By Laurel Dudley
It isn’t immediately obvious what makes Dustin Anderson so likable. The 48-year-old Brigham City resident who everyone calls Dusty is brief with words. But ask anyone who’s taken his ski lessons—he’s taught for over 20 years—and you’ll hear the same thing. Wrapped inside his quiet nature is a caring, steadfast man who not only makes you feel safe but also makes sure you’re having fun.
Dusty has worked with Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports since its inception in 2009. While most instructors prefer and specialize in certain types of adaptive lessons, Dusty happily teaches every discipline involving skis.
Jim Bradley, OVAS founder and program director, has a nickname for Dusty: Mr. Dependable. “You can give him any lesson and he does it well,” Jim says.
Dusty’s innate tendency to observe means he’s constantly reading a person’s body language and facial expressions to see whether he’s connecting. Then, there’s what Jim describes as Dusty’s “interesting vocal cadence.” Short sentences and long pauses seem to really engage his clients.
Dusty’s succinct style was one reason why Judith Tope, from Georgia, kept returning for lessons. When they first met in 2009, Judith was in her early sixties and struggling to recover from a sudden post-viral infection that had weakened her body, erased her memory and left her unable to read or speak.
She felt safe following Dusty’s gentle yet firm instructions, delivered in his low-key manner. In just two or three words, he’d convey a technique that she could think about and practice.
Judith says that Dusty listens not only with his ears but also his heart. “He will give you what you need to feed your soul.”
For Judith, who’s been skiing with Dusty ever since, that usually means hitting jumps and catching air on the bi-ski, with Dusty’s help. But last week, when her body felt off in the cold, she did something she’s never done. She cut her lesson short. The decision made her feel badly, until Dusty spoke. Matter-of-fact like usual, his words underscored what Judith calls his educator’s mindset. He told her, “That’s a good choice,” instantly flipping what felt like a negative moment to Judith into a positive.
Dusty grew up in the northern Utah town of Willard. As a teenager, he fell in love with a sport the rest of his family didn’t care much about—skiing. As soon as he could drive, he spent as much of each winter as he could skiing at Powder Mountain, usually at night.
He first glimpsed adaptive skiers in his early twenties when he volunteered to help at a Special Olympics slalom course. Soon thereafter, he became a certified alpine ski instructor and worked his first full winter at Brian Head, Utah’s southernmost ski resort. That year, in 1998, he gave his first adaptive lesson to a man with Down syndrome. He says something about that experience just clicked.
Dusty volunteered to help when the 2002 Winter Paralympics came to Snowbasin. He watched as skiers with all sorts of disabilities hurtled down the giant slalom course. The visually impaired skiers impressed him the most. “They skied as fast as I had ever skied!” he recalls.
Later that fall when Dusty interviewed to work at Snowbasin, he asked if he could teach adaptive lessons. Although there wasn’t an official program yet, Snowbasin ski school was trying to accommodate skiers with disabilities. By the time they procured a sit-ski, Dusty had already gotten certified in the fledgling sport.
He especially loved working with the kids who used wheelchairs and who came up in school groups. He’d take them up the mountain one-at-a-time in the sit-ski. On most days, to their delight, he could get them skiing faster than their able-bodied friends. But he knew the experience impacted them on a deeper level. For a couple hours, they were included in an activity just like all the other kids.
Winter after winter, Dusty returned to Snowbasin to teach. The seasonal job filled his heart more than it covered any bills, especially with his and his wife’s three growing boys. But Dusty had created what any winter-enthusiast would call the perfect schedule.
He started a landscaping business, DreamScapes RMM, in 2002 and did so well that he eventually acquired another business. For Dusty, long hours in the spring, summer and fall, oftentimes with the help of his three sons, continue to afford him time in the winter to do, what one client says, he was born to do: teach skiing.
Teaching adaptive skiing can be more work because of the equipment and safety protocols. But Dusty says that helping someone ski who might not otherwise be able to is especially rewarding.
“Every day I go out, I learn something new,” he says. While he’s always looking for ways to improve his teaching, he’s also constantly on the lookout for something else—how to up the fun factor. It’s just one more thing that makes him so likable.