John Christie has been involved in Maine’s ski industry since ski areas here took shape, either in the forefront as a ski mountain manager, or in the background embracing the sport as author, ski museum director and alpine enthusiast.

At age 73, he’s known to ski three mountains in a day.

His connections to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram also run deep.

He delivered the paper as a child, attended Bowdoin College on a Guy Gannett scholarship and in 1972 bought Saddleback ski area from the Gannett family, who owned our newspapers at the time.

While the Gannetts no longer own the papers, we are welcoming John and his son, Josh, to the Outdoors section as our new ski columnists.

Josh’s passions include writing and skiing. He is a bookseller who writes a prolific blog about beer and books, and in his spare time skis as much as he can. John Christie shares the same passions, as the former director of three ski areas and the author of “The Story of Sugarloaf.”

To many Maine skiers and snowboarders the elder Christie is a legend. To me in the time I’ve known him, he has become my nemesis.

The best way to introduce such a person seemed with a story, so here is my story of John Christie.

I first got to know him through a story, one I wrote last year on Sugarloaf’s old gondola. And not unlike other interviews, that first conversation was a serious look at the facts. As the former general manager of Sugarloaf, Christie knew them, and in short order quickly covered a span of 20 years of Sugarloaf history.

From my perspective, covering ground quickly would become Christie’s signature trait.

That’s because after the article ran, he proposed we take a run together sometime at Sugarloaf. And somewhere in his zest for life I detected a like-minded spirit. So I challenged him to a race.

Almost immediately, however, I had second thoughts.

He is 32 years my senior, and maybe not the ski racer he was at Bowdoin in the ’50s. Perhaps my brash dare was insulting. Probably I should apologize.

Well out of the e-mails that ensued a life lesson arose, something about the brilliance in a simple contest.

First came the photo of him skiing Sun Valley powder, no doubt intended to intimidate me. Then he mocked a photo of me back-country skiing.

Those who know me say I am the most truly competitive person. Well in John Christie I met my match.

We met for the first time in Bullwinkle’s pub on Sugarloaf. And almost at once he offered me a friend of his — Megan Roberts, then the director of the Ski Museum of Maine — as “my trainer.” It’s a good thing.

He had his own “manager” and once we left I had only Roberts to talk with as we skied across the mountain. Christie was too busy stopping to tell everyone he knew (which was virtually everyone) that I had challenged him to a race.

His attitude on skis was all-business — and high comedy. He also was supremely confident. And his unabashed bragging was making me want to rip past him down the mountain.

Not that I didn’t try to intimidate him, referencing my own athletic career as a three-time All-American in track who later ran for the Irish National Team. I even lied and said I still squatted my weight.

He was unflappable.

Little did I know this master of ceremonies once staged ridiculous competitions on this very mountain with the late Bud Leavitt. It was as if those Bangor television cameras were still rolling, and I felt the old outdoors columnist looking on, smiling.

Christie wasn’t so much proclaiming victory as he was performing, and, ultimately, proving that humor is a key part of a life well lived.

Even before we reached the proverbial starting gate, the spotlight was his. Then we were there and he was gone

And suffice it to say, there were only two real turning points in The Race. First, Christie stopped halfway down the mountain to wait for me; then he passed me and beat me to the finish.

And if there was a third highlight, I’d say it was when he explained he stopped so he could smoke a cigarette.

If he wasn’t so funny he’d be insulting.

All I could do when it was done was bow down and demand a rematch.

He simply boomed with his classic combination of jest and drama: “We’ll make it a series.”

So the Labatt’s Point Series was born, named for his favorite beer.

Certainly this absurd tale leaves out a lot.

It doesn’t highlight Christie’s career as manager of Sugarloaf or Mount Snow, as owner of Saddleback, or as someone who championed the Winter Special Olympics coming to Maine.

But to those who know John Christie it will make sense.

Christie has so many tales to tell, and like any good storyteller, he leaves in each story a message that can mean different things to different people.

Well what I learned the day of The Race was something I will remember the rest of my life, and that is to never not challenge a 73-year-old man to a race.

Because it was pure inspiration.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]