SHERIDAN — Most mornings, one will find Ron Wiggins drinking coffee at Starbucks with his buddies.
In the half-light, Wiggins’ gray hair and beard suggest just another old insomniac, serenaded by “There’s Never Enough Time” as he watches lattes pass by. However, just because there’s snow on the roof does not mean there isn’t fire in his Volkl Katana skis.
Meet the snow man, a 65-year-old ski patroller who out-skis Old Man January most winter weekends while saving lives on the slopes. He also can ski the bibs off most upstarts.
Last February, the veteran skier clocked in his age — a blistering 64 mph — racing two younger patrollers downhill at Meadowlark Ski Lodge.
“Skiing keeps me young,” Wiggins said.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound mason has been a ski patroller for nearly a quarter century. He worked his way up from candidate to director at Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area ski patrol earlier in his life. He continues there as a volunteer senior ski patroller, teacher and supervisor for the Region 1 Outdoor Emergency Care and Transportation programs of the National Ski Patrol Northern Division.
“I’ve very competitive. I love to ski fast. And I wasn’t going to let some younger guys get down first,” said Wiggins, who owns Can Do Construction company and works as head mason at the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care System. He has been married to his wife, Audrey Wiggins, nearly 40 years, and they have three grown children and grandchildren.
Ron Wiggins believes in God, is a member of Cornerstone Church and lends a hand to those in need on or off the hill.
As a long-time ski patroller, he has saved skiers from bruised knees, broken arms and legs and a skier scalped by the rocks after a botched flip over a creek. He is also a lifelong ski fanatic.
“I started skiing when I was 9 years old. I was self-taught,” Wiggins said. “My first pair of skis were made of old wood, hickory. I found them in an old abandoned ranch house. The leathers bindings were rotten so I used bailing wire.”
Wiggins still has the set of skis with old red wax on them from when he melted red Crayons on the bottom.
“I’d heard red wax was the fastest wax for skiing,” Wiggins said.
For the past seven years, Wiggins and buddy David Chilcott have co-chaired their informal “committee against couch potatoes” at Starbucks.
Each morning, they wrestle over the public health crises of horizontally-challenged old farts wallowing in sugar-addled, over-medicated self pity fueled by a sense of purposelessness and non-stop TV ads peddling the latest treatments for elderly ailments.
The group maintains healthy lifestyles, including Wiggins, who detests junk food.
“I hate Big Gulps and sodas,” Wiggins said. “I’ve got several friends who were couch potatoes and some are not here. Couch potatoes, all you do is get grumpy and gripe about life.”
Wiggins was born in Ophir, Utah, a historic mining town founded in the 1860s and raised in nearby Stockton. His father, George, a World War II veteran, was a civilian employee at nearby Tooele Army and Desert Chemical depots while his mother, Margaret, raised seven kids. Growing up, Wiggins explored and treasure hunted the mountains, mines and ghost towns, finding bottles, gold nuggets and even a tin of blasting caps.
“I could go to Ophir and live there forever,” Wiggins said. “I must have crawled through the whole Wasatch Range looking for mines. We had all kinds of secret hiding places. I could have got lost in those old mines.”
At Tooele High School, Wiggins studied building, graduating in 1972. He worked for local bricklayers learning his trade for several years. He then worked at Big Country Builders in Douglas for a number of years before finally moving to Sheridan in 1982. Shortly after, he started his business and began working as a mason at the Sheridan VA in 1989.
In the mid-90s, friends and co-workers persuaded Wiggins to join the ski patrol where he has volunteered ever since. The skiing, public service and great camaraderie is what has makes him love the ski patrol. He hopes to retire from his job in a few years but not from ski patrol and skiing.
“Ron is a top-notch guy,” said ski patroller Kurt Ilgen, 57, who with his brother, Toni Ilgen, were skiing with Wiggins the day when Kurt Ilgen clocked Wiggins racing his age.
“He’s a tough old bird. He loves skiing. He won’t slow down,” Kurt Ilgen said. “He acts like he’s 30. He doesn’t act his age.”
Ilgen said Wiggins has a great sense of humor; a get-’er-done attitude, and has a great time.
The sun is rising over Starbucks. The coffee is getting cold. It’s time to go to work and plan another ski patrol weekend at Antelope Butte. As Wiggins and Chilcott adjourn their meeting, they offer a final bit of advice.
“Get up and do something!” they said.