Not only does he write books, but his life reads like a compelling novel. Descriptions of his work with the Navy and his time spent flying are thrilling. Wells is most keen on his time spent on the slopes but with a new year, at 76, he made the decision to retire. He is an accomplished author and will continue writing. What he won’t be doing is careening down mountain slopes so frequently.
After four decades of service as a National Ski Patroller, Wells, a resident of The Plains, retired from spending time in the snow. He was also a National Ski Patrol instructor and examiner for 28 years.
Wells’ passion for skiing started as a small child in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. Later at his high school in England he skied every Christmas and Easter holidays in Europe with his school ski club. When he became a Royal Navy officer, he skied on the Navy and Portsmouth Command ski teams, one year winning the grand slalom trophy with three Royal Marine Commandos. Wells has a cheeky side to him and admittedly felt in good company with that win; they were arctic warfare trained and spent winters in Norway skiing near the Russian border.
Wells immigrated to the United States in 1983. By that time, he had skied every major resort in Switzerland and Austria, several in France and Italy, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria in Germany. His favorite ski resort has always been Zermatt in Switzerland.
Stateside, Wells began patrolling at Massanutten. He later helped create and lead a new patrol, Cherokee, at Linden, Virginia, where he was the patrol treasurer. He called Timberline, West Virginia, home for a time; while there, he helped establish a new patrol at Whitetail in Pennsylvania when it opened. After several years of long weekends traveling with his three children, he decided to move closer to home; he has been at Bryce Mountain ever since.
“I like Bryce Mountain because it is family-oriented,” said Wells, “and is very good for children and people who want to learn to ski and for more advanced skiers to develop their skills without the pressure of long lift lines and crowded slopes.”
Wells enjoys being of service to others. Parallel with his duties on the National Ski Patrol, Wells is a life member with The Plains Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, where he serves as president. Being a life member means that he has volunteered his time for a minimum of 20 years.
“I trained originally at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy as an emergency medical technician and ran on the Vienna Rescue Squad before moving from Oakton to The Plains and joining The Plains Rescue Squad,” said Wells. While he has witnessed many injuries, he managed to remain unscathed during his time on patrol -- although he did have a harrowing experience at Mammoth Mountain in California where he found himself precariously hanging on to a rock pinnacle before descending arms outstretched down a chute sans skis. While losing his skis and poles, he ended his near 500-foot free fall with minor burns to his arms.
Over the past decades, Wells estimates that he has rescued about 1,000 injured skiers, treating them on the mountain and bringing them down on a special toboggan. He’s seen every kind of injury, from serious head and back injuries and fractures requiring medevac (medical air evacuation) to minor cuts, abrasions and sprains.
Wells is fortunate that he hasn’t had to deal with a skiing fatality, although he’s come close.
He has much to be proud of with his skiing prowess and encourages prospective skiers to put themselves in good hands.
“My best advice is always take instruction from an experienced and qualified instructor, fully registered as a Professional Ski Instructor of America,” said Wells. He’s proud of his oldest son John, who is a National Ski Patroller and also a PSIA instructor. “He is at Wintergreen in Virginia,” said Wells.
He reflected on how ski equipment has advanced over the decades. As a small child in Kandersteg in Switzerland he vividly remembers skiing on wooden skies, with bamboo poles and leather boots, with a very primitive binding.
“The new short skis are the way to go,” advises Wells, “and don't buy second-hand equipment unless you know its pedigree.”
Wells offered his golden rule: “Never ski alone in mountainous complex terrain, and in particular where there are few other skiers.”
GPS tracking devices, often embedded in watches, will sound the alarm and allow rescue teams to find injured or lost skiers but Wells would hope that everyone’s skiing adventure would be without incident.
“Never stop in the middle of a ski run,” advises Wells. “Also stop on the side, turn and look upwards to sight other descending skiers. The downward skier always has the right of way,” added Wells noting that this rule is not always respected. “Skiers should always glance over their shoulder before turning.”
Wells has written several books, including two novels (“Black Gold Finale” and “The Golden Few”). He recently returned from London where he was meeting with his U.K. literary agent. “I have another book due to be published later this year by the U.S. Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, Maryland,” said Wells.
His children are all accomplished skiers. His daughter Lucy lives near Denver, Colorado, and is teaching her three children the joys of skiing.
“There are a lot of skiers in this area,” said Wells, who hopes that his eight grandchildren will follow the family ski tradition and acquire the expert epithet.
If you’re fortunate enough to meet this personable and intelligent fellow, you won’t be disappointed. He has lots of stories to share.
While Wells has had his last run, the spirit that kept him on the slopes lives on.
Reach Anita Sherman at email@example.com