Breckenridge Ski Resort ski instructing community thanks 90-year-old for his contributions
Where do values exist?
If you’re a bit slow to respond to this question posed by Al Pires, the 90-year-old Breckenridge Ski Resort ski instructor will answer for you.
“In people,” Al says with his grizzled voice, which maintains more than a hint of his New England roots all of these years later.
“It’s not something written on a wall,” he says. “People care about each other. They try to help each other.”
For more than half a century, Al Pires has been helping people learn to ski. And for the past 27 years, he has been doing that teaching at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Later this winter, Pires anticipates receiving his pin signifying 50 years of work as a certified ski instructor.
In the early ’90s, about a quarter century after he first started instructing at Wildcat Mountain Ski Area in New Hampshire, Pires followed his longtime friends Skip and Shirley Bradley out to Breckenridge. It was a foreign place. But after 60-plus years of living and skiing Northeast snow, the Bradleys convinced Pires to come out to these more powdery pastures.
“It was everything he said it was,” Pires said of his late friend Skip. “He didn’t exaggerate one iota — lovely snow often, almost no ice. That’s like dying and going to heaven for a New England skier.”
Nearly 30 years later, each November, Pires makes the approximate three-day, two-night 2,200-mile drive from his home on the Atlantic coast in Ipswich, Massachusetts, to the winter home of his golden years: his condo in Breckenridge. He’s here each spring until Tax Day in April. Each winter, he approximates that he leads about 15 lessons per season.
“Up until two to three years ago I taught everything up until Level 7, except bumps,” he said. “My knees won’t take the bumps anymore. But whatever they need me for, I’ll do.”
When Pires moved here in 1992, the only people he knew were the Bradleys. Now, though, he is a central figure of inspiration within the Breckenridge Ski Resort community of instructors. On Wednesday night at the Tiger Run Resort’s clubhouse, the important place he holds in that community was on full display.
Huddled into the clubhouse were dozens of friends. Some Pires knew prior to moving to Breckenridge. Most he met after he arrived here in 1992. They were all there to surprise Pires with a party for his 90th birthday.
After the surprise, Al sat beside Shirley Bradley. They sat and listened to Breckenridge ski instructor Patrick Guilbert, a man who followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Al Pires, all the way from Wildcat Mountain Ski Area to Breckenridge.
Guilbert recalled the first time he rode with Pires, decades ago during ski instructor training at Wildcat. Guilbert described how Pires asked the young Guilbert and two other boys to follow him to the top of a trail called the “Bobcat” slope. Guilbert remembered the trail as being “steep as creation” and “bumpy as hell.” With two inches of new snow atop the trail, Pires turned to the group.
“Ski in my tracks,” Al said to Guilbert and the other boys.
“And he did his — right down the fall line,” Guilbert said of skiing behind Al. “Not a single turn. Over the bumps. All the way down, terminal velocity — ‘Ski in my tracks, boys. See if you’ve got the mettle to be in this group.’ That was this man.”
Guilbert proceeded to touch on some of the favorite pastimes of Pires, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and child of the Great Depression era. He mentioned how Pires enjoys taking care of his horse “Easy Does It,” how he is an avid tennis and golf player and how he enjoyed riding his motorcycle for many years.
But with Pires, Guilbert explained, it always comes back to Alpine skiing.
Pires’ first foray into skiing came in the early ’40s when a neighbor invited the then-teenager to ski at a Massachusetts golf club. Pires was hooked. But when he returned to his father to ask to ski again, he received a token answer to be expected from a parent of that time: “Where are we going to find the money for that?”
It wasn’t until two decades later when Pires, now a full grown adult at the age of 33, tried skiing for the second time. He attempted to learn at Mount Cranmore in New Hampshire, but he struggled through the first three days. At a crossroads, Pires asked a good friend for advice. It was simple: “Take a lesson.” From there, Pires took off, as he found himself instructing other skiers just three years later.
His time instructing then continued at Wildcat Mountain for years, teaching one young skier after another until he moved to Breckenridge in 1992.
As he now lives in Breckenridge too, Guilbert has an up-close perspective on the kind of teacher Pires is all these years later. Guilbert said skiers make it a point to return to Breckenridge because they want to ski with Pires.
“We are here because of the skiing and the riding first,” Guilbert said. “Al has a joy for skiing that he protects. And, no matter what, that joy of skiing is something that transfers to his teaching.”
During his surprise party on Wednesday, Pires was joined at his table by not only Shirley Bradley, but by a fellow 90-plus-year-old Breckenridge ski instructor. That man, Tom Brennan, Pires met only a handful of years ago. Pires is convinced they are two of the oldest ski instructors “around,” if not the oldest.
While their fellow ski instructors helped to slice and serve the cinnamon raisin cake made special for Pires, Brennan said his part.
“I just want to welcome Al to the 90 year club,” Brennan said, raising his glass in the air. “There’s only a few members. It was getting very lonely.”
When it was his turn to speak on Wednesday night, Pires expressed gratitude to the Breckenridge ski instructing community that welcomed him with open arms 27 years ago. Then, with his 90 years of wisdom, Pires opened up.
“Gratitude comes on strong when you get older, trust me on that one,” he said. “And there’s no way I can express to you how grateful I am that everybody is here on this occasion, and to tell you how much it means because, depending on your age, there are varying degrees of intensity of gratitude. My friend Tom, here, he understands.
“The other thing is,” he said, “it’s one thing to experience gratitude. And, too often, we are too slow to express. So, let me say it again: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
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