map as I go," he said.

His motivation comes as part of his job. After all, as they say in marketing, he has to sample the product.

Christian Thompson, 38, who grew up in Sandpoint and returned several years ago to start a career in real estate, says he does spontaneous goal-setting while skiing Schweitzer. One day he and a ski-guide buddy from Canada tried to get 30,000 vertical feet from noon to closing by doing laps on the Lakeview Triple.

"We almost made it. We got 29,000 and some change before the lift closed," he said. Although foiled, their attempt was a noble effort nonetheless.

But when it comes to backcountry skiing, which he does 30 to 40 days a year, Thompson aims to ski every major peak in the Idaho Panhandle – four down, six to go – and do a traverse from Trestle Creek to Clark Fork.

As obsessive as that may be, Thompson, nevertheless, points the finger at Jake Ostman: "He's the most obsessive-compulsive skier I've ever met in my life."

Why? Ostman travels far and wide so he can ski 12 months out of the year, and he embarks on regular "dawn patrols" at Schweitzer.

A software developer at Coldwater Creek, Ostman, 34, goes on those dawn patrol missions at Schweitzer from November through June, up to three times a week. He gets up at 4 a.m., leaves home at 5 a.m., skins up at 5:30 a.m., makes one or two runs, gets home by 7:30 a.m., showers and arrives at work by 8 a.m. He does the entire thing by head lamp in the dark months of winter, but after Schweitzer closes in April, he's often in T-shirts and shorts during the longest days of the year.

Ostman made it his goal to ski at Schweitzer every month of the year – a goal that took nine years to complete. August and September proved to be the most challenging. Back on Sept. 29, 2007, he cross-country skied the summit ridge after it had snowed about 10 inches. Then, on Aug. 2, 2011, he finally accomplished his goal when he skied a strip of snow 150 feet long, 3 to 4 feet wide and 2 feet high – a remnant of the previous winter's heavy snowfall that was still lingering at the South Bowl cornice.

"Those were the two most desperate ski outings. I never thought it could be done – never thought there would be snow in August," Ostman said.

Ostman's friend Jim Mellen is a good candidate for OCD where snow is concerned. At 63 and retired, Mellen says, "I want to chew up all the powder I can." Mellen recently made it his goal to master every discipline there is for riding snow: alpine, Nordic, skate skiing, telemarking and snowboarding. (He even has a split snowboard for the backcountry).

He, too, tries to ski as late in the year as possible. For example, in 2011, he skied Schweitzer the 4th of July and then Beehive, farther north in the backcountry, July 5, the day after Ostman had skied it and posted photos on Facebook. Mellen returned at the end of July and skied north Twin Peak all the way to Beehive Lake without having to stop. Later that month, he skied St. Paul Peak in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.

Mellen sounded understated when he said, "I guess I just like snow."

He especially loves a good storm – the harsher the conditions, the better. "I like extreme days and enjoy it while others are running for cover," he said.

Alison Murphy, 37, enjoys extreme days, too, perhaps because she grew up in extreme conditions – off the grid in the Upper Pack River Valley, where she had to hike or ride horses a mile uphill to get home. Her parents, who didn't allow whining, encouraged her to be "super strong and passionate," something she has carried through her life. A Tomlinson Sotheby's Realtor who lives at Schweitzer, Murphy skis 100-plus days a season annually. She gets up early, heads right out with her 5-year-old son, and is typically first chair or in the first group of skiers.

"We don't need bluebird powder days. We ski anywhere, anytime," she said, adding that her son was even born at Schweitzer in their condo.

"I'm my very happiest on skis. It's where I find my peace," Murphy said.

Enthusiasm and goal-setting must run in the family. Her son's goal is to ski five black-diamond runs this season.

"My goal is to enjoy being outside in the winter," Murphy said. "It's profoundly perfect."



The entire contents of this site are COPYRIGHT © Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.