WENATCHEE — It’s hard to keep tabs on Otto Ross.
When he’s not teaching lessons at Mission Ridge, the 87-year-old ski instructor’s gliding down the mountain side, breathing the crisp air and soaking in the subtle nuances that make for a new experience each time out.
Ross has been a ski instructor for 62 years, but it doesn’t matter — every run brings something new.
“Every time you come down a hill, it’s always a little bit different,” he said. “It’s always a challenge. So I like the challenge, and I like the opportunity in teaching to have people enjoy it.”
Mission Ridge honored Ross with a public celebration and a run titled “Otto’s Outback” on Sunday, the last day of the ski season. But at this juncture in his career, the question arises, how much longer will Ross be part of the Mission Ridge skin instructor’s team?
His longevity in the sport is already beyond impressive. The 1949 Washington State University alumnus started his career at a young age on a pair of edgeless pine skis. He participated in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., as one of 45 U.S. Professional Ski Patrollers.
He carved fresh tracks in virgin snow during a helicopter drop expedition in British Columbia in 1973 and has extensive experience skiing in Europe.
He’s been teaching for so long that he has third generation students. But he’s still active at Mission Ridge, and he doesn’t have a set date for retirement.
“As long as I can see and my knees hold up, as long as I can do a good job,” he said. “If I stop doing a good job, I’ll quit. As long as I can have fun and show people what a great experience skiing is, why not (keep going)?”
Ross doesn’t look or act like your average 87-year-old. Aside from his active lifestyle, he has a strong grip and an exuberance that defies six decades of teaching.
He credits the fresh air and frequent altitude change for maintaining his health and youth, but not even Ross is immune to the effects of aging.
“I don’t ski as hard as I used to because of age,” he said.
Another season’s ended in Mission Ridge, but Ross won’t slow down, at least not much.
Ross will spend the summer tending to his orchard and do some traveling in his 21-foot Toyota motor home with his wife, Shirley.
He purchased the vehicle used about 15 years ago for a road trip to visit family in Alaska. This summer, he’s staying in the region and hasn’t decided on eastern Oregon, or a trip to the Washington or Oregon state coast.
Plenty has changed since Ross picked up skiing in Waterville as a child — both in the world and in the skiing community. Ski equipment’s evolved dramatically and Ross doesn’t own as much land as he used to (“I sold off most of the orchard, I was having hey fever problems,” he explained).
The future’s uncertain, but there will be a new batch of eager young skiers strapping in for their first run down the mountain this winter. That might be enough incentive in itself to bring Ross back for another season at Mission Ridge.
“I love to work with people and see the smile on their faces when they first learn how to ski,” he said.
Skiing is the only sport I know of where you lean forward to slow down. Think about that.”
Jon Frank: 664-7157