For the Love of Ski Dads

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It’s getting close to Valentine’s Day, and this is my love letter. It goes out to two all-time great ski Dads—my dad Buck, and his best ski buddy, Gate DeMattei. I remember them both for the love of skiing they passed along to their families, and I think about them a lot this time of year, around the time of their birthdays. Buck, who made his final run in 2016, would have turned 94 on January 31. Gate, who passed away last September, would have turned 95 today, on February 9.

That one year age difference between the two friends was key. It meant that for one year every decade they would NOT be in the same age class in their Master’s ski racing. For their families, that year was pure gold. That’s because even though they were best of friends they were also fierce competitors, especially with each other. We’re talking ridiculously competitive.

The only reason the Thys and De Mattei families know each other today is because of skiing. Their family first came onto my radar during a family ski trip to Jackson Hole in the Seventies—us in our silver station wagon and they in their yellow striped motor home. It was just the four eldest DeMattei kids—Tony, G, Chris and Peter— and they instantly wove into the fabric of our family lore. As usual, I was struggling to keep hold of the tow rope. Adding four DeMattei boys to my three older siblings did not that make that easier, especially in the daily NASTAR matches. They were fun and spirited and taught us things like how to blow up eggs with firecrackers, and of course skied fast all day long.

When we learned they had younger sisters, eventually four of them—Siena, Marina, Tanya and Mia, all in a row after the boys—that was simply sensational. Our families became fast friends back in Squaw Valley where they had a ski cabin. By the late Seventies both families had moved to Squaw Valley full-time, and the DeMatteis became teammates and classmates.

Gate and Buck worked all week—Gate as a surgeon in Marysville and Buck running an investment casting foundry in the Bay Area. But the weekends were all about getting to the mountains and having adventures, especially skiing. “Gate always made a point to get us out doing things and I think he really instilled in all of us a love of the mountains,” Marina remembers. They were the ski dads whose unchecked enthusiasm became a bottomless pit of encouragement. When it came to competition, the support was too much at times. “It was all about winning,” Mia points out. We rolled our eyes when it felt like they were too involved, too invested in our success. And yet, when we were struggling they were right there to pick us up, to help us shrug off disappointment and get focused on the next race or the next thing.

None of their efforts minimize the Herculean tasks slayed by our ski mom’s—from cooking for the masses, to gate-keeping, scraping boots with their bare hands, nursing sickness and injury, hosting an endless array of teammates, listening to rants, hugging, chauffeuring etc, etc. Gayle and Nina—steady co-pilots to Gate and Buck— did all that and more. (for details on ski mom badassery go here.) They were fully-committed in their support of ski racing, but they merely tolerated the nitty gritty of it. Talk of edge angles and bevels and hot boxes and cross-blocking and points resonated in their ears like Charlie Brown’s teacher—Wah, wah, wah.

What they really lived for was the social aspect of it, and boy did they love the banquets! Gayle and Nina reveled in the friendships and camaraderie at these gatherings while Buck and Gate came for the goods. When going through Gate’s house recently his kids counted nearly 300 medals. After Covid, when the Masters couldn’t gather for awards banquets and ceremonies, Marina remembers Gate’s sentiment: “He was like, what’s the point? This is no fun!”

Just a few of Gate’s medals

Even after Gate officially retired from his medical practice, he was always on duty for the ski families. Whatever it was—break, tear, sprain, scrape, cut— he’d do triage on site or in house, and often fix you right up, even if it had to be with saran wrap and duct tape. He was attentive and available, but never alarmist. For anything non life-threatening he’d remind his kids that, “It’s a long ways from your heart.” As in, you’re going to survive. He had solid counsel with illness too, once rescuing me from an absolute low-point in my health, spirit and skiing career by prescribing Gatorade, bananas and some good sleeping pills. In my very next race I landed on a World Cup podium. I always credited Gate, and the bananas.

Buck’s ski racing career took a major hit just before his 80th birthday, when he mangled his arm in an early season skiing accident. Losing writing function in his right hand was an annoyance, but losing the grip on his right pole felt tragic, downright inhumane. He backed off the races significantly and turned his full competitive attention to his grandkids’ ski racing. That left the Eighties Class wide open for Gate, and he only pushed harder on the gas.

He stayed in shape by working out religiously on the Skier’s Edge machine that dominated the entry way of his house. He also made regular training trips to South America in the summer, and to Copper Mountain pre-season. When my son made his first international training trip, he ran into Gate at breakfast, and it seemed totally normal. He even took a few jaunts to Europe to take care of business. “He had to get all his globes,” said Siena, his frequent trip companion. In all, he had five FIS Master’s globes from various years.

The Globes of International Success

After 57 years of marriage, Gayle passed away in 2013.  Buck followed in 2016 and Nina in 2019. Gate was there at the end for each one of them, often in his ski clothes. Gate’s Masters racing career spanned 28 years, until age 92.

Around 2018 he promised his family he would no longer travel alone, and his kids started accompanying him on ski trips; except when they didn’t, as when he snuck away to Park City in 2019 and won the Al Sise Outstanding Master’s Award. “He just went to Park City on his own and he lied about going,” recalls Siena. “We didn’t even know he got that award until his funeral.”

The family often gathered for ski trips to celebrate his birthday, which coincided with the western regional championships. For his 90th birthday that was in Aspen and all eight kids made that trek. They celebrated his 91st in Northstar and his 92nd in Big Sky. At age 93, Tony and Siena took him for his last ski racing trip to Sun Valley.

Gate’s 90th birthday in Aspen

I last saw him at his house in Sept of 2023, when we caught up over biscotti and pondered what kind of a winter it might be. I am pretty sure he was wearing one of his many Skier’s Edge Masters Team jackets. I know he was smiling as we talked about the upcoming ski season.

If you are lucky enough to be out on the slopes this weekend, maybe you can take a run for Gate, or Buck, or any of the ski dads who lit the fire in you.

13 thoughts on “For the Love of Ski Dads”

  1. Thx Edie, I’ll take many runs for them today at Squaw, I miss them both dearly, they shaped my life and my families with there kindness and enthusiasm for skiing, Legends ❤️❤️❤️⛷️⛷️⛷️

  2. Wow Edie,
    What a great article
    Those two dads were the most influential people in my life.
    Gatano was one of my biggert hero’s along side of Buck
    You can’t have a better dad and dads best friend

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