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Honoring Otto, 87, and his 62 Years of Teaching

Posted on April 4th, 2013

How do you honor a man so central to the history and spirit of Mission Ridge that he’s practically part of the mountain? It seems the only respectable thing to do is to give a bit of the mountain back to him.

Otto Ross – the smiling 87-year-old holding the door at the Mission Ridge ski school, who was among the first group to scout Mission Ridge in 1962 – will complete his 62nd year of ski instruction this spring.  In homage to Otto's legacy at Mission Ridge, the soft-rolling basin currently known as the "Outback" will here forth be known as "Otto's Outback. Otto Wells Ross, born January 27, 1926 in Wenatchee, started skiing at an early age when his father bought him a pair of pine skis (without edges) from a Sears & Robuck catalogue. A love affair was born. At the age of 23 Otto became National Ski Patroller #1375 at Stevens Pass, and two years later obtained Professional Ski Instructors of America Northwest (PSIA-NW) certification #25 (certifications are now above 200,000). Otto would later become Chairman, Head Examiner, and President of PSIA-NW.

Driven by the desire to see ski instruction grow locally, Otto and friend Frank Cumbo started ski schools in Waterville, Chelan-Manson (Echo Valley), and Entiat between 1956-58. In 1959, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came knocking. After four weeks of trials, Otto qualified as one of the 45 U.S. Professional Ski Patrollers to serve during the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, CA. He was chosen as an Honor Guard Patrol, and skied during the opening ceremonies with gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence carrying the Olympic Torch. After the Olympics Otto returned to his passion, teaching skiing, first at Big Mountain in Whitefish, MT and then at Stevens Pass. Then in 1962, Wilmer Hampton led Otto and three others to the top of a ridge outside Wenatchee to scope the possibility of a new first-class skiing operation. In 1966 Mission Ridge opened with Otto as Assistant Director of the ski school under Gordy West. Otto was the first person to ride Chair 2 and ski from the Mission Ridge summit to its base! But Otto was not quite ready to settle down. In 1968 he was selected as one of 10 U.S. professional ski instructors to attend the French National Ski School in Chamonix, France. Otto was one of the four who passed, and was certified as Moniteur, the highest stage of French Ski Instructor certification.

Otto returned to the U.S. to teach skiing at Alpine Meadows in Tahoe (where he taught actress Goldie Hawn) and then at Echo Valley before making his way back home to Mission Ridge in 1976, where he has been teaching skiing and opening the door to the ski school for guests ever since. For one student in particular, Otto’s kindness, perseverance, and passion for skiing have been life-changing. Pat Turner first met Otto at the Entiat Ski Hill when she was in elementary school. “Then my parents enrolled me in ski school in my early teens, and that was the beginning of my journey in the ski world with Otto,” Pat recalls. Just before Christmas 1965 at the age of 17, Pat was in a car accident which resulted in the loss of her right leg. “Otto asked my parents if they thought I would want to ski again.” She did, and Otto wanted nothing more than to help her. “He got one of the first amputee instruction books published by the Flying Outriggers Ski Club at Mt. Hood and some outrigger skis.” Otto and Pat’s hard work through the years paid off. Pat went on to become a three-track instructor and racer at Mt. Hood, a member of the amputee demonstration team for the 8th INTERSKI event in Aspen, and a silver medalist at New Zealand’s NASTAR race. “Otto opened up a world of possibilities for me with those eight little words, do you think she wants to ski again.” The naming of Otto’s Outback is a small gesture in the humble hope of honoring a man whose passion for skiing has affected the lives of thousands over his 62-year career as a ski patroller and instructor. With or without his name on the trail map, Otto has always been and will always be a part of Mission Ridge – not just as the namesake for one of the mountain’s more beautiful bowls, but even more so in the hearts and minds of those who have had the pleasure of skiing with him.