By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – Jamie Mathis’ love of film—and his chosen life as a ski bum—stem from a life heavily steeped in the armed forces.
As the son of an Air Force master sergeant, Mathis moved every two years in his youth, living in Florida, South Carolina, Maine and Alaska before spending the formative years between age 9 and 15 on Air Force bases in Italy and Greece.
Eventually his father’s career landed the family in Great Falls, Montana. Before Mathis graduated from high school, he too enlisted the Air Force, and would serve two of his three years in medical supply at a hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany.
As a boy, film was a medium through which he could remain connected to the culture of his American peers. Later he rebelled against the rigidity and discipline imposed on him while in the military by choosing an easy-going life in the mountains.
“When you are deprived of things that normal U.S. kids have on a daily basis—malls, McDonalds, MTV—and you get to go to the movies, it makes you not as homesick,” Mathis said.
Skateboarding and breakdancing were other activities that kept him up to date with American youth culture. (It’s been many years since Mathis and his brother Joey won a competition for breakdancing on a base in Italy, but Mathis threw down on the slick movie theater floor, proving he’s still got the moves.)
Although Mathis had only planned to be a ski bum for a year or two, it’s been 24.
“While I was in the military one recurring thought was, I can’t wait to be out and find some place where I could have fun every day for the rest of my life,” Mathis said. “Having that kind of structure really made you crave being completely free of that.”
Since moving to Big Sky in 1992, Mathis has worked as a bartender in more than 20 bars and restaurants, many now defunct, others with different names and owners, as well as most of the stalwart establishments still in existence today.
Mathis is currently pouring drinks at Brothel Bikes and working at Lone Peak Cinema, where he bartends, works the projectors, changes the marquis, provides creative input and pitches in wherever necessary. With a degree in film from Montana State University, Mathis said he bugged Sally and Scott Fisher for a job since they opened the movie theater in 2011 and in the spring of 2015 they hired him on.
“It’s my favorite job I’ve ever had,” Mathis said. Although his goal in college was to make films, he’s since given that up, but always wants to stay connected to movie making in some fashion.
Mathis is also a musician, performing vocals and guitar in a local band named Nobody and in Artists of Antiquity, a new trio that will perform a live, original score to “Haxan,” one of the featured films during Lone Peak Cinema’s “Horrorfest” weekend.
“It doesn’t feel like a job,” he said. “It feels like home.”
Big Sky also feels like home, where Mathis has found a sense of community that matches what he experienced living on Air Force bases. And, of course, there’s the powder.
“It’s strange because I can’t even come up with an answer to why I love snowboarding so much,” said Mathis, who got his first snowboard in 1984. “It’s pure happiness when you’re out there 100 days a year riding with your friends and brother, having fun, and being outside. It’s what’s kept me here for 20-plus years.”
Despite how it’s changed, Mathis doesn’t foresee leaving Big Sky. “When I first moved here you could ski powder all day long—and you still can,” he said.