So, the Beast has a soft underbelly.
The growing legion of New England skiers and riders who follow longtime Killington snowmaker/groomer Brian Hughes on social media know. His soulful condition reports on Facebook and Instagram resonate well beyond those simply clicking to see where the guns blasted new snow last night and what the groom looks like this morning.
Hughes delivers his unique and informative perspective from anywhere and everywhere on the mountain, in all measures of light and dark. He is frequently caked in snow and surrounded by noise — the howl of the wind, the hiss of snow guns, the churning of groomers and the laughter of his beloved Jamaican co-workers. All of it is music to his ears. Helmeted, head-lamped and ear-muffed, his voice cuts through the distractions to focus his followers’ thoughts on a much more peaceful refrain — just be kind to one another.
It’s a message people are thirsty to hear in this complicated age of dissention. And it’s coming from a voice they can immediately trust — that of the Snow King, who never saw a real snowflake prior to leaving his surfing lifestyle in southern California 28 years ago.
“I’m here to put some velocity into your motivosity,” Hughes will say, frequently. “Remember motivosity. Learn it. Know it. Live it.”
Even without knowing what motivosity means, people immediately know what it means. If a Wikipedia definition of motivosity existed, it would cross-reference the story of Hughes himself.
“I needed a change of pace,” he told podcaster Victoria Gaither when recounting his oft-reported decision to leave San Diego 28 years ago. So, he took out a map of the U.S. and decided wherever his finger landed was where he would go. Then he boarded a Greyhound bus to Rutland, Vt.
“I came during summer,” he said. “Then it got cold. I learned how to adapt, dress in layers. I had no idea. I came in tennis shoes. Then, when I saw snow falling from the sky for the first time, I lost my mind.”
Hughes arrived without a job and went to Killington looking for one. He heard about snowmaking. “In my mind, I thought they got woodchippers with blocks of ice in it.” He heard about grooming, not the pet kind. Driving a tractor up and down the mountain? “I think I can do that.”
Today, as a supervisor, Hughes knows everything there is to know about snow. He’s mastered a system that can pump 10 million gallons of water to more than 250 snow guns capable of blanketing 600 acres with a foot of snow in 24 hours.
He began shooting his own videos in 2019, and his viewership has been on the rise ever since. He’s got about 2,300 followers on his Instagram @brianhughes6522, and his Facebook posts @Brian Hughes routinely elicit 1,000 likes and 100 comments each. His popularity is piling up faster than the Beast’s system output on full bore.
While Hughes’s snow is man-made, his social media engagement is all natural. It isn’t workshopped or brand-tested or focus-grouped or rehearsed. It’s Vermont organic. “I just open my mouth and words fly out,” he said. “I have no plan on what’s going to happen.”
He begins each of his reports with the same familiar greeting: “Good morning groovy people! Good morning Sugar Pop!”
Sugar Pop is his heart, his soul, his best friend … his beloved dog.
The videos are his way to pay tribute to Killington’s hardworking snowmaking/grooming team, while at the same time provide important conditions information to elevate everyone’s stoke and safety factor — whether a World Cupper, a weekend warrior, or a first-time skier.
“Come on out and have a wonderful day,” he says. “You’re skiing. How could you not?”
Hughes recalled the first time — and only time — he tried skiing 28 years ago. He fell off the chair. He quickly returned to his skateboarding/surfboarding roots and picked up a snowboard. That didn’t go too smoothly at first either, but after three days of K-town body slamming, he got it. Now, he rocks.
He uses his platform to convey ideals that are important to him. First and foremost, “Don’t ever let anybody out there harsh your stoke. And people out there that are harshing stokes … stop! There’s no need for it.”
The fastest way to harsh Hughes’s stoke is to disrespect the beauty of the mountains by littering. “Don’t do it,” he said. “It’s always disgusting. It will never be beautiful. If you see trash out there, pick it up.”
His followers soak up every word.
“Your posts always brighten my day,” wrote Rob Painter. “Thanks for doing what you do.”
“Brian, you ARE the Beast,” wrote Kelly Doern.
“Your positivity goes a long way Brian Hughes,” wrote Keith Kinsman.
“The true heroes of skiing. None of us get to do what we love without them doing their job first. Brian is a hero,” wrote John Buck Jr.
At the start of each new ski day for the groovy people, after Hughes and his crew have been out on the mountain for hours shaping and grooming, he will close out his report by conveying his job description.
“So that others may ski. Peace.”
Matt Boxler can be reached at [email protected].