Drew Judycki left a lasting legacy for skiers

Drew Judycki (Red River Ski Area courtesy photo by Jeff Caven)

Soon after he learned to walk, skiing was Drew Judycki’s guiding passion, so it’s fitting that he ended up owning a ski area. In a 1996 interview, Drew said, “This is the only thing I ever wanted to do – and I’m real fortunate to be able to do it.”

Family, friends, neighbors and colleagues in the ski industry can celebrate the life of Andrew “Drew” D. Judycki 10 a.m., Saturday, June 28 at the Red River Ski Area Chalet on Pioneer Road in Red River.

Drew, 60, a 35-year resident of Red River and owner of Red River Ski Area since 1984, died after a short illness Monday, May 26, 2008 at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Drew was born Nov. 30, 1947 to Helen and Frank Judycki in Greenfield, Mass., and was raised in nearby Athol.

You could say, and you’d be right, that skiing defined Drew Judycki, but he would have said skiing was only part of the picture: It was all about family. In a 2003 interview after his father’s death, Drew said, “My father was a super guy. He was the guy who taught all the kids how to ski and mounted everybody’s bindings in his workshop.”

According to Drew’s older brother, Denny, “Our dad had us on skis as soon as we could walk or soon thereafter. He used to put us between his legs to ride up the rope tow. Our dad took us skiing all the time. We skied three or four days a week and on weekends we took longer trips to big ski areas.

“Drew and I were very close. We skied together a lot. It was nice to have a younger brother to ski with. He was as much a friend to me as a brother, even in later years. Family was just very important to both of us.”

It was this conviction that Drew lived out with his own children, Lauren and Linton.

“He was the best kind of father,” Lauren says. “He was always there for his kids. We were first. Everything revolved around us and what he could do for us. He was also a really good friend to both of us.”

“He was my best friend,” Linton adds. “He taught me to be a strong person and to be honest. He was the greatest dad anybody could ever ask for. He would do anything for us.”

“He wouldn’t ever let me quit anything,” Lauren adds. “When I was in college, I wanted to drop out to come home and teach skiing and he just wouldn’t let me.”

A young Drew hits the slopes at Red River Ski Area.

Drew found a way to pursue his love of skiing while getting an education: He worked ski patrol in Athol, and after graduating from Athol High School in 1966, turned down football scholarship offers from eastern schools to attend New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., because he wanted to ski in the Rocky Mountains.

He was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and graduated in 1970 with a degree in journalism.

But Drew had, after all, come for the skiing, so during his first year in college he worked ski patrol for Sipapu, and then worked as a ski instructor for Red River Ski Area. He joined PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) in 1968 and earned his Stage 1 (now Level 2) certification in 1971, and Stage 2 (now level 3) certification in 1973. After graduating from college, Drew worked for Red River Ski Area as a ski school supervisor for two years, and then was a ski school director one year at Angel Fire Resort.

If Bill Burgess had had his way, Drew’s – and Red River’s – history might have been different. Burgess was managing the ski area in Angel Fire when he hired Drew. “He did a hell of a job and I wanted to keep him around.”

Burgess tried, unsuccessfully, to convince AZL, the company that owned Angel Fire at that time, to give Drew a summer job to keep him around. “I told him I could hire him back in September and he said, ‘that’s all right. I’ll go to Red River and drive nails.’”

According to Burgess, it was not long thereafter that J.B. Veale offered Drew the ski school director job with a chance to earn “sweat equity in stock.”

In more recent years, Burgess worked for Drew as Ski School Director. He says his boss was fond of saying, “‘I used to work for Bill and now Bill works for me here but the main difference is I used to do what he told me to do!’”

Drew ultimately worked at Red River Ski Area for over 30 years as ski school director, marketing director, general manager and, finally, owner.

A little history

In 1959, Oklahoman Stokes Bolton opened Red River Ski Area. J.B. Veale owned the area from 1962 to 1984 when a group that included George Blanchard and Drew bought the area from Veale’s Mt. Wheeler Development Co. Blanchard says the other partners eventually dropped out until he and Drew were co-owners, and then in 1998 Judycki became sole owner, President, and General Manager.

In a 1996 interview, Drew said, “The toughest thing to do is to work for somebody else when you feel that you know the direction that it needs to go. Since I purchased the ski area, that’s made it easier to deal with – the only person I answer to is myself.”

Blanchard says Drew loved the area. “It was the dearest thing in the world to him. He was the hardest-working man I’d ever seen in all my experience in business. He worked 60 to 90 hours a week, seven days a week. He was out plowing the parking lot at 7 a.m., checking the snowmaking at midnight. He was just dedicated to that ski area and knew every square inch.”

George Blanchard and Drew Judycki (Sangre de Cristo Chronicle photo)

That meant, Blanchard says, that money was not so important to Drew. Blanchard says he once told Drew someone had expressed a willingness to make a generous offer on the ski area. “Drew said, ‘Not on your life. I want this ski area to go on forever.’”

Like so many people, Blanchard’s business relationship with Drew led to a lasting friendship. “He was just an easy man to love and respect.”

Ilse Woerndle, whose husband Toni was Red River Ski Area’s first ski school director, says they would have liked to own the ski area themselves, but when Bolton first offered it for sale, they just couldn’t do it. So when Drew finally bought it she was grateful to see the owner was “a skier who knows what a mountain should look like. When you look at all the small areas that tried to do too much too soon and that Drew held onto it and kept it going somehowÉ I think we should all be very proud of him.”

Drew Judycki (left) and Bill Burgess (right)

Says Burgess, “Drew had a great perspective on his skiing clientele. He knew in his head and in his gut what he needed to do for his customers. He knew he needed snowmaking and all his proceeds went into that. I think his thought was you can have high-speed lifts all day long and it wouldn’t compete with what’s on the ground.”

Jake Pierce, who recently retired after many years as Red River’s Town Administrator, agrees, “A lot of people didn’t realize how important it was to Drew to provide a good product during drought years.”

Pierce says in addition to buying state-of-the-art snow guns and expanding the snowmaking system year after year, Drew worked with the town to make sure it could provide enough water, and water pressure, to meet the demand.

As a result, Burgess, Pierce and several others noted, Red River Ski Area opened every Thanksgiving for over 35 years.

Buddies. The late Wally Dobbs and Drew.

Longtime friend Wally Dobbs, who came to work at Red River Ski Area 21 years ago as a ski instructor and later handled marketing for Drew, says, “It wasn’t a financial decision for Drew. To him, that was just the thing to do. That’s the end of an era in the ski business. I don’t know of any other area operator that has that attitude.”

Red River’s two-term mayor Craig Swagerty now serves as deputy director of New Mexico’s Tourism Department under Gov. Bill Richardson, but still owns a lodge in town. Regarding Judycki, he said “A lot of times he sacrificed his business for the sake of our business.”

Bringing the kids along

Drew was a longtime member of Ski New Mexico and served as president more than once, most recently in 1998, and on its board of directors. He also hosted local schools’ ski programs year after year, and was an avid supporter of the Red River Junior Racing Team (having served as its coach at one time) and the University of New Mexico Ski Team.

“Drew was very much tied to bringing kids along whichever way he could,” Denny says.

Ed Hampton, a longtime friend and employee of Drew’s who has been coach of the Red River Ski Team the past eight years, agrees. “Wherever we traveled we were the envy of the ski racing world because we had more support than at any other ski area. He loved the kids.”

Ed said Drew’s support went beyond financial in the way he gave the kids access to the mountain, equipment, time and so much more. We had a really, really good working relationship that just got better every year.”

Drew’s support for ski racing also included his son Linton, who in January won first place in a FIS (International Ski Federation) giant slalom (GS) race. In an interview following that race, Linton said, “My dad has just sacrificed a lot. He encourages me without making me feel awful. He’s amazing.”

Dobbs says his respect for Drew grew and their friendship grew when he observed Drew with his children. “You judge a guy by how he handles his family. You could see his dedication to his kids and his family. His mom and dad were important to him.” Adds George Brooks of Albuquerque — longtime coach of the UNM Ski Team, current executive director of Ski New Mexico and, not surprisingly, Drew’s friend — “Drew’s contribution to ski racing was tremendous. He was always there for kids and for the kid’s racing. There’s just tons and tons of people he touched in ski racing, in ski instructing and in the ski industry.”

“Ski New Mexico has also lost a great friend and a great leader of the ski industry. Drew did what he was doing very well and he provided a lot of guidance in the industry.”

 “He taught me more about the industry than anyone else,” says Hampton, who also achieved full PSIA certification and worked for 35 years as a ski instructor, ski school director and ski school trainer for Drew. “He helped me with my skiing and taught me a lot of lessons about life. He had a big impact on my life.”

Paulette Kiker, who first met Drew when she applied for a job as director of the Red River Chamber of Commerce in 1989 (he was on the board of directors at that time), recalls, “He was just so friendly and approachable. He was my mentor. I was really green behind the ears and he taught me to toughen up. That’s the thing that was neat about him. He could be beat up by people, he taught me not to take it personally.”

Later when Paulette and husband Randall embarked on a growing number of business ventures, she says, “He helped us with business decisions. There are not many people that would give you that chance. He would step out on the edge for us. He really believed in the town and he wanted young people to succeed.”

Adds Kiker, who still teaches skiing at Red River Ski Area and is working on her Level 3 certification, “He also taught me how to be a better skier.”

Contributing to Red River

Recognizing that his ski area and local businesses were intertwined, Drew also contributed to the growth and success of Red River by serving on the board of directors of the Red River Chamber of Commerce, on several town committees, including the Economic Development Committee, and as a town councilor 1974-78.

“There were so many good things he did for the town which I don’t think many people know,” Swagerty says. “We argued. He’d tell me what the town needed to do and I’d tell him what the ski area needed to do but not one time did we ever get mad at each other.”

Pierce says he appreciated that Drew always conducted himself with honesty and integrity. “I don’t think Drew demanded of me any more than any other business person in town. Drew realized that in order for him to succeed, the town had to succeed.”

That’s a view Drew expressed in an earlier interview: “We all want to make sure Red River is a wonderful place to visit.”

Really, though, aside from his children, the ski area was his life’s calling. According to Dobbs, even when Drew was ill and in the hospital, “We spent half the time talking about the business.”

Burgess and others also noted: Drew’s consuming interest in his ski area and what he could do to make it better.É And his lifelong love of the sport he learned between his father’s knees.”

“He was proud that he got to go skiing on the last day he was open this year,” Dobbs says, noting his friend had lost a lot of weight and was still weak from cancer treatments. “It wasn’t to prove a point, it was just something he wanted to do.”

Hampton, Burgess and others all said Drew’s joy on the slopes was completely infectious. “Drew was the best free skier I ever knew,” says Hampton.

“Everyone would say he was their favorite person to go skiing with,” Dobbs adds, “and it was true. He was a lot of fun. I remember one year it was a terrible snow year and the snowmaking blew up and we couldn’t find what was wrong but they were digging holes and burning fires all over trying to dig up the lines. It looked like a war zone. It was bad skiing, like mashed potatoes with puddles everywhere and when you’d go to make a turn you’d hit a rock. But Drew wanted to ski anyway and we were just dying laughing. We skied ‘til 4 o’clock!”

Skiing wasn’t Drew’s only passion: He also loved riding motorcycles (dirt bikes and open road cruising), and visiting/reminiscing with old friends in person and on the telephone. “One of the interesting things about Drew,” Wally says, “is that he was the hardest person to get off the phone from. I’d say, ‘OK, Drew, I’ve got to scoot, now,’ and he say, ‘OK, what are you going to do now?’”

The family tree

Drew is preceded in death by his parents, Helen and Frank Judycki, of Athol.

He is survived by his daughter, Lauren Judycki-House and husband Tim House, and son, Linton Judycki — all of Red River; his brother Dennis, and sister-in-law Margaret of Annandale, Va., and their son Eric of Washington, DC.; his aunt and uncle Catherine and Anthony Judycki of Fitzwilliam, N.H.; and numerous cousins residing in New England.

A prayer service for family and friends was held Tuesday, June 3, at Red River Ski Area’s Lift House. Drew asked to be cremated with his ashes brought home to Red River Ski Area.

A memorial fund to benefit the University of New Mexico Ski Team and the Red River Ski Team has been established in Drew’s name at Peoples Bank, 121 E. Main Street, Red River, New Mexico 87558.

A memorial scholarship fund has also been established in Drew’s name for Tau Kappa Epsilon undergraduates at New Mexico Highlands University.

— by Ellen Miller-Goins, Sangre de Cristo Chronicle, June 12, 2008

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