SANTA FE, N.M. – It had been nearly 24 hours since I endured my worst-ever day skiing. Old injuries piled up, piled on and left me sidelined inside the Ski Santa Fe cafeteria.
What was supposed to be a week-long tour of some of New Mexico’s finest ski resorts was a bust for me. While fellow travel writers checked out Santa Fe’s slopes, I was nursing a bad back that left me hobbled a day after aggravating it on Angel Fire’s peaceful runs.
Bad skiing and nagging injuries don’t mix well. But even in such crummy circumstances, sometimes there’s a silver lining.
Benny Abruzzo ate breakfast with the group of journalists, myself included, that had come to check out Santa Fe. While one writer persisted (in annoying fashion) that I push through it, Abruzzo understood my pain. He’d been there. And so when everyone left, he hung out with me for 90 minutes.
What a treat that was.
Abruzzo runs Ski Santa Fe. He’s an avid skier. But talk to him long and you get a sense that he’s not just a skier-turned-businessman. Abruzzo is an outdoor enthusiast who has a refreshing passion for skiing, rock climbing and mountaineering.
“If you don’t do anything else, you have to get to Chamonix,” he told me as we discussed our shared love of the mountains.
Chamonix, if you don’t know, is basically the center of the mountaineering universe. The town in France is the jumping off spot for famous climbs up the Eiger and many other choice climbing destinations. Mountaineering was arguably invented and definitely perfected in Europe, with the Alps being the setting for the exploits of climbing’s pioneers.
Run into someone who talks about their experiences climbing in the Alps (and especially Chamonix), you’re bound to get an air of elitism reserved for those been-there, done-that alpinists who would scoff at my rather light climbing resume.
Not Abruzzo. It’s just a place he’s been where he’s done what he loves. We talked about peaks in Colorado, climbing spots in New Mexico’s Sandias and even a few places in Oklahoma. More than once, he mentioned how people from his home state, as well as Texas, hone their big wall skills in the peaks not far from his hometown of Albuquerque.
In each story he told, his love was more for the activity and the place, not his own accomplishments.
And it’s something he likes to share. His dream for the near term? Taking his son to the Alps for days of hut-to-hut travels and climbs up that range’s spectacular and challenging routes.
Eventually, Abruzzo had to go tend to his media guests. I had to tend to my back and the inevitable decision to cut my trip short, head home and nurse myself back to health.
But if nothing else, I carried home a little bit of encouragement. Climbing and mountaineering are full of big egos, ambition and narcissism that encourage an unhealthy form of hero worship. What we need are a few more people like Benny Abruzzo, people who are passionate about the outdoors and not themselves. These are the people who will pass on their craft to future generations who, if we’re lucky, will not just enjoy themselves in the backcountry , but also learn to appreciate it, take care of it and pass it along.