A family affair
The “Big Ski Family” embraces a generation-spanning sport
A mountain resort community sees every kind of person imaginable: politicians, business leaders, powder hounds speaking a multitude of different languages and self-proclaimed “dirt bags” and “ski bums.”
Big Sky recently saw an entirely unique kind of group: the “Big Ski Family,” comprised of two parents and 11 children. Yes, you read correctly – 11 children. Only nine made it to Big Sky for skiing, though, as the two oldest are married, but will meet them in Squaw Valley.
Parents Chad and Jenise Johnson loved skiing when they first got married but had to quit the sport for eight years or so. Skiing was simply too expensive of a hobby for a family of their size. As the family income began to increase, the couple, with their offspring in tow, began to ski again.
They put the kids in matching outfits because – as Chad explained – when you have that many children traveling down the mountain every which way, it’s just easier to track them when they’re dressed alike.
He said that while many people idolize Olympic skiers, they make up so little of the population of a ski mountain. The real inspiration for many skiers, he said, are the parents who are smooshing their kids’ feet into ski boots, making sure they have enough layers between them and the cold and sharing a love of the outdoors and the mountains which spans generations.
This is particularly true in his family.
“We think skiing is the ultimate family sport. We are global ambassadors of family skiing. A lot of it is due to the generation-spanning benefits of it, said Chad. “My father is 82 this May and he went skiing with my family early this year, including my six-year-old daughter.”
The Johnson children extend from twenty-four-year old Kathryn to six-year-old Kordi.
Chad’s kids once saw one of the obnoxiously bright, old-school onesies he wore back in the day. They loved it and wanted their own. Chad said he would wear one with them, and somewhat jokingly invited them to try to track some down on the internet, not thinking they would exist.
They do. So now the family travels from mountain to mountain in bright matching onesies.
The fluorescent one-pieces got attention – plenty of it. So much so that the family began embracing their roles as positive forces on mountains. They started passing out stickers of appreciation to service workers, lift operators, ski patrol and really anyone that was kind to them. They also organize treasure hunts on the mountains they visit using their Instagram account to provide clues.
“Lang ski boots approached us and said, ‘Hey, you should all be wearing matching boots,’” Chad said. “It was the first time any of our kids had skied in brand new ski boots.”
That got Chad – a third-generation owner of a screen printing business – thinking: if the family could create brand value for that company, what about other companies? What about creating value for the entire industry?
“Now we have about seven different sponsors so far. Everything from boots, to goggles, to skis, to poles. It’s really a blessing,” he said.
Big Sky is the 12thresort the Johnsons have hit with the Ikon Pass this ski season, with a goal of 17. Theirs is a family that “loves big mountains, big chutes and steep terrain.”
“It has been unbelievable. It’s so amazing how each resort has its own feeling, vibe and culture. Each time we leave one we say, ‘Oh I think that one was our favorite,’ and then then next one. We try to immerse ourselves in the local culture,” he said.
When asked if there was any pushback for being Ikon Pass holders, he said there was minimal. They make a point of being kind and finding kind people wherever they go. Still, traffic is something of which Big Sky needs adapt, he said. Utopias cannot exist without traffic for long: beautiful places always attract people.
“At the end of the day I’m just pro-people, pro-growth and pro being flexible with one another,” he said, bring up how busy the mountain is in their home of Bend, Oregon.
His wife Jenise found Big Sky very friendly.
“[I] love the way they welcome families,” she said.
Nine-year-old Bentley found Big Sky “ginormous” while 11-year-old Kinsey loved the heated seats of the “big blue bubble lift.”
“This place is legit! Lone Peak has some serious sick lines,” 19-year-old Baylor said.
Chad said that the Ikon Pass has made skiing more affordable for families who would otherwise be excluded from the sport. He understands some people are going to fight it.
“The ownership of this resort decided to do this. It wasn’t me. We just decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go ski. For the industry this is huge. That’s the life blood of any community: traffic,” he said, pointing out what he believes is logic: beautiful places are always going to draw crowds.
The Johnson’s goal is to introduce one million families to the joy of skiing together. Check out their adventures and learn more at www.thebigskifamily.com.