Last March I walked up to the counter at Mountain Gear with a few pieces of backpacking gear and chatted briefly with the store’s assistant manager Mark Beattie about our outdoor plans for the weekend. Since a warm front had moved through and nuked the powder I had originally hoped to be skiing, I explained that I had shifted gears and was headed down to Hells Canyon for a three-day hike in the desert. Beattie shrugged off my glum assessment of the snowpack and noted that he would be skiing up at Lookout over the weekend. He made it clear that it wasn’t even a question; he’d rather be skiing no matter what the conditions were like. I knew then that Beattie wasn’t your typical skier but a true-blue fan of sliding on all sorts of snow, in all types of weather. In other words, a rare breed of snow rider these days.
“Many of my friends look at me and say ‘dude, it hasn’t snowed in a week,’ or ‘it’s really icy,’” he says. “I say, yeah, okay. It just means you get to ski more diverse conditions.” After skiing for nearly 50 years, Beattie has a personal and varied history with skiing that spans well beyond his 8 years selling skis and other outdoor gear at Mountain Gear. Growing up in Wallace, Idaho, in the 60s, he says his mom figured out that she could put him on a bus to the free ski school at Lookout Pass when he was 7, and that’s pretty much what he did every weekend for years after that first season.
Beattie went on to ski all over the West and at many other resorts and backcountry spots around the world, but he says Lookout Pass, where he currently teaches telemark lessons, still feels like home. He started teaching alpine skiing at Lookout Pass in 1972, and after getting into tele, he says he had a hard time convincing anyone that there were people who wanted to learn the trademark knee drop of the telemark turn. Eventually he got a gig teaching tele at Squaw Valley in 1983. “Back then the equipment sucked,” he admits. “I look back and think, ‘why did I do that?’ The first sets of skis were double camber and were really hard to turn.”
Beattie worked as a ski instructor at various ski hills, from Taos and Squaw Valley to Copper Mountain, among other places. Eventually he returned to the Inland Northwest and opened Vertical Earth in Coeur d’Alene, selling bikes and telemark, cross-country and AT equipment. After 12 years he sold the shop and moved on, eventually landing at Spokane’s Mountain Gear.
With Beattie’s extensive outdoor industry resume and commitment to the ski bum lifestyle, it’s hard to fathom how many amazing powder days on renowned slopes he’s racked up. But what I find most interesting and inspirational is the fact that this guy seems stoked to ski in any conditions, anytime, anyplace. I eventually ask him straight up what keeps him so motivated to ski even on crappy days. “I’m skiing,” he says matter-of-factly. “That’s all it takes. I have boards on my feet and can turn left or turn right. It’s a challenge to get down whatever slope no matter what the conditions are. I want to be able to negotiate whatever. What more could you want?”
It’s worth noting that Beattie isn’t just out there banging out 54 ski days (that’s his tally from last year) on alpine equipment but on more challenging and physically taxing tele gear. His current go-to set-up is a pair of Scarpa TX Pro NTN tele boots, 22 Designs Outlaw bindings and Dynastar Cham 2.0 boards. For those of you who have never freed your heels, you may be wondering why a person would intentionally make skiing more challenging than it already is by choosing to tele. “I think it’s the range of motion,” says Beattie. “You can go through a much greater range of movement than you can on alpine gear. It allows my body to go through big cycles, almost like pedaling a bike. I like the fact that it’s a little more sensitive and takes a little more effort.”
I have seen the bumper sticker on water bottles and various ski bum rigs loaded with boards, but when Beattie concludes our conversation with these words, I know he means it: “Skiing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” //