“If there wasn’t powder, I probably would quit skiing,” says my 78-year-old neighbor Curtis Thompson as he carries his skis downstairs onto the cabin’s wraparound deck. “For me, it’s that thrill when you can’t feel the bottom. It’s hard to describe. It’s just…sheer joy.”
If you’ve been to Brighton on a Utah powder day, you’ve seen Curtis. He’s at the front of the lift line with his fuzzy pink pig helmet cover, waiting for first chair. If you’re lucky enough to watch him fly past in an explosion of Wasatch blower, you might even see “Powder Pig” spelled out in gold stitching across the back of his swine-headed powder getup—maybe.
“I ski pretty aggressively when there’s powder. I’ll go through the trees, scare myself some,” he says behind bright blue eyes. That’s exactly what he’s doing today, below the cabin, in one of those mid-March blizzards that make it hard to believe spring is just around the corner.
“There’s nothing like that feeling when you can make a nice turn in deep snow. I think it’s especially nice because I can remember what it was like when I couldn’t,” Curtis says.
Curtis hasn’t always been a powder skier. Following a brief stint on long, skinny skis in North Dakota and a few years skiing manicured pistes while stationed at an Air Force radio relay site in the Vosges Mountains outside Alsace, France during the Vietnam War, fate intervened. When the photography company Curtis worked for relocated from North Dakota to Salt Lake City, Curtis and his wife were forced to head to the Beehive State.
“I didn’t want to come. I’ve been thanking them ever since,” he says with a laugh.
Curtis was baptized into the Kingdom of Blower on his 36th birthday. “We had 6 inches of new snow,” he remembers. “The friends I was with kept talking about how great the powder was. From the first day, that’s all I knew.”
During the next several decades, Curtis honed his craft.
“The skis were narrow in those days. I crashed. I struggled. I thought, ‘What the hell’s the matter with me?’” he says. “Finally I figured out that when you’re making a turn in bottomless powder, you don’t unweight, you keep weight on both skis. I never did ski powder very well on skinny skis. I could get down, but it wasn’t elegant.”
Elegance aside, the obsession had already taken root. Powder was all he could talk about. Eventually he had hogged enough deep snow that his friends started calling him the Powder Pig. Shortly after, they gifted him the homemade helmet cover that has become his calling card.
“Now everybody at Brighton knows me,” he says, smiling.
Today, with the ski resorts closed for the season, the septuagenarian is skiing and hiking the aspen grove below his cabin. It’s a good 300-vertical-foot run to the state highway from the deck, and the Powder Pig is buzzing. When he turns to drop into his next line, I can just make out the words inscribed on his helmet before he disappears into a world of white: “Old skiers never die, they just go downhill.”
This article first appeared in The Ski Journal Issue 14.1.