To say ski instructor and adventurer Ted Mahon has a pretty active lifestyle would be an understatement… The 43-year-old American athlete has reached the summits of Mount Everest and Denali, climbed and skied down the hundred highest peaks of home state Colorado and participated in dozens of marathons and endurance races, to name a few things. Time for an interview about his inspiring and unconventional profession and hobbies!
Ted’s hometown Aspen, Colorado is the perfect place to live if you like outdoors activities. “There are two distinct seasons with different kinds of activities,” he says. “In the summer people particularly enjoy hiking, climbing and mountain biking and in the winter it’s mostly skiing and snowboarding. The variety is very refreshing. I grew up in the state of New York and my family and I went skiing each winter during the school breaks. So I learned this sport at a young age.”
“After college I didn’t really have any firm career plans. I’ve always been a bit of a science kid and I started out on a path towards the medical field. But I had a bit of time before I had to commit to anything, so a friend and I made the choice to visit Colorado in the winter of 1994… but I never left,” Ted laughs. “I loved it so much here, that I decided to follow my curiosities and that brought me where I am today.”
It’s still work!
At this point Ted has been a ski instructor for eighteen years and is happy with the fact he’s able make a living out of his passion during the winter months. “But you still have to look at it as work though! You have to be there on time, of course, and take the good with the bad,” he explains. “But in general I go up the mountain in the morning and if the weather is good and the clients are fun, it’s amazing to think I get paid for it. There are challenging aspects, but I think there are other jobs that are much harder.”
Weather and snow conditions
One of the challenging parts has to do with unpredictability. “People often have been planning their vacation for months and come out here with certain expectations. Especially with regards to the weather and snow conditions, but the mountain doesn’t always play along! For instance, sometimes the snow leaves a little bit to be desired, so I have to temper those expectations.”
Experienced clients and beginners
In general the people that hire Ted as their ski instructor have some experience with skiing. “Most of my current clients are families who are returning to Colorado every winter, so many of them are quite comfortable on skis. Teaching someone how to ski from scratch is harder, but can also be very rewarding. It’s great to see a smile on someone’s face at the end of the day, when you have shown them the ropes and they can get down the hill themselves. That experience could turn them into a skier for the rest of their lives. As a teacher, I get a lot out of that.”
“A client of mine said that skiing is the only activity during which her mind is completely at rest. You’re only focussing on what you’re doing at that moment. I know that feeling. When I go running or climbing I often find myself thinking of personal or work related stuff, but when I’m skiing, an entire run down the mountain can feel like being in a sort of meditative state of mind and you’re extremely focussed on what you’re doing.”
With the 2015/2016 winter season just starting, Ted’s current focus is on skiing and he hasn’t pinpointed a specific outdoors or abroad project yet. “Usually around February or March my wife Christy and I start to hatch some plans and see who’s available for certain sportive activities or expeditions. We would like to go to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, to ski down Mount Elbrus. Another idea is visiting the British Columbia area in Canada, to do a ski traverse; a multi-day trip through the mountains. We’ll just have to wait and see how everything fits with everyone’s schedules and where the snow falls.”
After years of climbing mountains and skiing down them, Ted hasn’t grown tired of adrenaline inducing expeditions. “Every climb or ski run is different,” he clarifies. “Even if I have been on a certain mountain multiple times, I still enjoy it. It’s the physical effort, the reward of the summit and the varying challenges… They all offer some kind of unique experience. That’s why it never seems to get old!”
National Geographic Adventurers of the year 2016
Ted, his wife Christy [also an athlete and adventurer] and their friend Chris Davenport [a well-known professional big mountain skier] have been nominated for the National Geographic Adventurers of the year 2016 award. You can read more about this award and vote for them [The Ski Mountaineers] on the official website of National Geographic.
“I’m flattered to be one of the nominees for this award,” Ted says. “Christy, Chris and I got approached by National Geographic for this and it’s an honour to have your efforts recognised, but it’s not something we strive for when we go on an expedition. I’m really lucky and happy that I get to do these adventurous activities with my wife and friends, and we’ll see who wins at the end of January 2016.”
Please visit the website of Ted and Christy Mahon, www.stuckintherockies.com, for interesting blog posts and gorgeous photography and don’t forget to follow them on Twitter: @TedMahon and @aspenchristy.
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