Eric learned to ski at Hunter Mountain in New York, when he was 2 1/2 years old. His dad (a level 3 alpine instructor since 1969) used to take him in on his back even before Eric had skis on his feet. At that time, they did not have a specialized toddler carrier, but rather a “Jansport backpack with a bungee cord.” His mom and sister also ski and his uncle Rob Lipton is the PARA Alpine Chair and runs many races. Eric started teaching at Blue Mountain when he was 16, and also began working in the family business, Nathan’s Furniture, at that time.
While in college at Penn State, Eric raced, instructed, studied business, and worked at Blue on breaks. He would train for races Tuesday and Thursday at Tussey Mountain, near State College, teach skiing Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (including a for-credit gym class), and compete on the weekends. He graduated a semester early to instruct at Beaver Creek, Colorado that winter. He taught in Chile over the summer, and at Beaver Creek again the following season, 2003 - 2004.
Eric whipped through the ranks of PSIA at an early age, earning his alpine level 1 at 16, level 2 at 18, and level 3 at 21. He is still “really proud” of achieving his level 2, and remembers replacing the bronze pin with his silver one. After two seasons in Colorado, Eric took a break from instructing full time and was not active with PSIA. He returned home to Pottsville and expected to spend his life locally, working with his family.
Nathan Antokolitz, Eric’s great-grandfather, began Nathan’s Furniture around 1925, and Eric’s grandfather, Sol Lipton, ran the business until he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1981, at age 62. He was a big civic leader in Pottsville and the family established a charity run in his name that continues to this day. Originally, it was a choice between a 10K or a short celebrity walk around town, featuring the mayor and other dignitaries paying their respects. They added a half marathon in 2006, to commemorate the Pottsville bicentennial, and continued this “tough course” through the city ever since. This year, the race is on September 4 and will offer the half marathon, a 5k, and a 1.5 mile event. Money raised goes towards scholarships to local high school students. More than 90 scholarships have been distributed over the years. Runners can register in advance here or on the day of the event.
The store itself is huge, with 60,000 square feet showing a wide variety of furniture as well as some household goods. It offers very personalized service and will customize sofas, chairs, and many other items. For a couple of years, Eric took a break from skiing and settled himself into working in the business. He has done “everything: operations, wood finishing, delivery, office, IT, finance, marketing, sales,” you name it!
Eric “remembers the moment” in 2006 when he became actively involved again with PSIA, which ultimately changed his life. He was skiing at Elk Mountain, where examiner Bob Shostek told him, “You should try out for the development team.” These are the people who understudy examiners while on track to becoming examiners themselves. Eric had “no intention or desire of becoming an examiner,” but “wanted to do Bob a favor.” Besides, he needed an update class to stay current with PSIA. At the same time, there was an opportunity to try out for the Eastern Demo team, the group from which the National team is chosen every four years. So, Eric decided to pursue both.
One weekend, Eric went to Hunter Mountain for the dev team tryout. With no preparation, he was surprised to receive the highest score out of the entire group. He had a commitment with a previous client at Beaver Creek, so he left his car at the airport in Albany and he spent the following week skiing in Colorado. When he returned, he drove to Killington for the Eastern Demo Team tryout. Eric assumed he had not made the team when many admired and established examiners’ names were announced, lowest score to highest, and he and many others were “shocked” when his was the last name called. He had the best score again! Two weeks previously, this 26-year-old had not been in the ski business, and now he was “in neck deep!” He wasn’t even affiliated with an eastern ski school, but a phone call to Tim Burt, the director of Blue Mountain at the time, quickly fixed that. Eric still considers Blue his home mountain.
In 2008, the Eastern division had a big push to get its members on the National Team, which primarily draws from the western states. The campaign was successful, and Eric was one of several eastern members, earning his first four year term on the National Team. Ironically, he had not yet completed the dev team process to become an examiner! He was the first person in thirty years to join one without yet finishing the other. He made the National Team again in 2012 and in 2016 began his third term. He has been sponsored by Head for the last four years and is also involved with Snow Operating, training ski schools on their terrain based learning program. (His advice was featured in a Blue Mountain newsletter - gladly shared upon request.) Eric's family has been supportive of his skiing endeavors and he works from the road as much as he can to help with the business.
Eric has “seen the world through skiing,” traveling throughout the United States, Switzerland, Austria, and countries in South America numerous times. He was offered a trip to New Zealand last summer, but it was too close to the Sol Lipton race and conflicted with his other obligations, so he had to decline. Eric said that the opportunities he has had through PSIA have “transformed my life,” and he is grateful that Bob was so persistent 10+ years ago. Eric firmly believes that skiers are “the salt of the earth” and that you have to “do things, not just sit on the sidelines of life.” He balances Nathan's Furniture, the PSIA National Team, Head sponsorship obligations, Snow Ops, and more and although managing his schedule can be a challenge, Eric wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sheri Miltenberger, June 2016
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(including a Special Olympics skier who beat cancer & a couple who met skiing, married a month later & just celebrated their 51st anniversary!)
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