For more than three decades, Doug "Malone" Knudson has provided patrons at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area with leg-dangling rides up the snowy slopes, but last fall he needed a lift of his own.
Knudson, 52, was in the middle of a morning shower Sept. 10 when he heard his wife, Sasha, screaming, "Fire!"
The couple and their 13-year-old son, Dylan, ran outside as their Talent rental home went up in flames. Knudson saved the family's vehicles from the blaze, but the house was gutted, everything inside ruined.
"When you lose everything it's pretty hard to bounce back," said Knudson, the ski area's lifts manager. "The community was just awesome. We had a huge yard sale, fundraiser at the mountain, everyone did whatever they could, and Red Cross I can't say enough about, and I can't forget to mention the firefighters."
The ski area also opened a bank account at PremierWest Bank (now AmericanWest Bank) in Ashland to receive donations for the Knudsons, who were without renter's insurance and a permanent home.
"As soon as we heard about the fire, pretty much our whole staff was over there to see what we could do, not only because he is a valued employee but mostly because he is our friend," said General Manager Kim Clark.
The family found another home in Talent a month after the fire, Knudson said, and settled in for a snow-packed winter.
"You just have to keep going," Knudson said.
Clark, a member of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association board, nominated Knudson for the association's "Tower of Excellence" award — a prestigious honor among the region's ski area workers.
Every year, each of the association's 34 member ski areas can nominate an employee to receive the award.
Typically, Clark doesn't nominate anybody, he said. But this year Knudson, who has worked at the ski area for 31 years, stood out.
Knudson was one of three finalists for the PNSAA award this year, but fell short in a tight race for the honor, said Clark, who is not part of the selection committee.
"It's a real deserving award and Malone was very deserving of it. This year he just happened to have some stiff competition. Will I nominate Malone in the future? You bet," Clark said. "Malone has provided consistency in his department as the industry has evolved. As a trainer, he is instrumental in the progress of our future lift technicians."
Knudson has been going by Malone ever since his high school ice hockey teammates coined the nickname in reference to Jim Malone, a Canadian center for the Tulsa Oilers. Both Malone and Knudson had a tendency to frequent the penalty box, Knudson recalled with a grin.
At age 20, Knudson took off from his hometown of Grand Rapids, Minn., on a road trip to Southern California, where he hoped to become a stuntman.
"I had never even been to Oregon. Ran out of money here ... found a job working up at Mt. Ashland and been here ever since," Knudson said. "I've always been into risky stuff and heights."
He had hardly been on a pair of skis before taking the job, but that didn't intimidate him.
"I started skiing behind my dad's truck in northern Minnesota, believe it or not," he said. "Believe me, I wasn't that good, but one winter here on this mountain and I got good."
Knudson started as a lift operator and worked his way up to night shift mountain manager in a five-year span, he said. He's been lifts manager for the past 15 years.
"He thought that working at a ski area might be an opportune thing for a young single man to do, and he never left," Clark said.
"Why leave?" Knudson said. "We have rivers, lakes, mountains, hiking; everything's right here."
Sam Wheeler is a freelance reporter living in Talent. Email him at email@example.com.