It was a gentle slope — barely a hill, really — that started Frank Baer on a lifelong love affair with the sport of skiing.
“I’ll never forget, I went to Coonskin when I was in eighth grade and they had a rope tow on the little hill somewhere out there, and I loved it,” said Baer, now the chairman and chief executive officer of Charleston-based Commercial Insurance Services.
He was hooked.
In the years that followed, he honed his skills at resorts across West Virginia and beyond. He became so passionate about the sport that he eventually chose college, and later law school, in Colorado because of the proximity to big mountains with long, fast runs.
Later, the lure of higher hills in exotic — and expensive — skiing destinations drove his professional and financial success. He and his wife and their three children have skied all over the world — in the Rocky Mountains, western Canada, Alaska, Chile and all over Europe.
“It was a motivator to work hard and to make money and to do things that would open these doors, because you can’t open these doors without money,” he said.
“You can dream about it. You can watch a movie about it. You can’t actually do it unless you have money. So it was a lifetime carrot for me personally.”
Now, for the second straight year, he is dangling that same carrot for the community he loves, arranging for the screening of Warren Miller’s 69th feature ski film “Face of Winter,” at the Clay Center’s Caperton Planetarium & Theater on Monday at 8 p.m., including an appearance by professional freeskier Amie Engerbretson. Presented by Volkswagen and sponsored locally by Joe Holland Volkswagen, the event is free and open to the public, though ticket reservations must be made in advance by emailing email@example.com.
Normally, such releases are reserved for much, much bigger ski markets. But the releases can be hosted by an independent promoter, like Baer.
He wants the people of West Virginia to be as excited about skiing as he is.
“We love the sport and this is a way for us to give back,” Baer said.
The movie, he said, is a great way to highlight an important recreational industry in West Virginia.
“We have the longest run, with the highest vertical relief — the distance from summit to base — anywhere south of upstate New York or New England, Vermont, New Hampshire. Everything south of there we dominate.”
He believes skiing could help drive tourism in West Virginia, pulling outdoor enthusiasts from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and surrounding areas who are looking for the best skiing experience they can find close to home.
“This is not the biggest, gnarliest, most globally fantastic place to ski. But it is the best place for people that live here to experience skiing with their family. It is an ultimate family sport.”