DCSki is kicking off the User of the Month program, which will recognize some of the best members of the DCSki community throughout the year. We’re pleased to announce that the very first reader to be inducted into this program is Morgan Birge, more commonly known as the Colonel or MorganB. For over 15 years, the Colonel has been an active member of DCSki, sharing his perspective and advice with thousands of readers in the DCSki Forums. Morgan has approached every discussion with a positive attitude, and has always been eager to help other winter sports enthusiasts. He was a natural fit for our first User of the Month.
We’ve expanded the DCSki Interview Series to include our highlighted readers, and recently interviewed Morgan to learn more about his background.
DCSki: Morgan, congratulations on being selected as the first DCSki User of the Month! What was your very first experience on the slopes? Where did it occur, and what prompted you to try skiing for the first time?
Morgan: I was 27 years old in February 1969, married with a child, when a neighbor asked if I wanted to go skiing, and that he had equipment that would fit me. I had never tried the sport, but I loved winter, sledding, and “playing” in the snow. I had always been an athlete, participating in track in high school and college. The equipment was long narrow skis, safety bindings, lace-up leather boots, etc. We went to Charnita (now known as Liberty Mountain). My friend who had skied most of his life in New England gave me some pointers and off I went on green trails. I tell people I initially learned to ski “bale to bale” — going from a bale of hay protecting a tripod snow gun to the next across-trail bale of hay, then reversing my course back across the trail, essentially a zig zag pattern. The bales of hay stopped me and allowed me to turn around. I think I had one more day that year and was HOOKED! My wife stayed home taking care of our nine-month old daughter.
DCSki: You’ve been passionate about skiing for a long time. Any idea how many total ski days you’ve tallied in your life?
Morgan: Best estimate: in excess of 850!
DCSki: I believe you’re retired now. Do you ski more now that you’re retired? What was your career before you retired?
Morgan: I was in the imagery intelligence business (ours!) for 50 years prior to my retirement in 2012. A fascinating career, but if I say more I would have to eliminate you! I would say that I skied a bit more after retirement, or at least until February, 2017 when a snowboarder, out-of-control because he was looking uphill versus downhill, plowed into me without any warning at the bottom of the flat section on Cupp Run at Snowshoe. I was off to the skier’s left side of the trail and standing still. The resulting blow broke six of my ribs, two in two places, and basically put me in shock; it was remindful of an unblocked linebacker getting a free shot at an unsuspecting quarterback.
As best I can figure, the snowboarder was racing another one down the Cupp face and looking back to see where his buddy was, riding left foot forward. I told those that came to my aid that I thought all was OK when I wiggled my legs and other body parts. Wrong! It was a major effort to get out of bed the next morning and begin the trip home to Fairfax — it took seven hours of careful driving.
When I finally got to the INOVA emergency facility, the folks there were shocked that I had survived and driven home, and called an ambulance to take me to another shock trauma hospital. This “accident” has certainly limited my skiing since that time. No more days in 2017, about six in 2018/2019, and seven in 2020. I am now a bit skittish when on the slopes, always concerned about another person running into me. And I still have not physically recovered to the less-than-good shape I was in prior to the accident. HOWEVER, I still love the sport and will ski on… now if I could only figure out how to get to empty slopes, but what the hey, I am eighty this season. I enjoy what I can do!
DCSki: When you’re not skiing, what are some of your favorite things to do?
Morgan: Being social with family (three children, seven grandkids) and friends, golfing, boating and enjoying our Lower Potomac “Rivah” cottage. Speaking of family: my wife is a non-skier. She tried it a number of times over multiple years, and even skied a blue run at Deer Valley, but it just was not her thing. As she puts it so well, she hates going fast, not being in control, heights and cold… otherwise skiing is a great sport. However, she still tolerates my skiing, and tolerated my getting our children into the sport at age 4-5, and our grandchildren at age 3. My youngest grandson was skiing — skiing not surviving — Cupp Run at age 4; he and his family starred in a Snowshoe promotional video. I will say that the Shoe has an awesome children’s ski school. Today the “Birge” family consists of 13 skiers, 3 who prefer to ride, and all wear helmets!
DCSki: What is one thing about you that would surprise people?
Morgan: My age. I do not look anywhere near as old as I am. But I am catching up!
DCSki: You’ve been a member of the DCSki community for over 15 years, posting over 3,000 messages to the DCSki Forums during that time. Do you remember how you first discovered DCSki?
Morgan: Unfortunately I do not, probably during an internet search for Mid-Atlantic ski areas. What attracted me was the real information about local skiing, shops, and the sport in general. And I frankly was attracted by your management of the site, keeping it basically clean and fun to view, whether adult or child — a rarity even back in the DCSki beginning days.
DCSki: What are some of the ways that your participation on DCSki and other ski sites has enriched your skiing experience? Have you had a chance to meet people you’ve interacted with virtually in real life?
Morgan: Over the years I have met many DCSki members, both virtually and in person. From postings I have learned both positive and negative information about ski shops, ski events, and ski areas. I have been informed of ski show/events that otherwise I would have missed. Some years ago I saw a post about a “ski show” being held in a hotel in Tysons Corner. I called a DCSki buddy and we went — I won a door prize, a local ski trip! But probably the most important way DCSki has improved my ski experience is the making of new ski enthusiast friends to help fill the void occasioned by not having a skiing partner. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting other DCSkiers in person by participating in planned gatherings at local ski areas, as well as the individuals I have met at other ad hoc restaurant get togethers, day trips, etc. The beauty is that I feel as if I have known these folks for years, as friends, despite that most of my knowledge about them is via their posts in DCSki and other ski/board sites… And they seem to know me!
Over the years DCSki has changed a bit. In the beginning it was mostly about local Mid-Atlantic ski areas and local events. Now there is unvarnished information about all aspects of the sport and ski areas all over this country and to a smaller degree, the world.
DCSki is better today than ever, and the forthcoming completely updated DCSki site will be even better than ever. The new site will incorporate features to easily allow the poster to insert pictures and references that can be simply opened by a reader with a single click. Not being able to do this in the past has been a pet peeve of mine and of numerous DCSki users. Here I need to add a big “thank you” to Scott, the DCSki site owner for his caretaking of this family-friendly site over many years. All DCSkiers are very appreciative!
DCSki: Thanks, Morgan. I’m looking forward to launching the new DCSki soon. Do you have a favorite Mid-Atlantic resort? How about a favorite resort outside of the Mid-Atlantic region?
Morgan: I have skied at about 100 different resorts in the following locations: USA: PA(18), VA(7), MD(2), NY(1), VT(5), NH(2), MA(5), CT(5), ME(1), WV(6), UT(11), CO(12), CA(2), NV(1), AZ(1); Eastern Canada: Quebec(9); Western Canada: British Columbia(2); Europe: Germany(1), Austria(5).
In the late sixties this was all new to me and I would say Charnita (now Liberty) was then my favorite. By the seventies it was probably Mt. Sutton in Canada and Park City. Followed in the eighties by Seven Springs, and Snowshoe. Since then I would say there are two local resorts that I would call home resorts, Timberline and Snowshoe. My favorite resort out west is the heart of the sport Alta, with Beaver Creek in Colorado a close second.
DCSki: What advice would you give to brand new skiers?
Morgan: Take lessons, especially true for children. Group lessons at first, then a few private lessons. Children particularly like the full-day class with equipment, lunch, and breaks. Make sure the children’s ski school provides this and special instructors (frequently elementary school teachers). This is important! Make sure you take the children to the meeting place and that they are reasonably comfortable with what they will be doing. I know this is expensive, but it truly is worth the extra money. Dress them for the weather, otherwise they will be miserable. Make sure you ski with them after their lessons; let them share what they have learned with you! Remember you are doing this to build a love of the sport for their lifetime and the sports future! PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE.
Skiing is a unique sport; both beginners and experts experience similar emotions. You might be an expert, but remember the intimidation/adrenaline rush you felt when you first skied a steep trail or challenged a couloir; this is essentially the same feeling a beginner gets upon graduating from the bunny teaching slope and first tackles that scary GREEN MARKED trail! We all can relate, it is relative, there are always challenges!
DCSki: Reflecting on all of your ski days, are there any particular trips that stand out as being particularly special or memorable to you?
Morgan: There are so many special moments over the 52 years that I have enjoyed skiing and the camaraderie and new friends that comes with it.
A memorable day on skis: investigating a crowd at the top of a straight trail into the back bowls at Vail being perfectly groomed by multiple snow cats, untouched 2,000 vertical feet of corduroy into the back bowls. No turns, straight down. They dropped the rope shortly after I arrived and I was in the forefront of a sweet drop, no stops, to the bottom with a herd of skiers. My quads were Jell-O by the time I reached the bottom.
Two trips with my ski mentor who got me started were memorable: One to Park City with his wife and another friend — his first trip out west after a lifetime of New England trails. He hated it, especially the piles of sugar-like deep powder that week and a snow thunder storm. Where does one go when high on the mountain with metal skis under foot and lightning bolts hitting the tall trees nearby?!
Another memorable trip was a train trip to Mt. Sutton in Ski Da Est south of Montreal. My mentor was put into a class level lower than me after a ski off run, despite being a much better skier than me. Oh and that’s the week the actual air temperature dropped to 42 degrees below zero Fahrenheit two nights, and a high of negative 22 degrees the in-between day!
There have been many memorable trips with my family, but especially our first trip to Utah. The kids were ecstatic at Alta’s size and amount of snow. My wife gave it a great shot, even skiing a blue trail at Deer Valley, but skiing, not to my surprise, is not her thing.
I’ve enjoyed taking all of my grandkids, over the years, for weeks of lessons at Snowshoe and other resorts. They now have a fun sport that will be theirs the rest of their lives!
And lastly I’ve enjoyed meeting so many DCSkiers at local mountain gatherings, and finding a somewhat younger ski friend, JimK, who kindly asks me to join him on season opening loosening-up day trips, as well as a ten-day trip with him and his wife for skiing and enjoying winter in Colorado. Thanks Jim!
DCSki: Is there a ski resort that you’ve always wanted to visit, but haven’t had the chance to yet?
Morgan: Of course, but too many to name, afford, and physically be up to the challenge, especially as I turn 80 this ski season. As DCSkier Denis has stated, you can keep enjoying the sport, but you cannot deny the impact age has on we humans. Just take it a lot easier, don’t attempt the steeps when you are not as agile as earlier in life. Legs tire quicker… but the thrill and enjoyment can still be had, even if you only ski a half day, and on the less intimidating slopes.
DCSki: What has you most excited about the upcoming ski season? Do you have any trips planned, or is COVID putting a pause on planning?
Morgan: I hope to get to the New Timberline Mountain for a couple of days at least. And if they continue the tradition of an end-of-season Snowy Luau celebration, I want to enjoy it. Most recent years I have ended my ski season at Timberline, making my last run on the “Almost Heaven” trail, loudly singing John Denver’s Country Roads at the top of my lungs, feeling the fresh air in my face and the love and enjoyment that skiing brings me! So if you hear and see an older wild skier yelling “West Virginia, mountain momma, …” at Timberline Mountain… it will be me celebrating at age 80.
P.S. To my friend and ski mentor — Thanks Steve Horton for taking me to this sport! I sometimes think of you when I look up at cloud-shaped endless ski slopes.
DCSki: Thanks, Morgan, for taking the time to chat with us, and thanks for being such a valuable member of the DCSki community. You’ve always inspired me and I really appreciate your participation on DCSki.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Thanks Scott. Great story. I had the pleasure of skiing with Morgan at Alta, perhaps 7-10 years ago. John L was there too.
A really nice interview with a really nice gentleman. Congrats to The Colonel!
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Morgan. I've missed you the last few years and hope to ski with you again this season at the Timberline gathering, virus permitting. I couldn't think of a better first pick for user of the month, congratulations on the honor.
Very nice article. Morgan, can you comment on how the price of ski tickets has changed over time? What's your strategy for keeping skiing within budget? Do opt for a mega pass, a local pass, or buy tickets individually?
We have not met in person but this is a great story and I look forward to skiing in my 80's. Continued good health and skiing joy!