Interview: Man of the Mountain
Man of the Mountain
From operating lifts to ski patrolling, Erik McClure has helped keep Sugarloaf running for more than a quarter-century
by Paul Koenig
Photography by Nicole Wolf
Issue: November 2020
One winter while in college, Erik McClure moved up to Sugarloaf with some friends to work at the mountain. Some stayed, others left, but McClure stayed the longest. He tried going back to college for a stint but ended up returning to Sugarloaf. “I said, ‘Forget it, I’m going back,’” McClure says. “It’s too good, you know?” After starting as a lift attendant in 1994, McClure has worked in snowmaking, as a ski patroller, and is now lift operations foreman. He also works at the Sugarloaf Golf Course during the summer and runs a small property management company with his wife, who he met at the mountain. “Most of us work two jobs,” McClure says. “The real ski bums work three to keep it going.” This winter will see some changes, including social distancing requirements, reduced capacity on shuttles, and a new RFID ticketing system, which will allow for touch-free checking and scanning at the lifts. But one constant is McClure, who will be returning for his 26th season at the mountain.
What are your favorite parts of working at Sugarloaf?
Definitely community. You know everybody. You get to know people more and more every year. And the skiing—there are only a couple places in the East that are like this place. This place is badass that way. Also, just the area itself. It’s laid-back, it’s woodsy. It’s definitely not Killington. We have our own vibe here. It’s a super supportive community. It’s outgoing, and for a small town, there’s always something going on.
What’s your favorite trail or run?
I’ve always liked Double Bitter. It’s winding and usually bumpy. Just a cool trail. Usually my favorite is something in the woods. I don’t like to give away some of the stuff. I have my own trails, as anybody else does, that I’ve cut over the years. Some people share it, some people don’t. I don’t share. My friends and my wife, they know where that is. Back in ’98, we built a huge network off the King Pine chair. We built a cabin out there. It was called the Salsa Shack. Now it’s been engulfed by Brackett Basin, but everybody who helped cut it, we all look at each other and don’t really ever mention it, but we know that we started that area over there. I’m sure there’s a generation before us that cut stuff over there, too, that says the same thing.
How has the resort changed from when you first started working?
I think one of the things that’s kept Sugarloaf cool and an ideal place is that not much has changed. We still have the same lifts. We still have the same trails. It’s a lot of the same faces working here—people really know us. But at the same time, we have cool new stuff. It’s almost ten years old now, but the Skyline lift with the carpet, that’s a rad thing. We have Burnt Mountain cat skiing, which is the only thing like it on the East Coast. Since Boyne Resorts acquired us back in 2007, they’ve invested a lot into our snowmaking, which has made it better. They threw some lifts at us and modernized the point of sale throughout the resort. Last year they invested in the Widowmaker. I can go on and on and sound corporate as hell, but I really feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same. And I feel like we’ve stayed the same for a while. I think a lot of people like that.
What’s the essence of Sugarloaf that’s remained the same?
Good skiing, really good skiing. Good grooming—we’ve always had really good grooming. If you go to the day to day operations of it, the old-timers, the first-chair guys are out there every morning waiting. That’s a loyal crowd. They meet in the locker room below the ski shop every morning. I get a kick out of that. That hasn’t changed. Things like the Bag and Kettle restaurant. Some of those guys who have been hanging out after skiing, some have been skiing at Sugarloaf the whole time it’s been open…70-something years. I think the essence is, this place breeds people that are loyal. People come back to it because they love it so much.