ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
And now to downhill skiing. The sport was not always so serious, glamorous or high-pressure. In fact, North America was once full of little ski clubs on small mountains run by volunteers and full of grinning kids and families. Today there are only a few of these left, including Bald Mountain in Idaho. As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, skiing there is like a window into an era gone by.
(SOUDNBITE OF SKIING)
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The first thing you need to know about Bald Mountain is this is not Sun Valley or Aspen. Some people ski in jeans. Not everyone has designer gear or even goggles. Lonnie Cowger is volunteering selling lift tickets.
LONNIE COWGER: There's no pressure here. You see people dressed every which way. It's not a style show.
SIEGLER: Bald Mountain is nearly as old as its famous resort cousins. It's just more snug. There are only about a dozen runs, and the vertical drop is a quarter as long as you might get at a resort.
COWGER: I am just tickled to death it keeps going. Like I said, I worked here 51 years ago.
SIEGLER: His first job actually - he went on to be a logger like most people here. Cowger remembers when the Potlatch timber company cut the runs and put in the rope tow so there was something fun to do on those gloomy and gray winter weekends. There used to be a lot more people living around here before the logging industry declined. So many people moved out that a few years ago, Little Bald Mountain nearly closed. Cowger and other long-time locals have rallied to keep it going.
COWGER: It is. It's very positive. You know, the kids that are working here - you know, they learn job skills. And if you can get young people skiing now, in later years, they will continue skiing.
PEYTON MARY: Yeah, I've been coming up since I was really little, since - how old?
CHRIS MARY: Probably 3.
PEYTON: Two or 3, yeah.
SIEGLER: Peyton Mary is now 12. She's up here with her dad, Chris. He, too, learned to ski here when he was in fifth grade.
PEYTON: I just like how everyone in this area gets to come up and ski where we want to, and there's, like, so much snow. And I just grew up here, so I just love it so much.
SIEGLER: And the freedom of the downhill tuck - you can't beat that.
PEYTON: I just can't imagine life without skiing. I just love skiing.
SIEGLER: And it's affordable - 17 bucks a day for kids. Much more, and it'd be out of reach for a lot of families around here. This hill reminds me of the mountain I learned to ski on just a couple hours away from here. It's long been closed. Even the bigger mom-and-pop ski areas that are left to the west charge $60, $70 a day for a lift ticket now. Sun Valley is $135.
CHRIS ALLEN: That's what it's all about - is getting people out and getting kids off the computer and off the video games and out in the fresh air.
SIEGLER: Chris Allen is the president of the Clearwater Ski Club. She's chief of ski patrol, mountain operations and a lot of the less glamorous jobs.
ALLEN: Yeah, I scrub the toilets, work on the lifts.
SIEGLER: Allen's father-in-law was one of Bald Mountain's founders in 1959.
ALLEN: So I am headed out on my first rotation of the morning, and I am the only patroller.
SIEGLER: It takes us no time at all to cruise down the freshly groomed run to the T-bar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKIING)
SIEGLER: This is the same T-bar that's been here since 1968.
ALLEN: I bet you can hear the crunch of the snow under our skis, too.
SIEGLER: You sure can - and the old rattling of the T-bar.
ALLEN: Of the spring inside and...
SIEGLER: Riding up, Allen says ski clubs are about neighbors and communities as much as they are about recreation.
ALLEN: I miss being able to be out in these beautiful mountains or watching little kids or even young adults learn to ski, to conquer the slopes.
(SOUNDBITE OF T-BAR RATTLING)
ALLEN: You know, there's something really special about that.
SIEGLER: And it's clear, this is Allen's happy place in our increasingly noisy world.
Should we ski down?
ALLEN: Yeah, lets go.
SIEGLER: Mine, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKIING)
SIEGLER: Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Pierce, Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.