August, September and October are usually the hardest months to keep the streak alive.
But this past October, Steven and Karen Ward were treated to some prime snow conditions at Mount Bachelor as the Bend couple celebrated a milestone.
That outing last month marked Steven’s 240th consecutive month — 20 years — of skiing, and Karen’s 227th straight month. About a foot of fresh snow awaited the skiers as they hiked and skied the mountain’s west ridge.
“That was really good. That’s probably one of the best,” Steven, 48, said last week of the October conditions.
“We got a powder day for his 20th year, and also in early October!” said Karen, 50. “I mean that was just a treat, because usually, you never know.”
The streak began in 1997 on Mount Hood, after the Wards moved to Portland from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They moved to Bend in 1999 and have maintained the streak — mostly at Mount Bachelor — through family illnesses, two pregnancies and a variety of injuries.
Reliable snow at Bachelor has made it easy to keep the streak going during the winter and spring months via chairlifts. But during the late summer and fall, when most of the mountain snow has melted, the Wards hit the backcountry — climbing, scrambling over rocks and skinning to earn their turns on telemark skis.
Their children — daughter Cassidy, 13, and son Michael, 11 — are not a part of the streak, though they are both avid skiers, according to their parents. And they could perhaps soon start some ski streaks of their own.
“Now Michael wants to try backcountry, so that’ll spark a little bug in us just to keep it going now that they can go with us,” Karen said.
Even after record-setting snow in Central Oregon last winter, August and September presented a challenge for the Wards to continue their streak. But they know that the West Ridge area at Bachelor, between the Skyliner and Pine Marten chairlifts, typically holds snow through the summer and fall.
“Fortunately, there’s some aspects of Bachelor that hold snow that you wouldn’t think,” Steven explained. “You can get a good share of turns in. It was still a scramble up to West Ridge area in August and September, but that’s kind of the norm.”
Karen said she was surprised how much snow had melted from July to August during an unseasonably hot summer.
“We thought after last winter what an easy summer it would be (to continue the streak),” Karen said. “And the difference between July and August was huge. August was actually harder than we thought. But overall, in comparison to other years I would say it was a more enjoyable year.”
The Wards, who were previously featured in The Bulletin, have a self-imposed 20-turn required minimum for a monthly ski to count. “But even in the summertime we’re normally hitting 50 turns,” Steven said.
Early on in the streak, Steven said, they referred often to Northwest outdoor adventure author David Waag’s “Oregon Descents,” a backcountry ski guide that includes Cascades routes from Mount Adams in Washington to Mount Shasta in Northern California.
The streak has taken them all over the Cascades, including South Sister, Middle Sister, Mount Hood, Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin in Oregon, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens in Washington, and Mount Shasta. They have also skied in Idaho and in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon.
“We’ve had some days up in (British Columbia) when we’ve been on vacation,” Steven recalled. “We used to get at it a little more before the kids, but we still try to get to the other volcanoes. When you can do it in your backyard, though. … We’re not doing anything extreme out there. There’s certainly people skiing bigger lines in the north Cascades, but we’re keeping it going and we’re having fun.”
They document their monthly ski trips with dated photos in case anybody questions the validity of the streak.
“We definitely document, especially through the summer, because those are the hard ones that you really have to work for,” Karen said.
The Wards acknowledge that other skiers in the West boast longer streaks, but they know of no husband-and-wife duo with a streak that exceeds theirs.
According to a Seattle Times story last year, Danny Miller, of Carnation, Washington, skied his 277th consecutive month (23 years) in November 2016.
And according to espn.com, Rainer Hertrich, a groomer at Copper Mountain, Colorado, skied 2,993 consecutive days, a streak of more than eight years, from 2003 to 2011.
Steven is a sales representative for Henry Schein Medical and Karen a sales rep for Altria, and their kids are busy with sports and activities, so the convenience of Bachelor has been crucial in recent years to keep their streak going.
“The catch is, sometimes planning it becomes the harder part,” Karen explained. “But once you head out and you’re actually in motion, then you’re away, you’re out in the wilderness, you’re with nature, it kind of changes the whole thing. That’s what keeps you going.”
Steven has persevered through mountain biking injuries, including a broken shoulder blade in 2011 and broken ribs in 2013. He figures as long as they are healthy enough to ski each month, the streak will continue.
“If we ended it now and it wasn’t due to an injury we might look back in retrospect and regret it,” he said. “‘Well, why didn’t we keep it going?’”
The year difference in the Wards’ streaks stems back to a Mount Hood outing in 1998. While they were climbing out of a drainage a rock slide triggered above Karen and a boulder struck her on the back, according to Steven. Though she was not seriously hurt, she decided to skip the next month’s ski trip. But she started back up about a year later and has not stopped since.
“Steven hit 20 (years) which is pretty exciting. So that means I’ve gotta keep going, because I can’t let him get 20 and not get 20 myself,” Karen said. “November will be 19 years for me. I’m 13 months behind him. He’s kind of set the bar now.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,