When Larry Smith started working at Mt. Bachelor, the mountain still went by its original name—Bachelor Butte. Since 1979, he’s spent every winter teaching skiing there. Sometimes he’s on the snow 150 days a year. Smith remembers when the main hangout was Egan Lodge, a thirty-by-fifty-foot hut, a quarter of the way up the mountain. Smith, 67, said that many of the people he started with at Mt. Bachelor went on to different jobs or are now retired. Smith spends his summers guiding cycling tours in Europe, but he’s always excited to head back up Century Drive. Here is a slice of Smith’s three decades on the mountain.
What is the most memorable lesson you gave?
A couple winters ago, there was a former ballerina from the Bolshoi Ballet who came here to ski. She’d never skied before, and we went out and learned how to dance on the snow. It was pure delight because she understood balance and movement. All I said was, “This stage isn’t flat, this one tips, so you need to stay perpendicular to the stage as it tips.”
We’ve all witnessed a mid-run tantrum. How do you deal with them?
You have to figure out why the tantrum is happening: Why is the kid uncomfortable? You have to be good at reading kids. I like to give them the opportunity to make choices. I say, ‘Would you like to do this or do that?’ Both of them are good choices, but they get to feel like they’re choosing things. Kids like to be self-directed.
What about adults?
Very few people who are teaching their friends or loved ones actually know how to teach. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean you can break it down and explain it to somebody else in a manner that allows them to be successful. We (ski instructors) understand little bitty pieces and baby steps for starting out so that you just gradually become more comfortable and you aren’t thrown into the steep stuff right away.
What’s it take to be a great ski instructor?
You have to want to help people. You need to be able to put people before everything else—they’re front and center and the most important person on the snow. If you can do that and believe it, and love it, you’ll be fine.
You gave up a job in telecommunications to be a ski instructor. Any regrets?
When I was in telecom, I was good at it. I managed people and ran big programs, but it didn’t feed my soul. When I’m on the snow and I’m sharing skiing, there’s no better place for me to be. Although, my mom does still wonder if I’ll ever grow up. The only thing that would stop me from teaching is if something happened to my health and I couldn’t. Otherwise, I see no reason to ever stop. I don’t even think of it as a job.