John M. Christie ’59 died on April 27, 2016, in Camden, Maine.
(The following was published in the Bangor Daily News on May 9, 2016):
CAMDEN, Maine — The Maine ski community lost one of its giants on May 7, as John Christie, former owner of Saddleback Mountain and former general manager of Sugarloaf, died at the age 79.
He passed away while working his summer job tending the gate at Camden Hills State Park, according to his son, Josh Christie.
“He had gone into work at 6 a.m. and talked to my mother on the phone around 8:30 [a.m.], and seemed fine,” Josh Christie said. “It appears that he had a heart attack sometime before 10:30 [a.m.], which is when someone came down to the booth.”
John Christie, who lived in the town of Washington, was a legend in Maine ski circles, and he was a 2006 inductee into the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. According to the hall’s website, Christie took over as Sugarloaf’s general manager in 1965. During his three-year stint in that role, he oversaw the installation of Sugarloaf’s gondola.
“He poured the concrete,” Josh Christie said. “He was the first general manager after Amos Winter, who founded the place.”
John Christie also worked as vice president and general manager of Mount Snow Development Corporation in Vermont, and he served in a number of roles with the Maine Ski Council, the Sugarloaf Ski Club and the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He owned Saddleback in Rangeley from 1972 until 1976.
Friend Peter Roy remembers Christie’s hard-charging nature.
“In a word, [John] was irreplaceable,” Roy said in a recent email. “For John, waking up and taking the first breath of the day was a joy. It was always assholes and elbows for him, whether it be at work or play. Full speed, no backing off on the accelerator, no compromise sought, none given.”
And Roy said Christie was always eager to find an audience willing to listen to his stories.
“There was never a better after dinner (or for that matter, before or during dinner) speaker,” Roy said. “He would hold forth on an expansive array of subjects and more often than not the audience would never know whether the subject of his dissertation was something intimately familiar to him, or whether he was making it up on the fly, but in either event, listening to him was an unmitigated entertaining experience.”
Josh Christie said that he and his twin brother, Jason, were born in 1985. Their mother, Margaret (Whipple) Christie, was John Christie’s second wife, and the age of their dad — then 48 — made their family a bit different from many others.
“Most of our friends in school had fathers that were 20 years younger, but they couldn’t keep up with our dad,” Josh Christie said. “Neither could we.”
When the twins were old enough to ski, John Christie resumed downhill activities after what had become an extended hiatus. It wasn’t long before the family was back at Sugarloaf on a regular basis.
“We biked and hiked with him during the summer and then skied with him during the winter,” Josh Christie said.
He agreed with Roy’s assessment of John Christie’s public speaking ability.
“Nobody better,” Josh Christie said. “He was that quintessential Maine storyteller, the same DNA as guys like John McDonald and Tim Sample. He could just spin a yarn and whether it was true or not, make it sound true. Whether he’d heard it from someone else or it had actually happened, he made it sound like it was about him.”
Only rarely did that gift of gab let him down.
“He was a charismatic guy and could just command a room,” Josh Christie said. “With the possible exception of the day that I got married, I never saw him speechless. He always had something to say. And never any notes, either.
His ability to entertain landed him on TV during the 1960s, as a regular guest and resident ski expert on former Bangor Daily News executive sports editor Bud Leavitt’s popular weekly TV show.
“[Leavitt said], “What if we bulldozed a pile of snow behind the studio? Could you do a ski instruction segment?’” John Christie recalled in a 1995 BDN story about Leavitt.
The 20-foot “mountain” was built, and John Christie’s segments were a hit.
“I did a lot of really basic stuff, but I remember skiing over and cutting off my microphone cord during a segment on [a turning technique],” he said at the time. “And I remember doing a whole segment of snowplow turns with my fly open.”
Although he spent time living in Vermont, John Christie’s roots were in Maine, Josh Christie said. John Christie was born in Presque Isle, and many of their family vacations involved camping in Maine.
His love for the state never died.
Last fall, Down East Books published the first of two books written by John and Josh Christie. The duo appeared on WCSH’s “207” show to promote “The Maine Outdoor Adventure Guide,” and host Rob Caldwell asked John Christie if he’d take $1 million if the only stipulation was that he’d have to leave Maine and never return.
“My dad said, ‘No. Not a chance,’” Josh Christie said.
Their second book, “Skiing Maine,” is scheduled to be released in September.
John Christie also wrote “The Story of Sugarloaf,” which was published in 2007. Josh and John Christie teamed up to write outdoor columns for the Portland Press Herald for about six years until John Christie’s death. Those columns served as fodder for their two books together.
Although he hadn’t been sure he wanted to embark on the writing project with his dad, Josh Christie, who also is the author of three other books, said that his dad convinced him that it was a good idea, and in the end, he’d loved the process that led to “The Maine Outdoor Adventure Guide.”
“I was very excited that I would be able to do a book tour with him [this year], which obviously now is not going to happen,” Josh Christie said.
But Josh is a Christie, and he learned from a motivated, high-energy man.
“I’ll be going in his honor, of course,” Josh Christie said.