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Jean Mills and the Winnie the Pooh Challenge

We were back on the mountain today after three days of work, another 6" storm, remodel setbacks, frigid temps (-19F) and frozen pipes. It was a long short week and we were in need of another hit of powder like we had Monday and Tuesday.

We scored first tracks off Pinecone and giggled all the way down to Thaynes. We timed it perfectly and got through the furthest gate with two others just after it had been released for public consumption! The hike from the Gondola out to the last gates is brutal but worth it on a day like today. The typically sun-baked slope was holding firm thanks to the numerous storms and cold temps. We've never hiked out as far as we did today as it usually doesn't have enough coverage or isn't ski patrol safe. It was magical and although we had time for another hour hike, we headed to Jupiter to play. Two days after the last storm and we still found plenty of deep untouched pow in the trees! We called it quits in time to grab lunch at Five5eeds and give our knees a breather. Another storm is on the way tonight and we'll need fresh legs tomorrow.

My interaction of the day wasn't on the mountain although we had an interesting conversation about Midwest Ski Resorts on the gondola and really appreciated the slice of orange from our Pinecone hiking buddy. My brother sent a text this morning with a link to a video that included one of my first mentors which brought back strong memories of my ski instructor days in high school.

Jean Mills, showcased at the 20 minute mark in the 2004 video, is my Warren Miller. Growing up in Anaconda, my home ski resort and weekend playground was Discovery Basin. In my young mind, Jean and her husband Jim, were the owners of the ski resort. They were always on the mountain or in the lodge, worked early and late at every resort task imaginable, knew everyone's name, and always made sure you were having a good time. Now that I'm an adult, I realize they were the best employees a ski resort owner could have and the best couple a community could have.

I took advanced lessons from Jean in our school programs and then as a Sophomore, went to her looking for a winter job. I played basketball in the Fall (actually all the time) and then track/tennis in the Spring so according to my parents, either I had to play volleyball or get a job in the Winter. I tried volleyball as a Freshman, but missed skiing more than I liked spiking and digging. Jean happily brought me onboard in her KinderSki program and for the next three years, Jean and Discovery were my happy place when I wasn't on the basketball court. Often I wonder if my first job was actually my best job, more on that later.

Jean was everything in that video and so much more. I regret that I didn't go back to Discovery in my adulthood to ski with Jean and tell her how much she meant to me. Her kindness, work ethic, skiing ability, happiness, teaching skills and love for life are with me often on the mountain. When I see a ski instructor, I often think of Jean and especially today after watching the video a few times.

She would gather us all together, communicate the plan for the day, then help us set up Winnie the Pooh and the other cartoons on the bunny slope. We took great pride (thanks to Jean) in being the ones to introduce skiing to our 3-6 year olds. We taught passionately all day and then cleaned up the bunny slope and vacuumed up cookie crumbs. Most importantly, we earned how to work as a team without realizing we were doing it. As a teenager, some days I really had to hustle to keep up with Jean, then in her late 60s. The video speaks to it, but I can't imagine how many Southwestern Montanans learned the techniques and love of skiing from Jean. To this day, my brain reminds me to hold my lunch tray down the mountain and pick the flowers. I wonder if I could still do the Winnie the Pooh Challenge?

Jean passed in 2013 at the age of 92, skiing thru her late 80's until 2009. She's a legend in Montana and by means of teaching and influencing so many others, her legend continues on ski resorts all across the West and beyond. It's our job as her students to continue her passion for skiing and life.

Terry leading the way up Pinecone from the Gondola

Top of Pinecone with Jupiter in the background

Jupiter Trees


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