BRUCE and BRUCE: A Father and Son Look Back on Growing Up at Bristol Mountain

I was probably all of about four-years-old when I first got a close-up experience with Bristol Mountain. My dad was delivering chicken eggs to Bristol from Vine Crest Farms, and I got to ride along with him in the back of the CJ-7 Jeep. Pulling up next to the lodge, I stared in a mesmerized state at what lay up the hill before me. As Dad hauled the eggs out of the Jeep, he caught my eye and nodded towards Upper and Lower Rocket. “That interest you, boy? You know you have an Aunt and Uncle on that hill right now. Perhaps when you get a bit older.”

The Friday night Ski Club in Naples Central put me on skis for the very first time. Donning a snowmobile suit from Sears (waist belt and all), I trudged my way north to my first trail, the “T” bar, for my very first lessons. And how lucky I was, that for many of those first lessons, I was able to get my very own Uncle Tom Hawks as my instructor! Despite hundreds of side-steps, herringbones, snowplows, and tumbles, I became hooked to the sport. My love for hometown Bristol Mountain had blossomed.

Years of childhood memories, forged at Bristol Mountain, began. Many, I’m sure, shared by hundreds of others, that have made Bristol their ski home: The “T” and “J” bar learning hills, tongues frozen stuck to cold metal chairs, rentals in the bottom of the main lodge, orange seasonal lockers lining the bottom of Rocket Lodge, circular staircases so hard to navigate in ski boots to the second floor, retro fireplaces with real wood fires to warm frigid toes, hour-long lift lines snaking up Lower Rocket on Saturdays and Sundays, safety straps on straight skis, amazing hot dogs, hamburgers and French-fries in the down-stairs cafeteria, Novice Nova, Crazy Comet, Upper Infinity, North and South Chairs with the iconic yellow seats and open framed towers, Mid-station unloading, and “Steve Howie, report to the Ski School Desk” sounding over and over again on the PA speaker system.

I grew up at Bristol during the winters right through high school, but took a few years off while attending Cornell University. Being from the area, I watched with anticipation as the mountain continued to grow and evolve with ski trail changes, chairlift upgrades, lodging additions, and the addition of new and more efficient snowmaking. My very first job with Bristol was actually making snow. I was part of the night crew, and spent my evenings learning every inch of every trail on that mountain. It was COLD, hard, LOUD, but honest, healthy work. It gave me a huge appreciation for the time and efforts it takes to cover a hill with snow by Bristol’s crews.

In 1989, I began my teaching career at Canandaigua Elementary School, and had to forgo nighttime snowmaking. Commutes to school offered me the opportunity to watch the continued growth of the mountain from afar, but also fostered a gnawing desire to get back on the slopes full time. That opportunity came through school. Andy Gajewski, Canandaigua Elementary Ski Club’s originating advisor was retiring, and came to me with a proposition to take over the club that he had run for 27 years! Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, and signed myself up for the 2005 school year, facing the daunting task of taking a bus load of 4th and 5th graders to Bristol on Friday evenings.

So, I found myself back on the mountain during the 2005-2006 ski season with my elementary ski club. I splurged and pampered myself, purchasing an evening pass and a used pair of my very first parabolic shaped skis! Thank goodness the instructors let me shadow the students in the club that first year. I picked up some new skill sets, and began to realize that instructing was a pretty cool ‘gig’ and might be for me. If I was good enough, I could offer my skills set for teaching and coaching while fulfilling that life-long passion started so many years prior for skiing. The icing on the cake? Being able to do that at my hometown resort of Bristol Mountain!

The following season (2006-2007), with the support and encouragement of my wife, I found myself at a beginner’s instructor seminar in Sunset Lodge with none other than our very own Steve Howie. Steve, Larry and the crew put me through the paces, and I was pretty proud of myself when I was awarded my locker, a spot on the staff, and my first “coat”. So began, my tenure as a Bristol Mountain Instructor. I continue to advise the Canandaigua Snowsports Club, and bring on average, 85, 4th and 5th graders to the mountain each season.

Just as that very first impression of the magnificent mountain grabbed my heart while delivering eggs with my dad, so did it to my son, Bruce Fox Hawkins III. When I took over as Club advisor, he was a very curious and driven five-year-old boy. It wasn’t long at all after a few family visits to the Mountain, that Aimee and I were being begged to purchase Tot skis, a helmet, and all the other necessary gear. When I wasn’t instructing, I had “Foxie” tucked between my legs on the Lunar Launch via the paddle tow cable. What a happy boy he was, and what better way for me to practice and apply ski teaching skills and tactics?! And how about that first controlled run your child makes on their own? I couldn’t have been any prouder. My boy was a skier!

Of course, Foxie joined Ski Club while in school and I watched as he progressed in his abilities. Milestones came quickly as he conquered new and more challenging hills. It was nice to have a “guinea pig” for teaching ideas, but more importantly, skiing gave us a time to bond as father and son. We had time together, and I was able to watch a full-fledged skier develop from the very first skills set. It is a very unique perspective to gain as an instructor!

In high school, Foxie joined the Canandaigua Braves Race team. Under the tutelage of Canandaigua’s and Bristol’s race coaching staff, he developed an even greater skills set, and became stronger under foot. Not to mention, a lesser sense of fear of speed! Oh boy! The tides had turned, and the “old man” was now the slower of the two skiers. With the experiences and skills gained on the hill, and the hours of shadowing my lessons, it wasn’t long before the discussion finally happened around joining the staff. In 2017, as a junior in high school, I nervously sent him to the new instructor’s seminar while I sat in the returning instructor’s meeting. It was all I could do to not go spy on his progress, just as I always had when he was a little boy. Several on-snow sessions later, he too was given a spot on staff, his own “coat”, and a locker right next to me in the pro-room. I was a happy Dad! A father/son duo. The only problem, is when supervisors’ yell “Hawkins” … we both confusingly respond.

Proudly, Foxie’s niche is working with the season long Brigade and Wee Ski youth programs. He is great with the young kids, and has become a talented instructor, as well as a very elegant and skilled skier. I have tremendous admiration for his abilities. Three years ago, upon returning from a prosthetic hip replacement, he was my one and only “wing-man” on the slopes. Yup! I’m a proud Dad! But … don’t let me stop there. I have three other kids trapesing around the mountain. Who knows, we may need a whole row of lockers in the pro room!

The Next Generation

When I was about four-years-old, my mom would drive me to Bristol Mountain to watch my dad and grandfather ski. As we rounded the corner on State Route 64, the bright yellow lights that illuminated the mountain came into view. I was always be so envious and jealous that they got to go play in the snow, while I had to stay in the cozy warm Sunset Lodge with my mom, drinking hot cocoa on the second floor. I think my father finally caved in to teaching me how to ski after some sad faces, crocodile tears, and lots of pouting.

My dad bought me my first skis: a pair of 90cm Head snowflake skis, along with a tiny pair of bright blue Lang ski boots. When he first strapped me onto the skis, we didn’t go straight to Bristol’s bunny hill, we went to our own backyard. After many trips up and down the small backyard slope my parents decided it was time to get a lift ticket and try the actual slopes at the mountain.

Today, it is mandated that all industry personnel wear a helmet, but the first few times my father and I skied, we didn’t wear anything but our wool beanies. I remember constantly needing to go in between his legs on the “scary ride” up the old tow rope, as I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own (the Magic Carpet (Lunar Launch) is the BEST thing ever — I’m jealous that I didn’t begin with it!). Once dad helped me exit the tow rope, we would glide down the hill (me still between his legs) and as I got stronger, and started to perfect my snowplow, or my “gliding wedge” as we now call it in ski school. My mom would stand at the bottom of the hill, and tried to take my picture in the frigid temperatures. In almost every picture, I had a huge smile — evidence of a very happy boy.

After my first-time skiing, I always wanted more. Bigger and better equipment, a helmet so I could go faster, new ski jackets, and gloves. Every year for Christmas, I would always ask for ski socks and a new pair of long underwear, and after having lift ticket stickers longer than my arms, I finally got a Twilight Season Pass. Every time my dad would go down to Bristol, I would follow with my arms full of equipment. Soon enough, we got a locker for the family, which meant more time on the hill, and less time hauling gear. I wasn’t the fastest kid on the slopes, but I loved Infinity and Milky Way more than any other trails.

Over time, I grew bigger and stronger — and began taking more time to learn and perfect my skiing. When I reached 4th grade, I joined my fathers ski club, where I would take as many lessons as I could, listening to what other instructors had to say. I learned a few things from the instructors, but nothing really compared to what my dad would tell me when we sat on the chair together or drove to and from the mountain on the weekends. It’s nice having someone teach you how to ski, but to have a GOOD teacher was even better. Being a 10-year-old kid, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be, but the thought of being an instructor or a racer sounded pretty good to me!

In middle school, I didn’t join the ski club, but instead, spent my time watching my dad ski and learned what I could from him. Every weekend I would go down with him and ski, sometimes first tracks, other times late at night. When I was in 8th grade, my dad did a two-day training with a group of instructors who were preparing for their Level 2 instructor examination. The first day, a foot of powder landed on the slopes of Bristol and the surrounding area, which meant a snow day (no school) for us. My dad didn’t let the others come, but he did say that I could go down with him. I’d ski by myself, trying not to go head over heels with the deep snow, and was fortunate enough to trail behind his group. I remember intently watching what they were working on, and then I would try to do the same. On the drive home, we would talk about what we did and learned. On the second day of training, we had school, but my dad gave me permission to be ‘sick’. I was able to head down to the mountain with him to watch and learn from the instructors all over again.

Once I went to high school, I felt as though I wasn’t getting in enough ski time. I was busy with tennis, music, and class work, but when it came to the winter months, I was bored. I hated waiting until my dad got home at 5 o’clock to go skiing, so that’s when I sat down with my parents and talked to them about racing. My mother was a total wreck about it, but my dad said that it would be an excellent learning experience, and that maybe HE could learn a thing or two from me. This was probably when I really fell in love with the idea of teaching people, both young and old, how to ski.

When I was in 10th grade, I remember that I had an audition for Area All-County, and immediately after that I had my first interview/ learning session with Larry, going over all of the fine print and details of instructing. While everyone else was in jeans, boots, and ski coats, I was in a shirt and tie, with dress shoes and a sport coat — I obviously felt very out of place. I remember feeling so nervous that I may not make the cut, but I made it! And ever since, my father and I have been working together, side by side, teaching.

I continued with racing for the remainder of my high school career, crashing a few times, working on my technique, and bonding with friends. I was Varsity Ski Captain for two years, and received the Karey Windheim Award and a scholarship at graduation. I think my coaches and the staff at Bristol, who personally knew and had worked with me, saw how much love and passion I have for the sport. Thinking back to when I was a little five-year-old beginner to now, I realize how much it has meant for me to have grown up on the slopes at Bristol.

I am so glad that my father introduced me to this amazing sport! Without his help and guidance, I might not be instructing; I could have been a snowboarder (haha)! In the near future, I would like to go for my PSIA Level 1 certification, and before my old man completely falls apart, hopefully we can get out west to ski on the big mountains!