“Skiing is an art form. You’ve got a white canvas every day, and every day the canvas is different, and you have to lay out your tracks and etch your design on the wall. When I ski, that’s the way I ski,” Steve Forsythe says while sitting in his Bellevue shop, the home base for Centerline Ski & Ski Academy. He then pauses, looking contemplative for a moment and then breaks into a smile.
“I’m not artsy-fartsy, but I like to make good turns,” he says, with a boisterous laugh, revealing both the serious and playful reverences he holds for his 50-year love affair with the sport, a relationship that’s caused him heartbreak and brought decades of joy as a rewarding career.
Forsythe, 68, a Mercer Island native, began skiing in junior high. “I took up skiing to chase a girl,” he says. “But then I thought: this looks interesting, and bang! I fell in love with the sport.” He soon began skiing, racing and training year-round. “I went right into racing because I’m a competitor by nature . . . I hiked and skied all summer. I was up on Rainier, on Chinook Pass by myself, practicing and working on technique. I became very devoted to becoming proficient.”
Without the luxury of structured ski programs in the area at the time, Forsythe says he was a “maverick, or lone wolf” for much of his early ski career, learning by reading books, putting in the time and effort and racing every weekend.
“I was frustrating myself every weekend, and I knew I could get better, and then I made it on the national level.” At the time, there was no official United States Ski Team, but Forsythe discovered he was competitive with the elite athletes at national races, where he also started making international contacts.
But this is where his story takes a plot twist. At the exact same time Forsythe was gaining experience and notoriety in the racing world, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. During his prime skiing years, instead of racing, he was leading men into combat as a commander in the military.
“It still frustrates me, but out of every darkness comes a light. I ended up flying in the military in Special Operations for quite a few years; one disappointment turned into something else. They are both life experiences. Both of them helped me build a stronger foundation as a person,” he says.
After the drawdown, Forsythe was released from the military and flew directly to Colorado to get back on his skis and back to his dream of making the United States Olympic team. But it was too late. The mentors he had connected with in the sport warned him that any efforts to return to the ski scene as an athlete would be futile. So he turned to coaching, and once again revived his passion. Within a short period of time after leaving the military, he was again across the world, this time training at the French National Team Academy to become an elite coach.
“The transition from athlete to coach was natural. I have a real passion for coaching. Whether it’s athletes or recreational skiers, I want to see people excel because it’s a great avenue for expression,” he says.
After becoming certified, Forsythe returned home to the Pacific Northwest and opened up Centerline Ski & Ski Academy, where he quickly gained a reputation as the go-to skiing guru in the region. Throughout the years, Forsythe has equipped and coached many athletes who have gone on to race in the World Cup, the Olympics and other elite ski arenas, and he has worked alongside some of the best coaches in the world. But he says he also derives a great amount of joy from helping recreational skiers who just want to get down the mountain in a more efficient and fun way.
And in the end, he says he doesn’t treat the elite athletes and beginners differently, because at any level the sport comes down to putting the same core fundamentals—the right equipment, the right drills, the right training—together with the individual in mind.
“What we specialize in are individualized programs. It starts with equipment, which, for example, the majority of people get the wrong boots. So we consult with them, we see what the ability is, what they want to accomplish and then go from there,” Forsythe says. Once properly equipped, Forsythe and his cadre of coaches put together a training program. “What I’ve found is that with skiing most people do not practice their skills off the mountain like they would with tennis, swimming or other sports. But that’s important for everyone, not just racers. So what we do is go through the skills of skiing, through all the drilling, so they can hit their optimal level.”
Making this kind of individualized program easier than ever for ski enthusiasts, Forsythe is thrilled to announce that this year he is opening a chalet at Snoqualmie.
But he warns that although he works with everyone from beginners to world-class skiers, the primary qualification is that those who come to him come to learn. He says he doesn’t put up with any nonsense—or cell phones on the mountain—a trait he still carries from his days in the military.
“I’m still an old guard guy and there are certain things in life I hold private and one-on-one conversation is one of them. That’s why I like coaching because you’re there, looking at them, and you’re developing something.”
When Forsythe looks back on his career as an athlete, a coach, a business owner, he says he might have done a few things a little differently, but as far as his decision to follow his passion for skiing, there was never another option.
“If I couldn’t ski, I wouldn’t be breathing; it’s that much a part of me.”