If you’ve been passed while skinning uphill by a really fast guy skiing in jeans, you may have had an encounter with The Denim Ghost—skimo racer Milan Kubala.
For most people, a typical commute starts with getting into a car or hopping on a bike, but for Milan Kubala, Director of Tennis for Topnotch Resort and Spa in Stowe, it starts with strapping on a pair of skis or lacing up his running shoes.
In the winter, Kubala skis to work most days on the Catamount Trail from his home in Stowe. He covers 4.5 miles each way, dropping 1,400 feet of vert on the way to work and gaining them back on the way home. “I call it Milan time,” says the busy dad of three. “I do it to stay fit, keep my energy and find inspiration. It’s a time for creative thinking, connecting with nature, and decompressing. It also lets me reduce my carbon footprint.”
Kubala is originally from the Czech Republic. He moved to the United States in 1993 to attend Northwood University in Michigan, where he earned a top 10 NCAA ranking and helped his team win an NCAA National Championship in tennis. Prior to that, he attended the prestigious PSK Olympic Prague Tennis Academy in the Czech Republic and was a member of the 1991 Czech National Championship Team. He held an ITF World Junior Tennis Ranking that placed him in the top 100 junior tennis players in the world.
In the winter, Kubala focuses his energy on ski mountaineering, or skimo racing, a sport that involves racing uphill on skis using skins and crampons, then racing downhill. Weekdays, he often skins up Mount Mansfield before the lifts start running. Kubala is also a founding member of Vermont’s only sponsored skimo racing team and is a sponsored Dynafit athlete and a member of the United States Ski Mountaineering Association board of directors. He earned the nickname “Denim Ghost” after showing up in jeans at local races such as the Catamount Trail Association’s weekly Green Mountain Skimo series at Bolton Valley—and then smoking the competition.
Tennis was what brought Kubala to Vermont in 2004, when he accepted his current position at Topnotch. He had previously served as the director of tennis operations at the Midland Community Tennis Center in Michigan. He and his wife Heidi came for the job and stayed for the mountains and the community. “Vermont presented the opportunity for a lifestyle that had skiing and tennis as part of one package. I also missed living in the Czech Republic, and Vermont resembles the area of the Black Forest where I used to ski and vacation when I was a child.”
Kubala doesn’t partake in lift-accessed skiing anymore unless he’s with his kids (who, at four, six and eight are already being groomed to join their parents for uphill skiing adventures), but does love bringing them to Bolton Valley for their liberal uphill travel policy, which allows skinning under the Wilderness lift during regular business hours. “I love getting family time at Bolton. I often will skin and catch them for every other run on the chairlift,” says Kubala, adding that it makes for a good training exercise.
It also reminds him of Kvilda, the small Bavarian ski area where he learned to ski as a child, close to his hometown of Budweis in the Southern Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. Budweis is the home of European Budweiser beer. “I won’t lie; I do like a cold beer after a hard workout,” says Kubala.