Outdoors instructor finds new home

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) -- Scott McGee's first telemark gear consisted of 72-millimeter skinny ''sticks'' and a pair of leather cross-country boots.

Now, almost a decade later, the sport of telemarking has come a long way and so has McGee.

He has been the manager of the Saddlehorn Activities Center and the Jackson Hole Nordic Center; a telemark, skate ski and cross-country ski instructor; one of seven members of the elite National Nordic Team; a climbing guide for Exum Mountain Guides in the summer; former president of the United States Telemark Ski Association; and a seasoned telemark racer.

Looking at this list of credentials, one would expect McGee to have been born at slopeside at a ski area. But McGee was born far from the slopes in Nashville, Tenn.

Despite where he lived, McGee got his first taste of skiing when he was only six years old. Every winter his family would load up the 67 Volvo and drive across country to Taos, N.M., for a ski vacation, he said.

But those quick trips were not enough, and the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, when McGee was 16 years old.

''The hook was set,'' he said, laughing.

An alpine skier throughout his youth, McGee first strapped on a pair of telemark boards in 1983 at Snowbird when he and a friend who cross-country skied tried to meet in the middle, he said. From then on, his passion for skiing grew into a passion for telemarking, and he hasn't stopped since.

''It definitely was a new frontier. It was a challenge after alpine. Telemarking requires being in touch with the snow in a more precise way,'' he said.

Then McGee went to New Hampshire to attend Dartmouth College, where he further pursued nordic skiing. He took a winter off from school to teach cross-country and telemarking for the colleges physical education program, and he loved it.

''I've always had a passion for sharing my passion,'' he said.

He also learned how one aspect of nordic skiing can help another, a philosophy that he uses every day in teaching.

''There is so much value in cross-disciplinary learning,'' he said. ''Balance skills from any sport are transferable, and skiing-specific skills are completely relevant.''

Itching to get back out West after he graduated in 1989, McGee decided to move to Alta, Wyo., with people he had worked with at Dartmouth's Nordic ski school.

''We're still best friends,'' he said.

Having never visited Wyoming before, McGee instantly loved the mountains, and especially the skiing.

''The Tetons were the great unknown,'' he said.

He eventually got a job teaching at Grand Targhee Ski and Summer Resort for a couple of winters and began to explore the backcountry. One day, while he was skiing Teton Pass, he met a man who changed his life.

''I got picked up by the guy who was to become my boss and my primary nordic mentor,'' he said.

Chi Melville was Targhee's Nordic program director at the time, and the two became good friends. Melville hired McGee the following winter and began to teach him all that he knew.

''I realized how much I had to learn,'' he said.

Seven winters later, McGee had become a well-rounded nordic skier, excelling in telemarking, cross-country skiing and skate skiing.

He entered a few telemark races, enjoyed racing and eventually got involved with the organizational aspect of the sport. But he found himself being spread a bit too thin and had trouble finding the time he needed to focus on his racing.

''It's hard to be the best at both,'' he said.

Then McGee decided that it was time for a change, and he moved to Utah to ski the Wasatch Range. While there, he raced independently and then slowly got back into organizing races. He also served as president of the United States Telemark Ski Association for two years, and taught both Nordic and alpine skiing.

After three years in Utah, he moved back to Wyoming and went back to work at Grand Targhee. During this time, he decided to try out for the U.S. National Team for nordic skiing, an elite team consisting of only seven skiers.

In May of 2000, during his third tryout at Snowbird, Utah, he made the team.

The position, which is a four-year commitment, involves traveling to other ski areas and organizing clinics for the Professional Ski Instructors of America, writing articles about the sport for mainstream magazines, and working with the industry to promote snow sports.

At the same tryout, McGee said that two other Jackson Hole instructors made the team: Doug Peerini for the alpine team, and Mikey Franco for the snowboard team. Now that he works for the mountain, each division of the nationals team is represented at the resort.

''It's a pretty rare thing,'' he said.

This year was his first as the manager of the Saddlehorn Activities Center and the Jackson Hole Nordic Center, and he loves it, he said.

One of his favorite parts of his job, however, is what he's been doing all along: teaching.

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