Tom Szwedko has skied every month for the past 42 years. But let’s be clear about something: That sure as snow doesn’t mean he skis one day a month. The 74-year-old Leadville resident, who can cross-country ski 10 miles from his front door without intersecting a street, estimates that he gets in about 300 days a year on two planks—sometimes as many as 320.
More often than not, he collects days in Colorado’s backcountry, either on his skinny cross-country setup or on one of his beat-up pairs of telemark skis. Resort days are few and far between, though he does get a pass to Loveland Ski Area each year. He also takes advantage of his free bonus days at Monarch Mountain and his local hill, Ski Cooper.
Outside of Colorado, Szwedko’s left parallel tracks all over the Mountain West, Northwest, and Northeast, where he grew up. The smoking volcanoes he skied in Chile proved to be “relatively easy;” free-heeling adventures in Iceland were followed by dips in the hot spring–fed river running outside his hostel; and Italy’s jagged Dolomites have long been a favorite challenge.
Why do it? “It’s fun,” he says.
As Szwedko approaches 43 years of skiing at least once a month, we asked him to share in his own words some of the most memorable and trying moments during that insane streak.
On His Skiing Origin Story
“I grew up in Pittsburgh. Back then, they used to get more snow than they do now. Neither of my parents skied, but I must have gotten a pair of skis for Christmas. I used to strap on these wooden skis–they were about five feet long–to my winter boots, and I would go down the hill in our yard.
[Eventually], I had an involuntary vacation from Uncle Sam in 1966 when I went into the Air Force. I skied in the Alps some when I was stationed in Germany, but once I was in Italy, there was a ski area right above our base. I also skied quite a bit in the Dolomites. I was doing more downhill then, but I was doing some backcountry. The boots were leather, and I rented them from the service club. I also had a pair of old military skins, so I started doing some of the peaks.”
On The Streak’s Starting Point
“The first time was October of 1979 in Shenandoah National Park. I went down there for the fall colors like everybody else, and Skyline Drive was closed because they had two or three feet of snow. I saw one of the road passes was open, and I had my cross-country skis, so I ended up doing about 10 miles along the Appalachian Trail. Everybody there was pissed off but me.”
On His Most Trying Ski Outing
“I did break my ankle in Utah one time. I was five miles and 2,000 vertical feet up in the La Sal Mountains, right on top of the peak. A thunderstorm started moving in pretty quick. My binding broke in the back, and somehow my foot got turned around backwards. I had to walk out all that distance, and then I had to drive all the way back to Grand Junction. I had a truck at the time with a clutch. Try driving a clutch with a broken ankle. I couldn’t stop at the stop signs. To keep my streak, I would ski on one leg.”
On His Feline Skiing Companion
“A lot of people ski with their dog, but my old cat would go on walks in the snow with me while I’d ski. In the springtime, I’d go a couple miles with him, but the thing with cats I’ve found out is their feet are sensitive. I did have boots for this cat, but try to get boots on them, and I’ll tell you, their claws are sharp. And they’re hooked like a fishhook! They’ll go in you and stick in you. That’s happened more than once.”
On Skiing During Cancer Treatment
“About three or four years ago, I got diagnosed with cancer. I was getting radiation five days a week, and then after that, because I have the breast cancer gene, they said I’d better get chemotherapy, too. To get to my treatments, I’d have to drive an hour each way every day, going over the pass near Minturn with all the switchbacks. Depending on if my appointment was in the morning or the afternoon, I’d either ski on the way there or the way back.”
On His Ideal Skiing Conditions
“Summer corn snow coming down a nice 13,000-foot peak with the sun shining. I like powder, too, but corn snow means it’s easier to turn. And because corn shows up in warmer weather, you can be out skiing peaks.”