As I like to tell people, if they ski more than 10 days a year in the Pacific Northwest, especially if any of that skiing is touring, they either have already met Silas Wild or they are about to.
I met up with Silas recently at Steven's Pass, and he consented to being interviewed for the randosaigai.com "Profile" page. As anyone who's spoken with Silas knows, it is hard to reign him in once he gets going, so ten minutes easily turned into more like fifteen, but none of it was boring. Here's the transcript (and here's the link if you want to watch the unedited version):
Silas: Use sunscreen, save lives.
Rando: Yeah. Welcome to randosaigai, Silas, this is your ten minutes!
Silas: Oh, wow, randosaigai is my favorite site. Well, bloatedskier is a pretty good one, too.
Rando: Bloatedskier’s pretty good, you know. So tell me, this is your life. Tell me about your childhood, Silas.
Silas: My childhood, well you know, I’m a child of the 50's so I guess that was paradise in the US.
Rando: Where were you born?
Silas: I was born in Hartford, Connecticut.
Rando: How did you get from there to here?
Silas: God, have you got an hour?
Rando: No, you've got ten minutes, I told you.
Silas: I uhhh, let’s see. I spent the first five years of my life in Northwest Connecticut. And then my dad had a job opportunity in North Carolina, so when I was five we moved down there and I grew up kinda in the South, and when I was thirteen or fourteen my dad decided I should try skiing 'cause he had done some of that back in the day before lifts.
Rando: And you were where, the Carolinas?
Silas: We were in Winston/Salem, North Carolina. But we went into the sporting goods store, and they laughed, because at that time there was no man-made snow anywhere in the world . . .
Rando: Much less in the Carolinas . . .
Silas: Exactly. So, they thought we wanted water skis. But we wanted solid water, not uhhh . . . anyway, so I didn't get to learn to ski until I was a freshman in college. I went up north to New England to go to college, and the college I went to had what they called an “outing” club. So that club had gear for loan.
Rando: Had nothing to do with sexual persuasion back then, right?
Silas: I like that! So anyway I got a pair of – I don't know if they were 205's or 210's – wood skis with – what do you call those edges that were about six inches long and they screwed them in? Piece by piece.
Rando: Segmented edge. That's all they had, then.
Silas: Segmented edge, that's what It’s called, yeah. With, what do they call it, long thongs?
Rando: Long thongs, yeah, six feet of leather and it didn't matter if your boot wasn't stiff enough because you'd wrap that thing around it, yeah.
Silas: Yeah, exactly. So that's where I learned.
Rando: And what mountain was it? This was a ski area?
Silas: That was Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire. And I took a week of lessons, and interestingly Cannon is known for ice, but the week I was there it snowed every night and it was beautiful in the day, it was kinda like Colorado, I think. I didn't know it at the time. And I had a super hot thirty-year old instructor who was trying to teach us how to Wedel – that was the ultimate, kinda just a beautiful move of the . . .
Rando: Little quick turns?
Silas: Yeah, what do they call it now, I guess swing turns or something . . .
Rando: Nobody does them, so there’s no name for it.
Silas: But I fell in lust with that instructor. And with the notion of being a ski bum. But, it cost five bucks a day, which was too much for me, so I had to go with snowshoeing and hiking for several years.
Rando: And how'd you end up in the Northwest?
Silas: Oh, the Northwest, I forgot about that. Right, we got off target, like I do often. So after college the chances were super high out of the North Carolina draft board that I was gonna end up swimming in the swamps of Viet Nam as a buck private. So I said “naw,” I think I’d rather give one extra year and be an officer in the Navy. So I signed up for officer candidate school, and I found out there was probably more Navy than Army in Viet Nam, which was not a good thing.
Silas: But lucky for me, I wound up being a cafeteria manager at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. So I took my cross country skis down there and ran around - I joined the world’s southern-most ski resort, Scott Base Ski Club - I don't know, I think it's probably 83 degrees South, maybe it's not that far south . . .
Rando: Named after Admiral Scott?
Silas: Named for, yeah, Robert Falcon Scott, the British guy who lost the race to Amundsen. To the Pole.
Rando: Yeah, right.
Silas: Anyway, so I skied there and when I got out of the Navy luckily I had met a guy there, a logistics guy for the National Science Foundation - and he was doing a research project for a month on the summit of Mt. Rainier, so he invited me out. And the rest is history. 1972, July, I went up Rainier and I slept on the summit for a week, and did some research – every week we came down to Paradise Inn and got to take a bath and eat some good food.
Rando: And you’ve been here ever since? You worked at Boeing, right?
Silas: Been here ever since. Nope, no I never worked at Boeing. Where’d I work? Well, I thought I wanted to be a school teacher, until I saw guys with ten years’ experience getting laid off in the mid-seventies. So I gave up on that idea and I started writing computer software, so that's what I did. And when I was 60, we had the college tuition of our kids paid off, the house was paid off and my wife got a pay raise equal to my salary.
Rando: What's the question?
Silas: So I quit working. And she said, “That's good, because you’re getting too grouchy.” Then I decided finally I could realize that ski bum dream, so I decided to become a ski instructor and learn how to ski. So I didn’t really learn to ski until I was 61 years old.
Rando: Still learning?
Silas: Still learning. Exactly.
Rando: Silas, you’re known for getting more days on snow than pretty much anybody in the Northwest – how do you keep the stoke going? You seem like you have more stoke for this sport than any five twenty-year olds.
Silas: Well, you know, I think it's the opportunity to keep learning. It's those dreams of the perfect day when you feel like you're doing ballet in the powder. You know, you’re doing a ballet dance and smoke is billowing around you, and it's the closest thing to flying that I can . . .
Rando: It happens a couple times every year.
Silas: Yeah, it’s not gonna happen today, I promise!
Rando: I don't think so. So, by the way, we're social distancing, we're maintaining about an 8 foot interview gap here.
Silas: You know I was with my friend Ryan O'Connell, who's a rep for Outdoor Research, and used to rep Dynafit, and I decided that I would bring my social distancing stick for our walk around Ballard. So I had a one ski, a Head Competition Downhill 220 centimeter ski . . .
Rando: That’s well over 6 feet.
Silas: It was, yeah, so we each had ten centimeters to grab on to, that’s about 4 inches, and we had two meters between us, which is probably 7 feet. 6 and a half.
Rando: Alright, you've got a minute and a half – let's talk about your vehicle here, the Tercel Hilton. So you're kind of a car collector, I know, but they all happen to be the same car.
Silas: I'm a Tercel collector.
Rando: Show us around here. You’ve probably seen this in ski area parking lots near you.
Silas: I know, they used to be kind of a non-descript vehicle, but now there’s so few of them left they stand out a little more, which is unfortunate.
Rando: So . . .
Silas: This is the Tercel Townhouse. People always ask me, when I tell them I have a townhouse at every ski area in America, they want to know if they can come visit and stay in my townhouse at Sun Valley, and I say, well, you really have to like to spoon, because it's kind of small. And I remind people, it's only a bedroom. You know, it's not a home, it's not an RV . . .
Rando: There's no gym . . .
Silas: The living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and office are Smith's Grocery Store, Starbuck's, McDonalds, you know, this is for sleeping only. Yeah, so I have twins – I have Tammy gold Tercel and Tanya gold Tercel, and they get a little jealous of each other when I got out with one of them on ski tours.
Rando: Doesn't one of them have white doors or something?
Silas: Well, actually Tanya has a white tailgate that was donated by Whitey - Whitey was the primo Tercel that I had that the Metro Seattle bus crushed the side of, so Whitey kindly donated his heart to Tanya because she had a broken heart and she’s got Whitey's heart now with 90 thousand miles on it. Her body's only got 160, so she's good.
Rando: Before we run out here, Silas, let's get your take on what the best ski touring gear is right now.
Silas: Oh my God. I am the luckiest guy – the luckiest thing is . . .
Rando: Tell us about this boot.
Silas: I pay close attention to randosaigai, because the guy who writes that website tested every boot, every ski for the past 50 years. So this boot, is built, is designed by Tecnica, which is a dynamite company, and it weighs only 3 ounces per boot more than the famous Dynafit TourLite tech boots that revolutionized the industry about 10 years ago . . .
Rando: More than that now. And how did you get these, because they were in short supply last year.
Silas: Well, better than knowing something is knowing a guy. So I know a guy who told me the boots were impossible to find but he had a small stash for VIP’s.
Rando: And coincidentally this is the guy who designed that TLT5, right?
Silas: So very kindly, yes indeed. Actually he didn’t design that (ed: referring to the Zero G Tour Pro), he’s designing hiking boots now, somebody else designed that boot. And he connected me with a guy who had a VIP collection of these boots, and I put this on to try it out, and my four pairs of TLT's have not moved since I put this boot on.
Rando: And that's high praise. How about skis, I know you’re a . . .
Silas: Well, I mean for the backcountry there is no better ski than this Blizzard Zero G, this ski is so light, but it holds an edge – it makes me feel so safe it's like a security – a superlight security blanket. And then for the lifts, and if I was a stronger young man, I'd be on this beautiful Elan Ripstick. I mean, that's a pretty gutsy name for a ski. But it lives up to it, it rips. You might check the randosaigai review of this ski, because he describes it perfectly. All you have to do – this ski kind of has twenty first century artificial intelligence built into it – you think “I want to turn left” and it turns left. You think “I want to turn right,” it turns right. They've got a bunch of fancy engineering stuff they've . . .
(Interruption by some skiers who were chased off the groomed run by ski area personnel)
Silas: Thanks for the warning, though, and the distancing! So I have one word of advice. Buy the best gear that you can. Because you never know how many days of skiing you have left in your life, and you want them to be as good as they can be. There is nothing you can spend money on that can give you more pleasure than your ski gear.
Rando: Right on. Thanks, Silas!
Silas: You're welcome. Let's go skiing!
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