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