Inland Northwest skiers knew it would be a good day if they woke to hear Sam Wormington yodeling on the radio during his regular ski reports.
“Schweitzer Sam” Wormington, the first general manager of Schweitzer Basin ski area, now Schweitzer Mountain Resort, died April 5 at age 90.
Wormington was hired at Schweitzer in 1963 and guided the ski area’s growth for its first 14 years before becoming Mt. Spokane’s manager for the next 14 years. Current and former ski patrollers around the Inland Northwest said Wormington was responsible for Schweitzer’s design.
“He saw the vision of putting in more lifts and replacing T-bars with lifts,” said John Pucci, Schweitzer’s patrol director since 1974. “He saw the potential of the backside.”
One of the runs at Schweitzer, Sam’s Alley, was named in Wormington’s honor.
Tim Sulzle was “fresh out of high school” when he applied to work at the new Sandpoint ski area, and Wormington made him the first patrol director. “He gave a lot of kids a lot of opportunities up there. We were young and it was quite an adventure,” said Sulzle, who lives in Spokane Valley but plans to retire in Sandpoint.
“He built the area,” Sulzle said. “He knew skiing so well and he knew terrain and he knew where there should be lifts and runs. So many people had their start with Sam, people who would not have known a ski industry from a tennis racket.”
Wormington also oversaw construction of ski areas and chairlifts in Canada, Alaska and in the northern United States. For his three grandchildren, that translated to traveling frequently with their grandparents and skiing wherever Wormington was working.
“We skied for free most of our lives,” said his granddaughter, Cherise Neu, a Sandpoint veterinarian. “That was a big plus for all of us kids.”
But more important, Neu said, was how supportive their grandparents were of them. Neu said Wormington was such a “go-getter,” they couldn’t help but catch his spirit. “If there was a job to be done … he wouldn’t look back,” said Neu, 37. “He’d be walking forward and his hands were swinging. He didn’t spend a lot of time lingering. He was always up and moving.”
Wormington, who grew up in Kimberly, B.C., landed at Normandy during World War II with the Canadian Army as a gunner in an anti-aircraft crew. He returned to Europe numerous times in his retirement for D-Day celebrations.
Wormington also volunteered with Bonner and Boundary county search and rescue teams with his German shepherds, Sabina and Astra.
He is survived by his daughter, Colleen Neu, and her husband, Larry, of Sandpoint, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His wife of 46 years, Elsa, preceded him in death.