There are only a handful of people in Valdez who call Ryan McCune by either his first or last name. Everyone else calls him Rydor. His friend Donny Mills, another Valdez native and one of the best snowboarders ever to ride the Chugach, says of the nickname, “He had so many girlfriends that it just stuck.”
My first night in town, Rydor invited me for a beer at his house on 19 Mile, halfway up Thompson Pass. He built it outside the city limits to avoid paying the high local property taxes. It has plywood floors and no running water. His closet is jammed with 19 snowboards—all of them handmade by Mills, most emblazoned with Rydor.com stickers, the site where his proposed resort is explained in great detail. Rydor’s well-known acrylic paintings are scattered about the place, including a current work on an easel. They’re all of big Chugach peaks, full of rich colors. A sticker on his wall reads: When Hell Freezes Over, I’ll Ride There Too!
He and Donny are deep into a Foster’s 12-pack. They have dirt under their nails. Donny’s truck windshield is spiderwebbed from hitting a moose a few nights prior. Rydor rolls a cigarette, then begins the nutshell version of his life story.
He learned to board when he was 10 from Tim Windell, who founded Windells action sports camps. His father and stepmother skied as much as they could, and so did he. He doesn’t keep track, but he estimates he’s always gotten between 100 and 150 days a season.
His parents launched the World Extreme Skiing Championships in the early 1990s and ran the event for years. Rydor was extremely close to his father, which is why so much changed on September 17, 1996. John McCune and a friend were sheep hunting on the Hawkins Glacier near McCarthy, Alaska, when their plane crashed, killing them both.
“John’s death affected Ryan hugely,” says Karen Stewart, Rydor’s stepmother, who still plays a large role in his life. “I don’t think he ever got over that. Part of the reason he wants to build this ski resort is because of his dad.”
It’s easy to see why Rydor is loved around town—why he’s “everybody’s bro,” honest, reliable, the kind of local you want taking you into the burly Chugach, as high school football coach and longtime skier Steve Radotich says. Three springs ago, he swung down a cliff on the Berlin Wall, unharnessed, to rescue a friend’s puppy, which had gotten stranded halfway up the 4,000-foot mountain. “Anyone could have done it,” Rydor says. Later that summer, with zero fanfare, he won the big-mountain competition at the World Heli Challenge in New Zealand.
Rydor claims he has invested $300,000 into his Chugach Mountain Recreation Center project, not including time. After depleting his life savings, he borrowed from his stepmother to purchase 100 acres from the city for $150,000 in early 2007. He has met with state and federal land managers, in addition to the city government; he even rented a booth at the SIA trade show one year, trying to market his project. Still, progress has been excruciatingly slow because he doesn’t have financial backing for the lift.
Given that, I ask if, at the end of each day, he still feels the resort will happen. “Oh, it’s going to happen,” he says, dead serious. “It has to happen. This town is swirling around the bowl. It’s just a matter of when and how, and how much control I’ll have to give up.”