Don Ellis

Fire on the Mountain and First Trax owner Don Ellis shows off one of his pies. (Kate Barcellos)

MONTGOMERY — Fresh steam can be seen rising from the rustic wood fired oven in the heart of Montgomery Center even on the coldest of Fridays.

For the past six years, outdoor enthusiasts have been able to get a slice with their skis — or bikes, or boards — thanks to a random mobile pizza oven outside of First Trax outdoor recreation store.

Not so random if you ask pizza chef and outdoor enthusiast Don Ellis, who hand-stretches the pies every weekend. He serves them up by the dozen, piping hot and topped with his own original combination of ingredients including goat cheese, roasted prosciutto, fresh basil and both red and white sauces.

“Who doesn’t like pizza?” Ellis said, laughing.

The smell of the thin-crust style pizza crisping in the oven catches the eye of almost every customer, who often pass the oven, stop, turn around and order something for the ride home. The pies are served with a dark-toasted crust and bubbling cheese that billows steam into the winter air and is visible from down the street.

Though the pizza looks professional and delicious, the chef has never set foot inside a culinary arts academy.

“Youtube,” Ellis said.

On any given Friday or Saturday evening, Ellis, his daughter Avery or one of the other employees at First Tracks can be seen in the screened-in prep corner of the shop, where risen dough is rolled out into rounds, slapped on a pizza peel and showered with toppings.

“In the spring and summer time it’s perfect for mountain bikers,” Ellis said. “Ride here for dinner, stop for some pizzas, sit down and tell stories.”

Youtube-taught

Six years ago, Ellis tried a homemade pizza thrown by a friend named Dan Rico. Inspired by the food, Ellis didn’t just start making pizza. He started Fire on the Mountain by hand-forming his own clay oven using methods he found on Youtube.

He knew he wanted to be able to transport the oven, so Ellis built it on a trailer. It was a rustic oven that suited his beginner needs, but Ellis’s talent for making pizza quickly emerged through practice. Before long, Ellis knew he wanted to share his pizza with others, which would require that the oven become state-approved to travel and cook for the public.

“So I had to build another one,” Ellis said. “And I didn’t build it quite right, so I had to build another one, and that cracked too, so I had to build another one.”

Finally, Ellis decided to buy a professionally-made wood-fired pizza oven so he could take his pies to events and shows. He now has two ovens, with his most recent purchase glistening with red and black tiles and glowing with hot coals outside the doors to his store. The smell of baking pizza greets customers from the porch as they walk inside.

Pizza

Ellis said the notion of pairing a pizza shop with an outdoor recreation store came organically. After a day shredding the slopes or tearing up the bike trails in the northern woods, pizza was the perfect light, hot and satisfying bite to end a solid workout.

“It’s been pretty rewarding, making good pizza for our customers,” Ellis said. “But it’s not always perfect — if I get caught chatting out there on the deck while I’m cooking, things can get a little crispy.”

While a busy evening at the shop can crank out around 50 pizzas, Ellis said in four hours at the Montgomery Summer Sessions Concert Series the mobile pizza oven will cook 120 for the hungry crowds.

“That’s four of us full on,” Ellis said. “It usually takes two minutes for a pizza to cook. The slow part is making them.”

Born to be outside

Originally from Montreal, Ellis grew up crossing the border regularly to work at the Jay Peak ski resort, and has been skiing since he was three.

Passionate about the sport, Ellis started ski tuning out of his basement in his home in Montgomery in 1998 before moving to his small shop in town two years later.

“Just like everything in the pizza scene, you have to start small and work your way up,” Ellis said.

Today, Ellis’s shop is filled with outdoor recreation gear, from fishing poles to ski and snowboard boots, bags and quality clothing items. Ellis calls the shop his “man-cave.”

“I have almost everything I need right here,” Ellis said. “I have my big old comfy chair, my cooking items … I need my toys. I need my bicycles. I need my skis.”

As one local skier hoists his freshly-tuned, fat, yellow skis over his shoulder on his way out the door last Friday afternoon, Ellis raised a hand in farewell and solidarity with the young athlete.

“Those are some nice powder skis for tomorrow buddy,” he said to the skier. “Tear it up.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for taking part in our commenting section. We want this platform to be a safe and inclusive community where you can freely share ideas and opinions. Comments that are racist, hateful, sexist or attack others won’t be allowed. Just keep it clean. Do these things or you could be banned:

• Don’t name-call and attack other commenters. If you’d be in hot water for saying it in public, then don’t say it here.

• Don’t spam us.

• Don’t attack our journalists.

Let’s make this a platform that is educational, enjoyable and insightful.

Email questions to darkin@orourkemediagroup.com.

Share your opinion

Avatar

Join the conversation

Recommended for you

Recommended for you