Mountain People Episode 16

A series of stories from Boyne Mountain's slopes

If you've ever ridden the Mountain Express 6-place lift at Boyne Mountain sometime in the last 13 years, odds are good that you've met Duane. And if you've met Duane, odds are even better that he's made you smile. Known for taking his job to new heights (pun intended), Duane's daily message on his lift-side white board has become a pinnacle of Boyne Mountain Resort. 

"They started me at the Mountain Express on a Friday morning, and they sent me up to the top in the afternoon. I spent about an hour sitting in the shack, and when my boss stopped in to check in to see how I was doing, I said, 'I can't sit here. I can't watch people go by, it'll drive me nuts.' So they put me at the bottom down there and now I get to meet great people and spend every day outside.

I can honestly say in my 13 years, there was one day - it was 35 below with a 30mph North wind sustained in my face. At around 2:00 in the afternoon my hands and my toes started to get cold so the last couple hours of my shift were cold. But if two and a half hours out of my 13 years are the only ones I've spent cold...that's a pretty good average if you ask me.

I started skiing nine years ago. I spent an hour on Boyneland and hadn't even made it to the bottom. But then I had some SnowSports Academy instructors volunteer to help teach me, and I caught the bug. It's almost a religious experience for me - the solitude of me and the snow and...I go out back in Disciples and it's quiet, pretty, and that prepares me for the upcoming week.

I went to the state ski meet a few weeks back and it dawned on me - some of those skiers are the same skiers that I helped onto the lift way back in the day. Everybody here - locals, passholders, transients, whoever - I've never met a bad soul. There's not many jobs where you can say that.

I'm in this position where I come in contact with so many people each day, and I have the opportunity to shape their day. That realization is where the daily message came from. It started out simple - I'd put just the lifts and the times on my whiteboard. Then I started putting just little messages on there. Somewhere in my morning routine, a thought pops into my head and that becomes the message for that day. If I can impact one person in their day - and give them something to think about or make them smile - then, okay.

The candy started my very first Christmas that I worked here, the department gave me some mini candy canes. Then I used to hand out Dum Dum suckers - because they were really easy to hand to kids. But even in the process of doing my job, I was always trying to find a safer way to hand off the candy. So that's when the hood thing came about. Somebody asked for candy and it was right at that point where the chair was like, going away and so I just reached over for the candy and stuck it in their hood just as the chair was going away. Then, the lightbulb went off.

Well, a few days later, a mom of one of the little kiddos told me that her son was really upset the night before because his jacket didn't have a hood for me to put candy in. That started the joke that the sales of hooded jackets in Boyne Country Sports went up that year because that's where I was putting the candy! I've had adults come and say they took their ski jacket out in the fall and found candy from the previous season, or kids who get home at night and take off their coat, only to have several pieces of candy fall out. It's those little things that make their experience that much better. It can be a smile, a hug - I know we all have those days where it just takes that one person to snap you out of it - and it's those little extras that make all the difference.

When I think about the past season, it warms my heart...you know, I'm like a kid at Christmas the night before Opening Day - I can't sleep. And this time of year, when the snow starts to go away, I kind of get into a little bit of a funk...because for whatever reason, there are some skiers I won't ever see again. But I love making new friendships, and I know there are many more to come next season.

It started out as just that - just a job...but it's turned into so much more. 

I'm just a man who loves his job. It's the simple pleasures of my job that make it easy to get up in the morning...that first eye contact of that skier coming through the lift with a big smile.
It's the ones I've watched grow up as tiny 5 year old skiers that could barely get on the lift. I still get that same smile now as I got when they're coming to the lift at 16 or 17 years old

I hope the day never comes when I have to leave this job, but if it does, I hope it's after I've seen this generation come back with their kids so I could help them up onto the lift."