As a culture we are always looking at who is the best, who has done it the best, and who might do it better in the future. We are always looking at individuals who have accomplished something we all dream we could do as well, regardless of their profession. We are fixated on wins, titles, trophies, and accolades that our heroes have accumulated throughout their careers and lives. However, something that is truly respected by fans and teammates in a specific sport or profession is longevity. Being consistent and successful for a long time is hard to accomplish in any discipline.
Winning streaks in sports is something fans easily gravitate towards and it brings a lot of attention and publicity to an individual or team. In professional sports, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team in the history of the NFL to go undefeated throughout both the regular season and playoffs and win a Super Bowl. The 1971 Los Angeles Lakers have an NBA record of 33 consecutive wins, the 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins have an NHL record of 17 consecutive wins, and the 1916 New York Giants have an MLB record of 26 consecutive wins in a row. When it comes to snowsports, Gordon “Gordo” Garlock, a long-time ski instructor at Timberline Lodge and Ski Area in Oregon has an amazing streak of consecutively skiing every month for 41 years and 3 months that is still active.
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The beginning of the streak
This epic streak began on June 13, 1982, and has provided many great life experiences and challenges throughout its duration, said 74-year-old Garlock. Any streak that lasts four decades is sure to have its ups and downs and Garlock acknowledged that there were times when he was not sure if it would continue. He attributes his good health to his days in High School and college when he competed in track and ran long-distance-race events to enable him to keep the streak going throughout the years. Garlock continued to remain active throughout his life by lifting weights and also swimming which he said he loves to do.
After college, Garlock became a High School guidance counselor and High School track coach where he taught “At Risk” kids and at alternative schools. His ability to teach and mentor people has definitively carried over throughout his 48-year career as a ski instructor at Timberline. According to Denes Balaze, the Training Director at Timberline for eight years, Garlock is a legend at Timberline and also a great mentor.
Garlock said he attributes his ability to have been able to ski so much to Timberline’s location and its unique weather. He said when the streak first started, he would start skiing in September and ski at least five times a week during the season, with the ski season lasting through August. Timberline is unique because it has no snowmaking capabilities and relies solely on natural snow.
Balaze said, “[Garlock] is very giving and has never asked for anything; he helps people out with skis and gear and all sorts of stuff.” Speaking of Garlock’s streak, Balaze stated that “he has put so much effort into this, his passion and commitment is just awesome.” Balaze respects and admires Garlock so much that he assisted him during the 2021 season when his streak was in jeopardy due to warm weather by shoveling snow onto a 100-meter path for Garlock to ski down.
Challenges along the way
Maintaining a 41-year-old streak is unheard of in the world of sports mostly due to age, health issues, and injuries. Garlock has not been immune to sustaining injuries and health issues throughout this amazing journey. Six years ago, Garlock was diagnosed with Sarcoma Cancer in his hip and was going through chemotherapy, and still managed to ski each month.
He started chemotherapy at the beginning of August where he would receive treatments for a week, then be released by the hospital, but would later return for more treatments. It was in August when his streak was put at serious risk when he still had not skied at all that month.
“The last day in August, I had a bunch of buddies rally around me, we rode the lift up, and one of my buddies carried my equipment,” Garlock said.” I made three runs and the guys helped me across Palmer Snowfield.”
Garlock skied the very next day, September 1st, and said, “I felt like I ran two marathons in two days.” Those two ski days helped keep his consecutive streak alive and counted for August and September.
Later in October, after receiving chemotherapy for almost two and half months, is when he was faced with the fact that the streak might end. Garlock said by that time he was pretty sick and weak from the chemotherapy but still managed to keep his streak alive. It snowed early in October that year and Timberline got about six inches of snow in the parking lot, according to Garlock. His wife drove him to the parking lot at Timberline and he said with a laugh, “I put on my cross country skis, skied a hundred yards out and a hundred yards back, and I counted that month!”
Garlock also had a total shoulder replacement 14 years ago and his doctor said he would not be able to ski for five to seven months. He planned the surgery for January but skied the first day of January and by the end of February, he went skiing again to keep the streak alive. “I had a special brace made that tied up my arm, I went skiing, and was just careful not to fall on it.”
This past year in June, Garlock had a freak accident while he was golfing and one of his friends accidentally ran him over with a golf cart. Balaze recalled the incident, “He was pretty banged up, but luckily didn’t sustain any major injuries.” Balaze added, “He overcomes most of these challenges that come his way, it’s just incredible.”
This September and October, Garlock is planning on keeping his streak alive by skiing at BigSnow, New Jersey, which is the only indoor ski facility in North America. Even though there were historic amounts of snowfall out west this year, Garlock said they had an unusually warm month of May. The warm weather melted most of the snow and by the middle of August, Timberline, which received almost 700 inches of snow this past season, was already closed.
Climate change is something the ski industry is challenged with in the future and Garlock said that he knows it is real and you can almost measure it. “15 years ago, there were no issues in September and [Timberline] would close on Labor Day.” Timberline would reopen in October for the seasons and offer weekend skiing, but that has not happened in years according to Garlock.
Friendships and memories
Throughout his 41-year streak, there have to be some great stories, memories, and friendships that Garlock has made. He has been at Timberline for so long and is respected by so many people at the mountain. Garlock remembered one season when in September, the team at Timberline worked together to provide him something very special. He was going to miss that month for skiing and the owner and the CEO of Timberline personally took him up the mountain and had a cat groom a trail just for him to keep the streak alive.
Garlock is known for being humble, an inspiration, and sharing his love for skiing with everyone he has ever come in contact with. He is also known for having a sense of humor according to Balaze who remembers his first days at Timberline with Garlock. Balaze recalls when he first was hired at Timberline and met Garlock and the story he told about being a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). According to Balaze, Garlock told his wife if he dies, to keep paying the dues for the PSIA for a year if he dies, just in case he comes back. Balaze said the reason was that Garlock did not want to lose his certification with the PSIA. “That’s Gordo,” said Balaze.
Gordo has been an inspiration and mentor to so many people that he has met throughout his life while skiing. “He has helped a lot of people’s careers in the industry, he’s a great person and a resource, and a great teacher,” According to Balaze. Garlock even help launch Chris Hargrave’s career, Balaze said. Hargrave is currently a Consultant and Burton Snowboard Academy Manager and has coached Olympics gold medalist Shaun White as well.
Hargrave remembers the first time he met Garlock at Timberline when he was just 17 years old and was looking for a job while at college. Hargrave was applying to be an instructor and Garlock was the Director of Training at Timberline at the time. Garlock did not hire him because he said he was too young. Hargrave said with a laugh, “So, I begged him for a job, and they ended up giving me a job cleaning up puke and serving chicken nuggets in the kids club!” However, Garlock continued to mentor Hargrave throughout his time at Timberline and now has gone all over the world. Hargrave had nothing but praise when speaking of Garlock and what an inspiration he is and how thankful he was to have met him.
Garlock was a great teacher, mentor, and inspiration to Hargrave throughout his early life at Timberline and even now in his career he still speaks of him. Hargrave gives public speeches and still tells stories about Gordo to his audience about things he was taught by him. The vision of what is important to be a good human being and learning life lessons, that would help guide Hargrave’s life and career in the future, were taught by Garlock.
Garlock eventually did hire Hargrave as an instructor, but the time came when it was time for him to move on and grow within the industry. “It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land,” was one of the most profound things Garlock ever told Hargrave, while giving him guidance about his future. Hargrave said if it was not for him, he would have never left Timberline or the Pacific Northwest, but he listened to Garlock. Throughout his career, Hargrave said he remembers the conversation he had with Garlock about leaving the PNW and Timberline.
“Those words have inspired me to go out and seek the industry, seek adventure, and seek opportunities for me to be creative in my own way,” Hargrave said. “That might be the most profound conversation I have ever had in the ski business, out of all the mentors I have ever had.”
Sharing the love of skiing with others and taking care of people on the snow were all things Hargrave learned from Garlock. He said that he learned professional growth, that everything has a purpose, and that he could not be more thankful for all those lessons he learned from Garlock.
Throughout Garlock’s streak, he has been humble, and appreciative, and touched the lives of so many people along the way. His colleagues and friends at Timberline recognize and acknowledge what he means to the mountain. Garlock would have not mentioned that he has a plaque for being recognized for his contributions throughout his career and being such a fixture at Timberline. He would also not mention that Timberline also named one of its trails after him, called “Gordo’s Mile.”
Hargrave spoke about Garlock’s streak and mentioned that it was important to also look back and recognize that Garlock has probably spent more time teaching and instructing skiing during the last 41 years. “He spends most of the time teaching from November to August,” said Hargrave. Recently, Garlock has slowly started to get away from teaching and instructing the last few years and plans on focusing on skiing as much as he can now.
Looking back on his streak, Garlock said that he has so many great memories and experiences, but his friends and the people who helped him along the way are what he remembers the most. He said that he had to keep the streak alive and he could not quit because of all the people and support who had helped him along the way. “I think the story is much bigger than the streak, the streak is pretty amazing, but he spent all of those 41 years sharing skiing and his love of skiing with other people,” said Hargrave.
Garlock’s current streak of skiing at least one day of every calendar month for the last 41 years and 3 months is an amazing achievement. He did say that after this year the streak may come to an end. How long the streak will last is up to him. There is no doubt that Garlock will have no regrets about the last 41 years and will only remember the fond memories, experiences, and the people he met while spending time on the mountain.