Af­ter a life­time of ski­ing, Bebe Wood would do it all over again


A golden girl’s golden years

This is not the first time Bebe Wood has ap­peared in a mag­a­zine. That came in 1950, when she was one of Sun Val­ley’s “ski bums” fea­tured in LIFE mag­a­zine. She was 25 years old, liv­ing the dream now fa­mil­iar to many gen­er­a­tions of skiers: wait­ing ta­bles by night and ski­ing by day.

To­day, Wood is 92 years old. The white-haired dy­namo is mother of four, grand­mother of 10, and great-grand­mother of three. She hung up the skis about seven years ago, but she can’t stay away from the ski­ing life. So she vol­un­teers at New Hampshire’s Ragged Moun­tain, where she was a ski in­struc­tor for about 40 years and the free learn-to-ski pro­gram is named af­ter her.

At Ragged, Wood spends her week­ends greet­ing skiers as if they are old friends, and she keeps an eye on the begin­ner hill, never tir­ing of watch­ing novices start off on their own ski­ing paths. —Meghan Mccarthy Mcphaul

I lived in Mar­ble­head, Mas­sachusetts. There was a golf course nearby with a lit­tle hill. My older sis­ter and twin brother and I taught our­selves to ski there. I was about 9 or 10 years old. We didn’t have bind­ings. We made our own by cut­ting out in­ner tubes from tires. We had Barker boots, which are like L.L. Bean boots now.

Very few peo­ple skied then. We loved win­ter­time, and we did ev­ery­thing out­side. We’d make our own en­joy­ment. I’m not a jock. I just love the out­doors.

Ski cloth­ing hadn’t come into style yet. We wore what­ever we could that was warm. For hats, we’d have ker­chiefs on our heads. We looked like bums. Oh my gosh, the things we wore!

We thought it would be fun to get out of here and go where there was a ski area. Cran­more (in North Con­way) was the big area then. We could go skat­ing there, too. They had farm­houses where you could get won­der­ful home­made meals.

My friend, Jean Adams, and I de­cided we wanted to do a lit­tle trav­el­ing. I lived in an old house by Oc­com Pond owned by (1924 Olympic skier) John Car­leton. He told us about Sun Val­ley, and we wanted to go. Our moth­ers said, ‘You can’t go out there alone.’ John said he would help us find jobs, and that it would be OK. We left from North Sta­tion in Bos­ton. I think it took us five days to get out to Sun Val­ley on the train.

We were wait­resses. We got our room and board. We served a lot of movie stars, like Lu­cille Ball, and we’d get a lit­tle scared wait­ing on them. We didn’t have a noon meal, so we could do what­ever we wanted dur­ing the day, and we skied. The Saw­tooths were beau­ti­ful. Sun Val­ley was small then. It was a bunch of kids, and we just had a won­der­ful time. It was Shangri-la.

Scotty (Ed Scott, in­ven­tor of alu­minum ski poles) was there and War­ren Miller. I knew them well. Ernest Hem­ing­way lived at Sun Val­ley. My brother came out to visit me, and he never left. His chil­dren were Hem­ing­way’s god­chil­dren.

I would’ve stayed out there, but all my fam­ily was back East. I got mar­ried in 1951. My hus­band skied, and he was such a good sport, but he was no Jean-claude Killy. We took four or five trips to Europe, skied in Switzer­land and the Dolomites in Italy. I feel for­tu­nate to think of all the places I have skied.

The friends you make ski­ing, they’re life­long friends. They are a spe­cial breed.

What a won­der­ful sport it’s been, meet­ing peo­ple and help­ing them. I love see­ing the kids progress. But I also loved teach­ing adults, be­cause I could help them gain their con­fi­dence. You have to be a psy­chol­o­gist to teach adults, be­cause they get so ner­vous and think they can’t do it. When they see an older per­son teach­ing, it en­cour­ages them.

Ski­ing is just pure joy. If I had my life to live over, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Photo: Eric Schramm

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