This is the trouble season for Keith Dawley.
The 49-year-old trails supervisor for the Inyo National Forest, Dawley peers at the sky each September and October, hoping – praying – for enough snow to ski.
“September is the hardest month,” said Dawley, who has one of the more spectacular streaks of skiing anywhere. “Usually by the end of October, Halloween, it snows somewhere.”
For 189 straight months (that would be more than 15 years) the personable Dawley has skied at least once in each month, sometimes hiking up, up and up to find enough snow to make a turn.
And for more than 15 years, he’s done it, conforming to his own rules about what actually constitutes skiing.
“As I get older,” he said, a smile appearing under his massive beard, “I lower the bar. It used to be I had to make at least one turn. Now I figure I just have to slide on snow.”
Earlier this month, when Mammoth got a light dusting of snow, that was good enough for Dawley. He made it up to Minaret Vista, which he said had about a half inch. On went the skis, out slid Dawley and he had his September 2010 covered.
“I love to ski, and it’s just fun to go up there, no matter what the conditions are.”
Dawley is not alone in his quest for turns every month.
At the website turns-all-year.com, there are a few people who have outdistanced Dawley. There is, for instance, Gordon Garlock, an Oregonian who lives close enough to Mt. Hood to amass 338 straight months. There are several who, along with Dawley, are on 189.
Then there’s former Tahoe skier Mike Scherer, who lives in Colorado now and has 298 straight months and counting.
It’s a legitimate question as to how these apparent nut cases got started on something like this, but for Dawley it seemed as normal as could be, at least in the beginning.
His streak began with some unexpected snow in 1995.
“On Labor Day in 1995 I went skiing up on the Mammoth Crest with some friends,” he wrote on the turns-all-year website. “We went up there because there was still a lot of snow that year and the skiing was really good.
“We realized that we had all skied a full year by skiing at least one day each month. October came with fresh powder and the next year just rolled into the last one. We all kept it going for a few years but people dropped off one by one for different reasons.
“After awhile I found myself going back to the same spot on the Crest, solo. Not so much to keep the streak alive, but just to go out in the woods and do something I enjoy.
“(Over the years), my dog died, I went on some long bike tours, I got married, got a good job, bought some property, got another dog and still managed to keep skiing. I think it keeps me young.”
Or, as he said earlier this week when asked why he continues.