This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 (49.2) issue of POWDER.
Magic Mountain is an old-school New England gem started in 1960 with a single T-Bar. To “Mad Man” Bobby Johnson, this indie ski hill is a picture of the future. Johnson, 59, is Magic’s new ski school director, the first Black man to hold this position in Vermont skiing history. A union and journeyman carpenter by trade, Johnson also has nearly 40 years of ski instructing under his belt, with seasons spent in the New York Catskill and Adirondack Mountains; as well as his home state New Jersey; earning certifications as a PSIA Level 3 Alpine and Telemark Instructor, and an AASI Level 2 Instructor. In Burlington, he studied engineering at the University of Vermont. His son Sander, not even a year old, will hopefully grow up to be a skier, says Johnson. If he does, Sander will cut his teeth on the steep, classic trails of Magic and learn to ski trees, because that how the Johnson family does it.
My first time skiing, I was 10. My dad had old cable bindings and he cranked them down as tight as they could go. There was no way I’d ever come out. He pushed me down the hill at Lincoln Park in Jersey City. He’d pull me up by my poles and push me down again.
My [college] friends told me all about downhill skiing, and I was hooked, just from talking. I bought all my equipment before I even touched the snow. I bought new skis and used boots—should have done it the other way around. I happened to live above Sew Unique, a sewing center on Church Street. I got one of their “coat kits,” and I sewed my first ski jacket on my own.
When I graduated, I answered an altar call to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in my life. He and I have walked together ever since. The best part of it is that God opened up the door for me to ski every day. My pastor told me, “You love to ski, so I’m sure that God is in that with you.” That clicked.
People are surprised when they found out my credentials; that I’m the one who taught the person who taught them to ski. The fact that people would look at me and immediately see a difference, see somebody who doesn’t belong, somebody who should have to prove themselves—that is systemic racism.
The ski industry is faltering, the pool we’re pulling from can’t sustain it, and there’s only two to five percent BIPOC involvement. That’s [where to find] the growth, right there.
Magic’s motto is: “Where skiing still has its soul.” For me, that soul resides in the trees. That’s their culture and it’s where my heart lies. Trees don’t dance with you very well, so you have to dance with them. Do-si-do, look for the openings, do not go for the dark places.
Nichelle, my wife, was my student at Killington. My boss was this old, grizzled, white-bearded Vermonter, who was strolling along with this goddess, and I was envious of the lucky so-and-so who got to teach her. It happened to be me. That woman loves skiing more than I do.
I am blessed to have Magic, to have a place to bring my family. We’re going to make a lot of magic happen. We’re going to give magic to other people. The National Brotherhood of Skiers is on board. NBS is my family that I’m inviting to Magic, and anyone else who wants to have magic in their ski life.