Sitting on a chairlift with Matt Gillis at 3 am, between rain storms, 19 hours into a quest to ski for 24 hours straight, one gets an idea of how passionate he is about raising money for cystinosis and the 24 Hours for Hank Foundation.
“People want to be involved,” says Gillis, “you just have to give them the opportunity.”
The perception is that it’s a race. But it’s actually about raising as much money as possible, and doing that requires Gillis to ski 24 hours straight — not going inside for any reason but weathering whatever storm might roll through.
Rewind 11 years, when I was first introduced to Matt Gillis. It wasn’t so much a formal introduction as seeing and hearing the expression coming from his mother when she viewed a photo of him upside down, high up in the air over the terrain park at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Since that photo was taken, Gillis’ involvement with the ski industry has stayed strong, even while attending Eastern Washington University. He has consistently been one of the jumpers in the Outrageous Air Show at Schweitzer, with the exception of his freshman year at college, when he traveled with the Budweiser All Star Aerial Show.
After graduating from college, he moved back to Sandpoint and quickly landed a job at Coldwater Creek, where he met Brian Sturgis — Hank Sturgis’ father. He soon found out the young boy had been living with cystinosis since 2007. Gillis and Stugis began to brainstorm ideas on how to raise money and build awareness about disease. They had this wild idea about doing a 24-hour bike ride; then the idea progressed to the 24-hour ski event. Everything just fell into place after that.
Now, three years later, Gillis is consistently asking himself, “How can I raise the most money?” That’s how he came up with his latest idea: Payin’ It Forward.
It was a rainy day this last May when he decided to register for the Portland Marathon, create the website PayinItForward.com and start raising even more money for cystinosis.
Gillis’ overall contribution to the foundation has totaled approximately $50,000, with $25,000 coming in this year alone. Every year he’s finding new ways to challenge himself by setting different fundraising goals.
“I hope someone beats me,” Gillis says with a laugh, “but I hope they do it on the fundraising side of the event.”
Many of his donations have been contingent on skiing a certain amount of laps. Somehow 200 became the goal. During the last three 24 Hours for Schweitzer ski events, he has increased the number of runs. In April, he hit 202 runs through multiple rain storms, skiing through the night, raising money for a good cause, while everyone else was sleeping.
Welcome to Snowlander, Vol. III
Wow! What a November and early December this has been. While we’re less than a month into the season, many avid riders in the region are boasting double digits for their ski day totals with still many days (and months!) of winter left to go. How many do you have?
If coverage or conditions are your concern for having not clocked your first day, there’s no need to have this worry. Conditions and coverage are historically better than many can remember. All ski areas opened within a week of each other, and 100 percent of the terrain in the region is open. Many of the resorts opened earlier than they have in recent history. The rain during the last week of November actually helped the current snowpack, which is why area resorts are still boasting great coverage even without any recent snow. But keep in mind that it is still early season so remember to ski and board with care.
With the shortest day of the year almost upon us and a lingering high-pressure system, valley fog is masking the beautiful sunshiny days up in the mountains. Soon, the days will start to get longer, and we’ll be back to enjoying long afternoons full of sun.
The holiday season is in full swing and the Inland Northwest has the most epic start to the best time of the year — ski season. So what are you waiting for? Get up to the mountains and enjoy the snow, sun and laughter with fellow snow-riding enthusiasts.
Happy holidays and see you on the slopes!