Last Wednesday it was dripping wet at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Ashen clouds hung overhead and fog cloaked the upper half of Big Mountain. The layer of overnight snow carpeting the ground had turned into Elmer’s glue by 9 a.m.
If there was ever a day to stay inside, it was last Wednesday.
Fred Frost slid up to Chair 2 wearing a red poncho and a squeegee for his goggles. Among only a handful of people on skis that morning, he greeted the lift attendants who knew him by name. He saddled onto the chairlift for the 84th day this season and embarked on his unparalleled routine.
“A friend used to say, ‘There’s no bad weather days, there’s only bad clothing days,’” he later says.
Frost is approaching the end of another epic winter. A month shy of his 71st birthday, he has already skied more than 3.6 million vertical feet on Big Mountain since the resort opened Dec. 8, which equals about 670 miles. By skiing six days a week during the season — he avoids busy Saturdays — the retired teacher and Whitefish resident has tallied almost 3,900 miles in just the past five winters.
Since the resort began tracking pass holders’ vertical mileage 10 years ago, the jaw-dropping efforts of a small group of avid skiers have become apparent. Five pass holders — Frost, Jay Foster, Chris Chapman, John Gibson and Tony Cooper — have surpassed 4.5 million “vert” at least once since the 2003-04 winter. This season Cooper is on pace to break Chapman’s longstanding record of 5.3 million, which was set that first season the mountain recorded stats. Foster came close in 2010-11, when he finished with 4.73 million. Gibson logged 4.6 million in 2006-07.
But overall, among the elite fraternity of prolific skiers, Frost reigns king of the mountain. He has finished in the top three every year the last 10 winters. He has accrued the highest total three times — in 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10. He ranks second this year. Frost has had six of the top 15 season totals. Foster and Chapman are next on the list with two of the top 15 apiece.
“Fred is a local legend,” said Riley Polumbus, the resort’s spokesperson. “He is part of who we are and part of our ski culture. It’s fun to have these people who are dedicated.”
To understand how Frost achieves such mammoth mileage, it takes skiing with him. He’s a self-described creature of habit, which means he starts and ends his days skiing the same stretch of runs off Chair 2, beginning at 9 a.m. and ending usually around 3:30 p.m. But in between, he likes exploring for good snow. That could mean black-diamond runs in the trees, or groomer laps. Frost worked as a ski patrolman for 25 years, and there’s hardly a run he won’t try, unless there’s a cliff involved. He never rushes his turns, but he doesn’t stand around, either.
He admittedly keeps track of his own vertical and the number of runs he notches with a GPS device. But he isn’t solely focused on winning anything.
“I’m consistent,” he says. “If somebody wants to win it, they win it. And if there’s nobody that wants to win it, I win it by default.”
Since moving to Whitefish from Washington 19 years ago, he has consistently spent almost every winter day skiing. These days he starts out by eating a big breakfast and bidding farewell to his wife, Natalie Neckermann. His reason for doing it is like many local residents’ — he simply loves being outdoors.
“It beats sitting in the house eating,” he says. “If I’m not out doing something, it’s too easy to sit in the house and eat. There’s too many good junk foods out there.”
Neckermann will join her husband on the sunny days. But he doesn’t mind skiing alone and regularly brings a magazine or newspaper to read on the chairlift. Naturally, he’s become well known among just about everyone at the mountain, and he’s made a lot of acquaintances over the years from striking up a friendly conversation.
“You ride the chair 2,000 times a year, you meet a lot of people,” Frost says.
When winter ends, he simply trades skiing for biking or hiking.
The season ends at Big Mountain on April 7, 10 days before his birthday. Frost will likely have surpassed 4 million vertical feet and 100 days of skiing once again.
It’s not getting any easier, though. On foggy days he increasingly battles vertigo. Then there’s the wear and tear from Frost’s lively routine. Being king of the mountain can take its toll.
“I used to get pains and they would last one or two turns. Now they last four or five minutes,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s anything serious.”
He has a modest solution.
“I might have to cut back to five and a half days (a week) in a year or two.”