My First Official Job

"My First Official Job"

It was December of 1972.  I had just turned 16 and my parents said that if I wanted a car, I'd have to earn the money and buy it myself. I found a job the way the youngest in the family gets a job, following in the footstep of an older brother.  What was the job you ask?     

I was a nighttime ski reporter.  Yes, you read that right.  There was a business in the next town called "ELLIS SKI INFORMATION".  It was a call center for skiers all over the USA to call and get a detailed ski report for their favorite ski area.  It was open 24 hours a day from early December until the season was over in the spring. 

Frank Ellis had created the business and was there every day.  He was a tough old bird with the dryest sense of humor I ever encountered.  If memory serves me right, he was also one of the founders of the National Ski Patrol.  A great skier and a great guy to work for. 

The "office" was part of Frank's home.  On the busiest days, 10 people would be sitting at three long tables answering calls.  Each person had a 25 line business phone with a headset and their copy of the day's ski report.  Let me tell you how this all worked.

Twice a day at 5am and noon, every ski area was called to get the latest ski report.  The report consisted of how much base snow they had, how much fresh snow, the surface conditions, weather conditions, and notes about what trails may be open or closed.  Since there were no computers back then, the workflow went something like this:
The two people staffing the MAIN TABLE would talk to the ski area operators and get their report.  This would be written in pencil on the sheets of paper which had a line for each area.  Think of this as an EXCEL spreadsheet that was seven sheets long.  Each sheet was about 18" tall by 24" wide.  These were big sets of papers with all of the ski areas preprinted on them with columns for every attribute of the report.  

As the reports came in they were copied, by hand onto 5 copies of those sheets.  This was a nightmare, getting the report and copying it over and over 5 times.  The "master" along with the five copies was enough to get the early morning shift started.  When they had time, each one of those employees would create another copy of their report so that when the office was fully staffed, everyone would have their own report.    

Each "reporter" would answer as many calls as they could, putting other callers on "HOLD" when things were really humming.  Ten reporters, 25 WATS lines (toll-free), with every one of those lines blinking.  We had no idea what order they came in - so we'd start on the left column of lights and work our way top to bottom, left to right.  Each reporter had to answer the phone exactly the same way because both of our sponsors needed to be mentioned.  It still rings in my ears: 
"Ellis Ski the USA with Coke and Beconta". 

My overnight shift started at 10pm and went to 6am.  My dad would drive me the 20 minutes to work and pick me up the following morning.  He'd get me home in time to catch the bus or meet a friend to get to the high school.  Sleep was a rather precious commodity.  I was expected to answer calls all night when the phones rang, but usually, it would quiet down by 1am so that I could get about 4 hours of sleep (cot included).  By 5am I had the coffee on for Frank as he came into the office.  We'd begin calling the ski areas.  Each area had a 10-minute time slot to expect our call.  This was no-nonsense - give us the report and make it quick.  Here's a sample:
"Mount Snow today is reporting good to excellent skiing with 7 inches of fresh powder on a 16-37 inch base.  Surface is packed powder.  28 degrees and snowing.  All lifts open."

Depending on his mood, Frank would tease the ski area operators that "fibbed" about their snow conditions.  Frank would say things like:  "What, did you measure that with a Fisherman's Ruler?" or "Where'd you find that much snow, at the end of your driveway?"  He was hilarious - but never cracked a smile.  My favorite "fibber" was Killington.  In the spring, all of the other areas around them would be closed, but they'd still be reporting "FAIR TO GOOD SPRING SKIING".  "Spring Skiing" was another way of saying - "enjoy the rocks and grassy spots on the way down the mountain".  In the winter, all the areas next to them would get 6 inches of natural snow - they'd report 18 inches.  Frank would just roll his eyes and write it down.  He'd groan and I'd copy the report 5 times.

Friday nights were the worst nights to work.  The phones rang all night long.  Every skier in New York City would call and ask:  "How's the conditions at Hunta?"  "Hunta" is New Yawk for "HUNTER MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT".  By 3am all the callers would be the folks just getting home from a night at the bar.  I couldn't help but mess with them.  They'd call and ask:  "What's the weather up there?"  I'd reply:  "Rainin' like Hell!".  They'd say:  "But the weather report was that it would be all snow up there!"  My question:  "Up where?"  They'd name some ski area in northern Vermont - like "Stowe".  I'd then say:  "I have no idea!  I'm in Torrington Connecticut."  They'd then ask:  "What the heck are you doing in Torrington Connecticut?"  My answer was always the same:

So what was your first job?  And mowing lawns or babysitting doesn't count.  I'm talking about the first one where you got a paycheck!  I hope that you look back on it fondly like I do when I think of Ellis Ski Information. 

Till Next Week!