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Zeroing in on 2,000 Skis Up Baldy the Hard Way
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Light begins to peek out from under the clouds as Roger Mankus makes his way to the top of Baldy.
   
Tuesday, April 2, 2024
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS BY MUFFY RITZ

Roger Mankus skied Baldy for the hundredth time this season on Sunday.

But he didn’t get a 100-Day Pin from Sun Valley Resort for his accomplishment.

 
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Roger Mankus says he has a lot of calendars and a lot of memories of his skins up Baldy.
 

That’s because Mankus does it the hard way. While others take the high-speed chairlifts, he skins up and climbs Baldy on his own, starting in the dark of morning at 6 a.m. He’s done that a staggering 1,942 times—he plans to hit 2,000 next season.

“He’s quite a special guy,” said Muffy Ritz, who is no slouch herself having competed in multiple world loppets, World Masters races and adventure races. “I truly have never known anybody quite like Roger Mankus. His ability to climb Baldy day after day, followed by at least three to five hours of Nordic skiing each day, baffles me but also intrigues me.

He has a different brain, certainly, than I do. I like surprises and spontaneity—he likes consistency.”

Roger Mankus, who will turn 67 in June, grew up in Chicago far from the ski slopes. He worked for General Motors there for 10 years until the plant closed. He headed south to Amarillo in the Panhandle of Texas where he worked for a few years as a bike mechanic and a massage therapist after completing massage school in Santa Fe, N.M.

 
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Roger Mankus is zeroing in on 2,000 trips up Baldy during winter.
 

He met Ritz in the mid-1990s as he was driving a support vehicle for the 3,000-mile bicycle Race Across America, in which Ritz finished second among the women

“After it was over, she called and said, ‘I bet you’re getting tired living in Texas. I need a housesitter for the summer. Come on out—there’s mountains and stuff,’ ” Mankus recounted. “I’d never been to Idaho before except for a tiny portion when I biked from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide that went through Jackson and West Yellowstone. I came out and I’m so glad she needed a housesitter.“

Mankus started working at Atkinsons Markets two days after arriving in Ketchum. He started as a cashier but moved to dairy department after two weeks because he couldn’t stand to stand in one place for eight hours. Eventually, he moved from that into the meat department so he could have his days free during winter. Eventually, he moved to the Elephant’s Perch where he worked as a bike mechanic for 15 years until he retired five years ago.

He started skinning up Baldy in 1999.

 
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Roger Mankus heads out on the snow by 6:15 a.m. to ensure he’s down around 8.
 

“I’d go early in the morning and knock one out and be at work by 9. Baldy fits nicely in that time slot because you get an incredible workout before work, watch the sunrise, come down and feel good,” he said. “To me it was a great way to get my head on straight. Starting the day off doing something like this puts me in a good frame of mind, a good lookout.”

Mankus didn’t keep track of how many times he climbed Baldy the first few years.

“About 2002 I said, ‘I’m going to see how many times I can do it in one winter,’ so I got a bunch of calendars and started checking them off. The first year I did 50. Then I did 85 and, when I got to 100, I was like, ‘Oh, wow! 100!’ My best year was 112; last year I had 110. And those are just the times I make it to the top. If I don’t go to the top I don’t count it. That doesn’t happen often, though. A couple times I’ve turned back because the slopes were so icy I’d put one step forward only to go back down.”

At first, Mankus said, he saw no one else save a woman with a prosthesis who snowshoed to the top, taking the lift down. Once in a while, he’d spot ski trekking guide Bob Jonas, and one spring a handful of people began skinning up to get in shape for a mountain climb.

“It was an oddity at first. When COVID hit, the number went from hardly anyone to 50 or 100 people going up,” he said.

Mankus revels in not seeing a single person.

“I like having it pretty much to myself and going down the mountain on fresh corduroy. Then at the top the sunrises are just so spectacular your jaw drops.”

Mankus has six pair of skis to choose from ranging from lightweight to heavier skis. He did some randonee racing back in the day including a 12-hour race in Glenwood Springs, Colo., during which he climbed 18,600 vertical feet in under 12 hours—like climbing five and a half Baldys.

Now that he’s retired, he follows up his trips up Baldy with four or five hours of cross-country skiing.

“I used to do more skate skiing, but now I’m more of a classic skier. If the classic tracks are in decent shape, I can go out for a few hours and not be tired whereas if I go skate skiing for an hour and a half, I’m done.”

Clouds covered the stars and moon as Mankus and Ritz began skinning up Baldy at 6 Sunday morning. Normally, Roger prefers to go solo, but he agreed to let Ritz tag along since it was a momentous occasion.

“He doesn’t listen to music or podcasts in any of his athletic pursuits. He just listens to his own inner brain,” said Ritz.

Even though it was the last day of March, snow conditions were good, thanks to a few inches of snow that had fallen recently. It was a bit icy on the lower part of the mountain, but the two were able to follow a path where the groomer had been, making the going up and the coming down ski like cream cheese, Ritz said.

They followed Mankus’ usual route up Lower River Run onto the cat track and up Lower and Upper College. The two made it down the mountain just after 8, while others were waiting for the lifts to crank up.

It was Mankus’ 14th day in a row skiing up Baldy so he took his time getting to the top. But he was all smiles when he got there.

“I wanted to get to 100 by the end of March—I set that goal a year and a half ago. I’ll probably do another five or 10 this year. That’ll put me that much closer to 2,000 next year.”

In a couple weeks Mankus will trade his skis for his three bicycles.

“He rides up to eight hours a day,” said Ritz. “Where he goes is always a mystery to me and probably to him. He likes to mix it up, sometimes on single track on his mountain bike, other times on dirt roads on his hybrid bike. He is an enigma, and a very special person.”

Mankus has ridden with Ritz on the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Moab. And he competed in 27 Leadville 100 mountain bike races, his bid for No. 28 short circuited last summer when another rider took him out from behind, leaving him with two broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

“So, I pulled the plug on Leadville. I do hope to get to Wisconsin to ride this summer. I have a daughter who lives up north in Rhinelander. She’s an avid cyclist and the gravel biking there is phenomenal with hundreds and hundreds of miles of two-lane roads that twist and turn through the farmland.”

Come next year Mankus plans to be back on Baldy

“When I hit 1,000 we had a nice little group from The Perch that came out and did it with me. Hopefully I’ll get a good group next year.”

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