The ski days add up (and up)
BRECKENRIDGE – To anyone who doesn’t understand the fanatical passion of skiers, Joel Hildreth might seem to be (and these are his words) a stick in the mud.
He works a couple jobs.
He plays poker and watches sports highlights on ESPN with friends.
He’s single, not many hobbies and, come 9 p.m., he’s headed for bed. But you have to understand: He’s a man on a mission.
By 3 a.m., he’s up making coffee.
He’s punching it at Beaver Run, where he’s worked for 14 years and now maintains the resort and conference center’s pools, around 4 a.m.
Why would anyone do it? So he can clock out at 8:30 a.m. and start skiing.
Hildreth is among the poor, rare Summit County breed that has a true addiction. He must – must – get his turns in.
Today will mark his 105th day on the mountain this season.
Hildreth has also gotten turns in at least once a month, every month, since October 1995.
During the ski season, most of the lifties at the Beaver Run chair quickly learn to recognize him, and they learn they need to announce his total ski days.
The staff at Daylight Donuts has learned to ask, too.
Hildreth said Tim Brush, owner of the Glide Shop, is usually keen to ask, as well, but only because Brush has his streak of consecutive skiing months beat by one.
So you can understand, it’s a tiring proposition.
“Sleep’s normally pretty high on my priorities,” Hildreth said Sunday in his Harris Street apartment, “but not as important as getting as many days on my pass as possible.”
And he has missed ski days during the season.
Hildreth is diabetic, what he calls an insulin “junkie,” for the past 26 years. It’s made him a deep sleeper, and occasionally (as on two days this year), he sleeps right through his alarm.
“My neighbors weren’t very happy about that – I think maybe even more upset than I was,” he joked.
Hildreth owes his skiing fixation to a girlfriend.
A Minnesota native, he started skiing at age 11.
After graduating from St. Cloud State College in 1984, he moved to Breckenridge to follow his sweetheart, who had moved there the semester before. He followed to her to Hilton Head, S.C., four years later.
The mistress of the mountain called him back.
Now, he says, women can really put a dent in a man’s skiing time.
“I just don’t honestly believe I’ve found my soulmate yet,” he said, rolling his eyes at friends who tell him he’ll find her on the mountain – the girl who can keep up.
The longest he’s ever been out of skiing was a month. Skiing in Keystone’s Outback in 1993, he cracked his patella on a tree.
Not thinking it was too serious, he skied on one leg back to the base area, drove home and took a nap.
When he woke, his knee was melon-sized and he had to call his boss and say he wouldn’t be in for awhile.
Despite his passion, Hildreth still seems to find time to interact with people.
He picked up a second job in 1990, at Colorado Special Tees in Frisco.
He loves the job because he gets to talk to a lot of people (he has a booming voice that can’t be missed) and, as he says, he can sell sand to an Arab.
It also led to what could probably be his most interesting quirk: Hildreth can’t live without his atlas.
“I learned quickly after moving here that nobody is from here,” Hildreth said, looking over a map of Georgia to locate a small town called Winder.
“So, I talk to people and ask them where they’re from. I try to learn a new town every day. And if somebody stumps me, I come home and I look it up. I’m always stumped.”
When asked what his future holds, Hildreth pauses. If it appears he hasn’t given it much though, there’s a reason.
“I thought I’d die by the time I was 40,” said Hildreth, who turned 43 last Thursday.
“I’m living on borrowed time. Guess I’ll keep skiing.”
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