Drew Judycki:  Leaving a lasting legacy for skiers and boarders

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

New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame – 2008

Is it a fact of life that the childhood dream we once held so dear must give way to reality? The boy who dreamed of playing major league ball, the girl who coveted a gold medal in the halfpipe? Drew Judycki was one of the lucky few that did achieve a childhood dream. As he said in a 1999 interview, “I’ve been very fortunate that I could do what I love to do all my life.”

A life that ended too soon on May 26, 2008 after a short illness. We don’t know, but we can assume, that Drew would be proud that his older brother Denny and son Linton have stepped up to make sure his dream lives on at the ski area.

The man himself will always be remembered as a legend of the ski business, in Red River … and throughout New Mexico. At press time, he, along with several others in the industry, were being inducted in the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame, which houses a museum at the base of Sandia Peak Tramway. It’s a fitting tribute to a life that was so dedicated to the dream of skiing and the dream of skiing (and snowboarding) as a family sport.

A lifelong resident of Athol, Massachusetts, Drew’s views were shaped, at least in part, by his father Frank. 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.”

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 scholarships to attend New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. With ski patrol experience already under his belt, he went to work at Sipapu in 1967. The following year he went to work as a ski instructor at Red River Ski Area.

Finding a home in Red River

Drew studied economics and journalism, graduating in 1970. He went back East and coached football one season for his alma mater in Athol before returning to New Mexico for good. He once noted, “I didn’t really expect to stay, but I loved it so much. I just really loved Red River and the people were real friendly.”

Drew moved up in the ranks, obtaining full-certification from PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) in 1973. Other than a brief foray to Angel Fire Resort where he was ski school director for one season, Drew spent the rest of his life at Red River Ski Area where he worked as a ski school supervisor, marketing director, ski school director and general manager, before buying the area in 1984 with a group of investors that included George Blanchard. Blanchard says the other partners eventually dropped out until he and Drew were co-owners, then in 1998, Drew became sole owner, President, and General Manager, stating, “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.”

George Blanchard and Drew Judycki (Chronicle file photo)
George Blanchard and Drew Judycki (Chronicle file photo)

Blanchard says Drew loved the area. “It was the dearest thing in the world to him,” which meant money was not his driving motive. 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.”

Longtime friend and employee Bill Burgess said, “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, noted that 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.

Buddies. The late Wally Dobbs and Drew.

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

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.

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.”

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.

As Drew himself once said, “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, in the spring even though his friend had lost a lot of weight and was still weak from cancer treatments, “He was proud that he got to go skiing on the last day he was open this year. It wasn’t to prove a point, it was just something he wanted to do.”

—By Ellen Miller-Goins; reprinted from the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 2008/2009 Winter Enchantment magazine