EASTON — Skiing legend Glen Plake, known throughout the world for his wild freestyle skiing and monster Mohawk hairdo, recently visited Willard Mountain unannounced as part of his eighth “Down Home Tour” of the country’s small ski areas.
He and his wife, Kimberly, popped out of their custom motor home at 9 a.m. Jan. 25 and didn’t leave until 9 p.m. after skiing, visiting and dining with locals.
And according to his Instagram post, Willard’s food has been the best on the tour — although in a follow-up interview Monday, he said the lobster macaroni and cheese at Speculator’s Oak Mountain a couple of days later was pretty good too.
“I was like, what’s going on with these little ski areas around here?” he said with a hearty laugh that punctuated almost every comment in a 10-minute interview. “They’ve got amazing food.”
Plake’s tour, sponsored in part by Elan skis, is an effort to shed light on the country’s little ski areas that he believes are the lifeblood of the industry. He talked with awe about the owners of these little places, like Willard’s Charles “Chic” Wilson and Oak Mountain’s Matt and Laura O’Brien.
He said operating these areas takes a special “calling,” and added that he’s amazed at the dedication and effort small mountain owners put in.
“They are not part of the ski industry. Well, I mean they are not part of the ski resort industry,” he said. “They are two totally different things. I love each and every one of them as individuals.”
Plake said Willard was pretty quiet during the daytime hours, with some locals and some kids training. But as the day went along, and school let out, the place started filling up and bustling.
“It went from a sleepy ski area to really a community social scene in the evening and it was super cool,” he said.
Plake said Willard ski coaches kind of let him take over their freestyle lessons on Jan. 25, and a video was posted on Instagram showing him leading a group down the Colonel trail, making quick turns and going over bumps.
One of the kids following him closely was 13-year-old Declan Kelleher, who a day later took a gold medal in a moguls competition at Killington in Vermont.
“I was stoked, thrilled,” Plake said about Kelleher’s win.
“Whether I had anything to do with it is to be questioned,” he added, again with that trademark guttural laugh.
Wilson laughed that Plake was mentioning the food, though he said the chicken pesto sandwich that he was raving about was his favorite too.
But Wilson also gushed about the couple, talking about how genuine they are and how giving they were of their time. He called Plake a “pied piper” on the hill, often trailed by 20-plus skiers and riders.
“And he must have spent two hours in the lodge signing skis and giving out hats and T-shirts. They weren’t selling anything,” he said. “They’re a unique couple and real ambassadors for the sport and they love people.”
Wilson said he, too, was psyched with Kelleher’s win at Killington. He said he wishes he could offer the freestyle team more terrain to train on, but he said they still seem to do great against competitors from much bigger mountains.
“Boy, they do well,” he said. “They’re quite often on the podium.”
Kelleher on Tuesday said he initially didn’t think a lot about skiing with Plake but, before long, he said he realized what a legend in the ski world he is, and it sunk in.
“I came to realize he’s one of the most famous skiers in the world,” he said, adding that his tips, like keeping your legs in front of you through the bumps, helped him beat out 14 other competitors at Killington a day later. “When I was at the top of the moguls course, I told my coach, ‘This is for Glen Plake.’ ”
Oak Mountain’s Matt O’Brien on Tuesday said Plake and his wife were parked in his parking lot Sunday morning when he got up to plow at 3 a.m., and they spent all day skiing there.
“It was amazing, plus we got 9 inches of West Coast powder that day. He was pumped. He skied with anyone who wanted to get on a chair with him,” O’Brien said. “At the end, he signed autographs for anyone in front of him.”
O’Brien said Plake brought out a bigger crowd Sunday just through a morning Facebook post announcing he was there. He, like Wilson, called him a great skiing ambassador that everybody seems to know and love.
Plake, while chatting Monday night, was parked at Hunter Mountain, northwest of New York City, because he said he heard they were having New York City Fire Department races on Tuesday and he’d never seen the event before. He was then headed to Windham Mountain in the Catskills before heading south. He said he’s having a blast on his tour and always gets a special feeling when visiting these small mountains — and often doesn’t want to leave.
“We go away from these trips quite humble,” he said.