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Jan. 24, 2022

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The Couple That Skis Together: Oregonians’ streak spans decades

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Husband-and-wife Karen and Steven Ward, of Bend, Ore., have an amazing monthly ski streak. Steven has skied every month for the past 24 years, and Karen has skied every month for the past 23 years.
Husband-and-wife Karen and Steven Ward, of Bend, Ore., have an amazing monthly ski streak. Steven has skied every month for the past 24 years, and Karen has skied every month for the past 23 years. (Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin) Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. — October was horrible. They trashed their skis on rocks while skiing low-angle terrain at Mount Bachelor. November was easier, as a storm early in the month brought fresh snow to the slopes.

December was no problem, as usual.

The monthly ski streak for Bend husband-and-wife Steven and Karen Ward continues, as Steven has now skied every month straight for a little more than 24 years (a total of 290 months) and Karen has skied every month for more than 23 years (277 months).

Wintertime is easy to keep the streak going, but August through October often presents a challenge.

“Mount Hood through those summer months is getting harder and harder,” Karen Ward, 54, said. “You just can’t ski where you used to ski. You read about global warming and then you go up there and you see it. You never know. At least through July is usually easy.”

The streak began in 1997 on Mount Hood, after the Wards moved to Portland from Steamboat Springs, Colo. They moved to Bend in 1999 and have maintained the streak — mostly at Mount Bachelor — through family illnesses, two pregnancies and a variety of injuries.

Reliable snow at Bachelor has made it easy to keep the streak going during the winter and spring months via chairlifts. But during the late summer and fall, when most of the mountain snow has melted, the Wards hit the backcountry — climbing, scrambling over rocks and skinning to earn their turns.

Their children — daughter Cassidy, 17, and son Michael, 16 — are not a part of the streak, though they are both avid skiers, according to their parents.

“In years past, we were able to swing a lot of those (late summer) months on Mount Bachelor, but now, we’ve been finding ourselves going to Mount Hood more in those months, just because there is a little more snow,” said Steven Ward, 52. “But it was pretty bleak up there, too.”

The Wards have a self-imposed 20-turn required minimum for a monthly ski to count.

The streak has taken them all over the Cascades, including South Sister, Middle Sister, Mount Hood, Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin in Oregon; Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens in Washington; and Mount Shasta in California. They have also skied in Idaho and in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon.

“It’s always special to go up to Mount Adams and some of the other volcanoes to get one of those months in,” Steven said.

They document their monthly ski trips with dated photos in case anybody questions the validity of the streak.

The Wards acknowledge that other skiers in the West boast longer streaks, but they know of no husband-and-wife duo with a streak that exceeds theirs.

Steven is a sales representative for Henry Schein Medical and Karen a sales rep for Altria, and their kids are busy with sports and activities, so the convenience of Mount Bachelor has been crucial in recent years to keep their streak going.

“It’s been a little bit challenging, especially lately, because I work in medical distributions,” Steven said. “So in the COVID world, it’s been quite the ride. It’s a lot of work. The work never goes away. Someone always needs something.”

Steven has persevered through mountain biking injuries, including a broken shoulder blade in 2011 and broken ribs in 2013. He figures as long as they are healthy enough to ski each month, the streak will continue.

Driving to Mount Hood last year in the late summer, the Wards discussed ending the streak, but ultimately, they decided to continue.

“We’ve thought about throwing in the towel, and Karen said, ‘No we’ve gone this far, you might as well go for 25 years,’ ” Steven recalled.

The year difference in the Wards’ streaks stems back to a Mount Hood outing in 1998. While they were climbing out of a drainage, a rockslide triggered above Karen and a boulder struck her on the back, according to Steven. Though she was not seriously hurt, she decided to skip the next month’s ski trip. She started back up about a year later and has not stopped since.

Karen Ward said some of the best memories of the streak are heading up to Mount Hood in late summer, thinking the snow will be terrible, only to find ideal corn-snow conditions.

“Those are fun moments because it’s not your expectation,” she said.

She also recalled skiing at Mount Hood this past summer and getting up and away from the smoke from wildfires.

“Getting that fresh air through all of that was pretty awesome,” Karen said.

The Wards ski all over the Northwest during the winter, following their son Michael, who ski races for the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation.

“We go to Crystal Mountain, Spokane, Schweitzer and anywhere he goes,” Karen said. “It’s always fun to check out new places.”

Over the holidays, the Wards are planning to travel to the Powder Highway in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia to ski at multiple resorts and also go cat skiing.

Karen said they run into friends and acquaintances all the time who ask if the streak is still going. They even mention it in their annual Christmas card that they send to family and friends.

Steven is planning to hit 25 years of skiing every month in October.