This spring, it’s been three years since my father suddenly (and unexpectedly) passed away at 79. John Christie was, as my colleague Deirdre Fleming put it in the pages of this paper, a “man for all seasons.” He lived a life outdoors, and much of his career – as an ad man, a writer, a state park employee and a ski area manager – married his vocations and avocations. It’s hard to think of any outdoor activity Dad didn’t love, but to me it was long obvious that skiing was his greatest love. As the Maine Ski Hall of Fame put it when he was inducted as part of the class of 2006, he was “involved in skiing at many levels most of his life and many of those positions were as a volunteer for organizations that play an important role in skiing.”

Closing out my third ski season with Dad gone, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons he taught me that I carry forward. And by this, I don’t mean advice he sat me down to give me over the kitchen table. I mean the things I picked up by growing up around him, living with him and, specifically, watching him ski (usually with a fast-increasing number of yards between us as he sped away). I don’t think John Christie meant for his life on the ski slopes and in the ski business to be instructive – he’d probably have joked that his time on and around skis was an object lesson on what not to do. But his example informs so much of how I carry myself through life, on and off the slopes.

John Christie and his son Josh at Sugarloaf. Photo credit: Jake Christie

It’s difficult to compress a lifetime of advice into a handful of maxims, but here are at least a few things that at their best will help you to be a better skier and better person.

Be fearless, and commit. At the top of any black diamond run, you’ll see skiers and snowboarders parked, the tips of their equipment hanging over the lip of the trail. They’re thinking, strategizing, assessing, and more often than not psyching themselves up to tackle the trail. This week, I stumbled across an old video of my father sliding onto Competition Hill at Sugarloaf. No pausing, no hesitation. Instead, he committed to the trail, dropping over the lip (with a huge grin, natch) and quickly out of sight.

On pretty much any ski run, from a short crosscut to a top-to-bottom burner covering 3,000 feet of vertical, you could count the number of turns John Christie made on one hand (with fingers to spare). There are times for quiet, measured contemplation, but sometime you just have to get straight to things.

Keep your tips up. In a technical sense, this is powder skiing advice. Keep your tips up so you don’t end up drowning in the snow. But to Dad (and a lot of skiers), it’s an Alpinist version of “keep your chin up.” I like to refer to John as a serial entrepreneur, starting or owning business after business. In 2019, none of these endeavors remain, though Saddleback may soon be resurrected. Even losing one venture would be enough to scare many people off, but Dad instead took his lumps, learned from them and went on to the next grand adventure. In skiing and in life, a bad outcome is usually not nearly as bad as you imagine.

It’s more fun with friends. One of the great joys of the last 20 years of Dad’s life was his re-engagement with the ski industry after many decades off his skis. He became part of the “Sugarloaf Wax Museum,” a cadre of similarly seasoned skiers with lockers at the base of Sugarloaf. The easy camaraderie of skiers rekindled his engagement with the sport and gave him ski partners when my brother and I had silly obligations like “college” and “employment.” He also taught me that even when you’re skiing alone, you’re not really alone – casual conversations on a chairlift can lead to lifelong friendships.

If you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough. In skiing and in life, the fear of failure overrides the desire to try new things. Learning to ski with John Christie meant avoiding difficult trails was not an option, either when I was a fledgling beginner or with decades of skiing under my belt. We both fell a lot (though I seemed to fall much more than he did), and after every fall I got back up: He taught me I had strength and resilience I hadn’t realized I possessed. This isn’t to say you should tackle trails far beyond your abilities, but pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is the only way to find your true capabilities.

Enjoy yourself. It’s frankly shocking how often I see frowning, complaining faces in the lift line. Crowds, weather, equipment, conditions … there’s always something wrong. But we’re skiing. We’re supposed to be having fun. Lifties often pointed out to John how happy he looked when he skied into the corrals, a silly grin plastered on his face. It’s a reaction I’m happy to say I hear all the time.

One of my favorite John Christie-isms was that if reincarnation was real, he’d want to come back as himself. I’d like to think that by following his example, he lives on in all of us.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]

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