by Ryan Friel
Midwinter. A respectable eight-inch powder day at Montana's Whitefish Mountain Resort. My brother and a friend and I glide up to the chairlift at 9:45 a.m. The lift attendant, also a friend, gives a furtive look around the corral before leaning in close enough that stale PBR and whiskey waft with him. He lowers his voice, ushering us into his secret world.
"I know you guys are New England Patriots fans. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe is skiin' up here today."
We find Bledsoe, alone, at the top of the mountain. At 6'5" he stands out. He has skied here often, he says, but knows there is more terrain he hasn't seen. Inviting him along, we dive off a cornice and drop into a treed run known as Elephant's Graveyard. We are skeptical that he'll hang, having seen guys his size on snow before.
But the Bledsoe that drops in moves like a trout navigating a river's currents. His technique is flawless, ski edges carving deep trenches through buttery powder. Pole plants are calculated and methodical. We gather at the bottom of the run. Bledsoe is breathing heavily. "I'm only good for about 30 feet," he smiles self-effacingly, backpeddling, mimicking the quarterback motion of taking the snap from the center and sliding into the pocket.
We're all curious. "When I was two, my dad cut the last couple of feet off of an old pair of skis, put a piece of leather over the toe, a piece of rubber inner tube around the heel, and I would go traipse around the backyard in Washington in my rubber wading boots." Later, his dad would shuttle him up to Alpental in a beater VW.
We ski hard all day and then decide to make the two-hour road trip to Fernie over the Canadian border the next day. "Why don't we meet at the bagel shop around 7 a.m.," I suggest. Mike and I pull into the parking lot in a Dodge Caravan. I consider it a great ski rig: Thule box, tinted windows, and studded snow tires. The middle seat is removed for the beer cooler, dogs, and boots. Bledsoe pulls up in a knight-white, full-size V8 Ford pickup. "Why don't we take my rig?" he asks. It's not really a question. "But bring that cooler." Full of coffee, we stop on the side of Highway 93 to take a leak. Bledsoe pisses in the middle of the road. This is Montana.
Two hours later we arrive at the Fernie parking lot. The skiing is vast. Chutes, long fall lines, and perfectly spaced tree runs dominate the day. We ski from drainage to drainage, ending at Snake Ridge, the far-eastern boundary. A traverse and boot pack lead us to the freshest lines in yet another steep, soft-snow-filled, 2,000-foot shot down the ridge. An old T-bar hauls us up to ski another run. It is 2:30 p.m.. Bledsoe is breathing heavily again. "Why don't you guys ski another lap and then I'll meet up with you?"
When the lifts close at 4:00 p.m., we haven't seen Bledsoe again. Walking into the Griz Bar, the main après-ski joint at the resort, we give a quick scan, but there's still no sign of him. As we order drinks, we query the bartender. "Have you seen a bigger, like pro-athlete size, feller come in here?"
"You mean the big guy who had two mugs of Kokanee with Clamato juice?" (This is Canada.) The bartender gestures to the far corner of the bar. And there is Bledsoe. Arms outstretched, head back, sprawled out at a booth made for six, snoring like a Calgary drunk. He is awakened by our laughter as we bring another round.
From the Winter 2009-10 issue