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They hear it all the time, this one recurring phrase. The wording may vary, but the delivery stays pretty much the same and the tone is always one of envious wonder. It is spoken on mountaintops and over cooling drinks after tennis. It comes as the fishing skiff ghosts to a stop in the Florida Keys. It is always the client who speaks.
This is what they all say: "And to think that you do this for a living."
There is a rumor going around that a young and single ski instructor leads an embarrassingly hedonistic life. He frolics in the sun and snow all day. He shows off in spare moments with freewheeling runs under the chair lifts for all to see and admire. Wealthy, admiring students invite him to parties and to dinner. And always, at the end of the day, there are the lovely girls anxious for his attention.
It has to be a rumor, you say. Not quite. The rumor is alive and well at Snowbird, Utah. His name is Craig Spooner, and whatever vision you have of a ski instructor is exactly what Craig Spooner is. Except, perhaps, his slightly crooked teeth. "Oh, the teeth," says Spooner. "God gave me crooked teeth so I wouldn't be too perfect."
While it might be possible to round up a few people who consider Spooner something slightly less than perfect, it would be difficult to think of a more perfect job. "I don't have any goals. I'm living my goals," says Spooner at 27. Indeed, Snowbird is one of the nation's top good-time ski resorts. It attracts the young and the rich and the happy. It is Spooner's kind of environment. The average snowfall is 450 inches. Aspen gets 145.
"But it's hard to work at a resort," Spooner says. "It's always a party and people want you to share their good times." Spooner tries. Sometimes he gets carried away trying. There was the romantic evening not long ago when he was entertaining a blonde visitor from Boston over a refreshing drink or two. Spooner somehow fell asleep under a coffee table and awoke the next morning to find a note pinned to his ski sweater: "Nice to have met you."
A friend, Dave Lake, allows that "Craig has got a wild side to him. And a sane one." Another friend and instructor, Ole Olsen, says, "The great thing about Craig is that he can drink 24 cans of beer without barfing."
While Spooner is considered a major-league partygoer ("When I got here, the other instructors said they didn't party much. The next morning we all got up bleeding to death from our eyes"), he has found a way to rationalize his exuberant life in a postcard setting. "When people learn to ski, they feel better about themselves," he says. "As you go down a mountain, your heart is uplifted. So much in life we can't control because it involves others. But in skiing, nobody else holds your poles. I'm also contributing a lot because when secretaries come here on a fling I help them have fun. Then they go back to New York and work better, more productively. So, you see, old Craig Spooner is helping the national economy." Jimmy Carter must be grateful.
Spooner got into skiing as a 10-year-old when he found some funny-looking boards in the garage back home in West Boylston, Mass. He fell for the sport when he discovered that he could make parallel turns. While he was going to Assumption College, he landed a job at the Wachusett Mountain Ski School in Princeton, Mass., where he made $5 an hour a few hours a week teaching skiing to a class of 10 youngsters. He was hooked. Especially when he realized what the other side of life could be like: he had a summer job in a leather factory. It involved putting a piece of cowhide into a machine every eight seconds for $2.25 an hour. After six weeks, he told his parents, "If I'm going through college, I have to be sane. This is driving me crazy." He quit. But it was a job that laid the cornerstone of Spooner's philosophy: "I will never become bored with myself."
After graduation in 1972, when his friends were "all trying to think of ways they wouldn't have to work, I was figuring a way to work and love it." Subsequently, Spooner came upon a poster extolling the virtues of Snowbird, and because he had it in his mind that the West was where the fun was, he took off in pursuit of the setting sun. No job. Just hopes.