Still going strong: Legendary Otto Ross honored for 70 years teaching skiing
When it comes to individuals who epitomize the spirit of Mission Ridge Ski Resort and the sport of skiing, you would be hard pressed to find someone more worthy than Otto Ross, the 96-year-old youngster who just completed his 70th year as a certified ski instructor.
Ross is the welcoming spirit of Mission Ridge, as general manager Josh Jorgensen put it. On the days he’s teaching, Ross can be found waiting at the door of the ski school greeting every student and making sure they are ready for a day on the slopes.
Ross is so unassuming and gracious that many of his students have no idea that they are being taught by a skiing legend, Jorgensen marveled.
Recently, the Professional Ski Instructors Association for 60 years as a teacher, but he was an instructor 10 years before that organization got going. He has also been deeply involved in the National Ski Patrol organization in his career.
Ross’s enthusiasm for introducing people to skiing has not faded one bit over the years. “I just love the opportunity to introduce skiing to people,” Ross told me recently.
His love of skiing started early, when his father purchased a pair of skis out of a Montgomery Ward catalog. He took his first turns in the family orchard in Orondo.
His fingerprints are everywhere in the ski instruction field in North Central Washington and beyond. In 1956, Ross and Frank Cumbo were instrumental in getting ski schools going at Ardenvoir, Echo Valley near Manson and Squilchuck. In those days before the big resorts, a lot of small communities had their own local ski hills. For a time, he helped run the ski school at Steven’s Pass.
In the 1960s, KPQ Radio organized a ski school at what is now Squilchuck State Park. One of the people Ross taught to ski was national radio personality Paul Harvey, who went on to ski for decades. Harvey made famous his unique commentary style that always ended with “and now you know the rest of the story.” Harvey wasn’t the only celebrity to learn the basics from Ross. When Ross was teaching in California, he had the opportunity to teach actress Goldie Hawn.
He has had many memorable moments during his storied skiing career. In the 1960 Olympics, he escorted gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence down the hill with the Olympic torch. He also skied with the French gold medal skier Jean Claude Killy and was on the set for the filming of the movie Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford, and was in charge of the media, his daughter Jule O’Leary recalled.
As an instructor, Ross earned a certification from the French National Ski School.
He has never lost his passion for teaching.
One of the joys of teaching skiing has been to connect and build relationships with different types of people. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity to work with people from all over the world,” Ross told me.
One of the high points of his career was helping 18-year-old Pat West (Turner) learn to ski with outriggers instead of poles after she was in a horrendous car accident in which she lost a leg.
Ross remembers working with Pat’s parents to get her back on the slopes again. He found pamphlets that showed how someone with one leg could ski with outriggers rather than ski poles. Turner went on to ski competitively nationally and internationally.
He also remembered going on a trip organized by Cumbo that included my father Wilfred and his sister Kay Haley to European ski destinations like Chamonix.
Ross hasn’t slowed down much. In the off-season, you’ll find him puttering around the small family orchard or working in his yard. He fully expects to be back up at Mission Ridge teaching beginners the basics of skiing.
His boundless enthusiasm, welcoming spirit, passion for helping others and love of the outdoors have made Ross a legendary figure in our valley and in the Northwest.
Otto, thanks for reminding us that age is just a number and that we can make a difference by bringing a warm smile and a helping spirit. You are an inspiration.