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Downhill dedication

At 71, Ashland’s Vanston Shaw skied more days this season — 103 as of May 14 — than in any other year of his life.

A two-day trip to Mount Bachelor Monday and Tuesday may be his last ski outings for 2018-19, although the resort is scheduled to remain open through May 26, so you never know.

Most of Shaw’s ski days, 89 of them, were at Mt. Ashland Ski Area, but he skied 13 times at Bachelor and once at Mount Shasta.

Mt. Ashland was open for 91 days this season, so he missed only two days there. Shaw’s best previous total was 85 days in 2012-13.

“This year I just pretty much went up every day the mountain was open. The days I missed I was at Mt. Bachelor,” said Shaw.

He had skied a total of 2,003,500 vertical feet, as recorded by an altimeter in his wrist watch, through day 101.

Mt. Ashland doesn’t track visits by pass holders, but area General Manager Hiram Towle said the mountain has a group of diehards who show up most days.

“He is the one that provides tremendous feedback about the ski area,” said Towle. “He’s really passionate about the mountain and an excellent skier.”

Shaw took up skiing during his junior college days in California. He couldn’t recall a year he didn’t ski, although much of his skiing in the late 1070s and early ‘80s was cross-country to reach cabins in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The former California school administrator really ramped up the numbers after he retired as superintendent of the Yreka Union Elementary School District in June 2010. He’d moved to Ashland in 2006.

On Mt. Ashland he began skiing with regulars, including former Mt. Ashland instructor Shady Challman, who wanted to ski locally as many days as possible and to make frequent trips to Mt. Bachelor, Shaw said.

“Skiing with Shady got me to appreciate some of the finer points. It got me to want to improve my skiing also,” said Shaw. “Shady was the teacher. He liked to work on stuff like making a lot of turns going down Dream.”

Skiing has become Shaw’s “passion sport,” and he bikes and plays tennis in other months for conditioning. He began to set goals for himself, and for the last few years he’s been working on perfecting shorter-radius turns that allow him to ski the Mt. Ashland bowl fourth chute and the west side of Mt. Bachelor.

“Skiing for me has always been a really social kind of experience,” said Shaw, who skis regularly with friends. “It provides a lot of joy and the camaraderie that happens when you ski.”

“I love to see him taking runs down the Ariel chair line with his band of merry pranksters,” said Towle. “His heart is in it, not just for the sport, but for the mountain, as well.”

Last year, when Mt. Ashland was open only 46 days, he got in 59 ski days, 84 in 2016-17, 82 in 2015-16, and 45 in 2014-15, another low-snow year. He did 79 days in 2010-11, followed by 73 the next year.

Shaw likes the sense of freedom he experiences on the slopes.

“When you get those turns of fresh snow under your skis ... making your own tracks as you go down through the trees, you get that feeling like there’s nothing under your feet,” said Shaw. “It’s sort of like dancing, making those moves left and right, always downhill.”

Ability to take intelligent risks if you have decent self-esteem is a guiding principle for Shaw. He says it applies to people who ride bikes in cities, during skiing and other undertakings.

“The intelligent risk is to be able to ski on something steep and still have the ability to make the turns and know you’re not going to lose it,” said Shaw.

It’s been fun watching the improvements at Mt. Ashland, he said. That includes recent renovations and expansion of the lodge, the addition of parking spaces and thinning of the trees, which makes tree skiing much more enjoyable.

The real heroes at Mt. Ashland, for Shaw, are several skiers he knows who still hit the slopes in their 80s. He hopes to emulate their example in another 10 years.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area was open 91 days this season, and Vanston Shaw, 71, skied 89 of them, covering more than 2 million vertical feet of terrain. Photo by Jim Chamberlain