Editor’s note: This is yet another story by Richard Barnum-Reece, whose obituary, penned by Dave Baldridge, we ran in our March 2010 issue (MG #165), as part of a loosely aggregated feature package titled “Mentors.” This piece previously appeared in Barnum-Reece’s self-published book, “The Gonzo File” (undated, c. 1978-1980), which consisted of a mix of previously published and unpublished material. Prior publication history of “Skiing Nude” is unknown. Many thanks to Lorraine Seal for manually typing this piece in and sending it along.
I’ve always wanted a job that didn’t require a suit and I suppose that’s why I looked into the Nude Skiing advertisement. Thoreau once said, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes and not a new wearer of clothes.” For what it’s worth, I think I’ve got Thoreau covered.
The opportunity for me to make my break for Hollywood stardom was in the school paper of the college I attended. It was a classified ad: “Wanted, actors and actresses to appear in a feature length motion picture to be filmed at a Utah ski resort. Three males and three female parts available. Those selected must be 18 to 30 years old, be able to ski, have the ability to act (experience preferred but not required) and be willing to appear nude on screen. $100 a day for those selected.”
Well, the price was right. The job conditions were on the chilly side but it did meet Thoreau’s requirements: no suit was necessary. Who can renege on Thoreau? I called the movie people.
“Hello, I’m your nude skier.”
“Excuse me?” It was a woman’s voice. She sounded like an older lady — maybe fifty-five or sixty. There was a commotion in the background as she went off the telephone line. I was afraid for a moment that I’d reached the wrong number. What if I had mistakenly reached a ladies bridge club or something and they thought I was an obscene phone caller? That could be embarrassing.
Soon, she returned to the phone and in a strong, very business-like voice said, “I’ll connect you with Mr. Quigley.”
“Hello,” I said when Quigley came on the line. “My name is Stefan Rhinehart.” (I thought a stage name would be more appropriate. Besides, what if my mother got word of this?) “I’m replying to your ad for a naked skier.”
“Yes,” Quigley said. “Could you come down here and fill out an application form?”
“Sure,” I said. He gave me the address and I started preparing for my audition to be a nude skiing star. I knew this was the lucky break I’d been hoping for. I was on my way. As I walked to my apartment, I practiced my imagined lines out loud.
“Well, Stein, I guess the Olympic Gold will always elude you. Many are called, but only a select few of us are chosen.”
And, “Listen, Danielle, I love you but I need ski racing.” I knew I had talent. I was going to be a star.
I thought it would help my chances at the audition if I took some evidence of being a skier. I rounded up my roommate’s blue O’Neil bib ski pants; his Winter Sun down sweater; his cowboy boots with Vibram soles; his Smith goggles; his authentic hat fashioned by Mom Moriarity in Stowe, Vermont; his Scott ski boots and poles; and his Hexcel competition skis with Allsop bindings. Then I started for the studio.
“Where can I put my equipment?” I asked Quigley as I came through the office door.
“Over there in the corner will be fine,” he said, obviously perplexed that I’d brought in the props. He looked like a conservative businessman. He wore a three-piece navy-blue suit and his hair was falling out. I guessed he was around forty-five.
I crammed my equipment into the corner next to a file cabinet.
“Going skiing?” Quigley asked.
“Well, not really,” I said. “But you never know. We skiers are a strange breed. We’re compulsed by the alienation of the contemporary industrialized world to assume other-worldly authenticity within the framework of nature and nature’s challenges as expressed in the great mountain ranges of America.”
“Oh,” he said.
“Do you want me to strip?” I said.
“Well — not now, thanks. All we really need at this point is a little background information.”
“Are we going to make it in the snow?”
“You know — mess around a little in the snow with the snow bunnies?”
“Oh — sure,” he said.
“What’s your background in skiing?” Quigley asked.
“I’ve instructed, patrolled and bummed at Alta, Sun Valley, Stowe, Squaw Valley, Crested Butte, Copper Mountain and Portillo, and I loved a girl on the Olympic team, but she wouldn’t give me the time of day,” I said. “Girl jocks can be a problem.”
“I assume you’re a good skier then,” Quigley said.
“Not really,” I replied. “But I know everything there is to know about technique, equipment, clothing, records, distances and I can drop a name without blinking an eye.”
“Well, we need expert skiers,” he said.
“Everything I said was just a lie,” I said. “I just said it to prove to you that I can act. I’m an accomplished expert. Once I even tried to kill myself at the Sun Valley Ski Patrol Downhill.”
“You do have an acting background?”
“Yeah. I’m a theater major. I’ve learned all about upstaging people and Constantine Stanislavski. Larry Roupe, the casting director for McCarty’s studio in Salt Lake, is a main drug source of mine.”
“He’s a what?”
“He’s a resource of mine. I’ve worked for him in small community theater productions.”
“Oh,” Quigley said, putting down his pencil. “Well, all we need now is a Polaroid picture of your head to show the director when he comes up next week from California.”
When he was through taking my picture, he said, “There’s one thing that may bother you.”
“If you do get the job, you’ll have to shave your beard.”
I didn’t say anything. The beard was one of my favorite disguises and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to part with it — even for $100 a day.
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“I guess not. I just kinda thought it would keep me warm.”
“Rules are rules.”
“You think you can handle it?”
“What we’ll do is call you sometime next week for another interview when our people get here from Hollywood.”
“Great,” I said. Then we shook hands and I walked back to my apartment, where I found my roommate sitting on the milk box in front of my apartment door.
“This going to follow you the rest of your life,” he said, out of the clear blue.
“Henry,” I said, “why don’t you go sing mantras to the moon or something?”
“All right. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Then he sauntered down the hall, describing a slalom course as he walked. He hung his head like a six-year-old who had just discovered Santa Claus was just a fake who played Bozo at the carnival in the summer. It made me think a little as I watched the forlorn graduate student, who had yet to decide what to do with his life, stagger out the hallway.
Two weeks later, I got the call.
“Hello? Stefan Rhinehart? This is Jimmy Blier from Stargaze Studios. We’d like you to meet us at the Solitude Ski Resort this Tuesday to shoot a screen test for our new feature film, “Naked Skiing Holiday.”
“Naked Skiing Holiday?”
“Yes. We’ll be skiing on the backside at Solitude.”
“We’ll meet you at 12:30 at the bottom of the Inspiration Lift. Okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
“And don’t forget your ski equipment.”
“No, I’ll be sure to bring it,” I said. And then the man from Hollywood hung up. I’d made the first cut. I was going to be pulling down $1,500 for 15 days of work as Hollywood’s first nude skiing star. Now all I had to do was put together a few turns — dazzle them a little with my stuff — and I’d be a star for sure.
When I got to the ski area, the movie people were there in a big van. They had a snowcat and they were transporting the would-be actors and actresses up the hill.
“What we’d like to do,” one of the people who seemed to know what he was doing told me, “is go up in the next load and we’ll do a test.”
“Okay,” I said. I was nervous, so I decided, if I just acted like I knew what I was doing, I’d probably be a lot better off.
There were five of us in the back of the snowcat as we went up the back way to the usually un-skied, backside of Solitude’s new Inspiration Lift: Three men and two ladies. The men were skiing naked on one part of the mountain and the ladies were skiing naked on another part of the mountain.
“I don’t think they should separate us. It’s sexist and inherently evil,” a Park West ski instructor said.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard the argument put quite like that,” said Dana, a lady from Connecticut.
I knew one of the other two guys from school. He’d been a member of the ski team — at least he’d worked out with them for a while — and now he was turning professional.
“I’m doing this for the money,” he told me later in the warming hut when they asked us to strip. “How about you?”
“I want to be a star,” I said. “The way I see it, this is the break I’ve been looking for. After this, it’s going to be gravy. Bob Redford is going to have to move over. Utah won’t be big enough for the both of us.”
The ski racer looked at me as if he’d just been told that I had recently escaped from the state mental hospital.
We finished putting on our ski boots, put on heavy robes and slid over to the top of a steep mogully run where the movie people had set up a camera to the side. We were supposed to put on our skis and then simply snake down the run past the camera, smiling like Stein as we slid by.
“That’s all?” the ski racer asked.
“That’s all,” the director smiled.
The racer pulled off his robe and smoked down through the bumps past the camera, hootin’ and hollerin’, as he went, his naked body starting to turn a bright pink color. Then, at the end of the run, the racer hit a sharp bump and pushed himself off into the sky, executing a perfect spread eagle.
“I don’t think so,” I heard the director tell his assistant who was taking notes. “No, I don’t think he’s right.”
Next, the other fellow went down the run, smiling and skiing beautifully, stopping at the bottom in a cloud of snow as he sharply hit his edges. Then someone ran out of the portable warming hut at the bottom of the run and quickly put a robe around him.
“No,” the director said, “not quite right.”
“You’re next,” one of the assistants told me. I took off my robe and got ready. I was pretty nervous. The other two skiers had skied pitch perfectly and I had heard the director pan them both. Hollywood success was a mystery to me.
“Excuse me,” the director said. “That won’t do.”
“What?” I said.
“You’ll have to take off your shorts.”
“How stupid of me. I’m sorry,” I said.
After I’d stripped my shorts and was about to ski, I saw the director look at his assistant and slowly shake his head.
Not only was I on a ski run I had no business trying to ski, but the director had already panned my first screen test.
I stood there naked as a plucked chicken except for my roommate’s new Hexcel skis, Scott ski boots and poles and a pair of Vaurnet sunglasses looking down through the bumps. It was the Moment of Truth. I was going to kill myself skiing on an expert run and all I wanted was a chance to be in the movies. I’d lied to get a screen test thinking that a beginning-to-intermediate skier could fake his way through and now I was confronting a run with huge bumps that had my name engraved on them. And it was starting to get cold.
“Go for it!” the racer yelled from the bottom of the slope.
“That’s easy for you to say!” I yelled back.
“We haven’t got all day,” the director said.
“I’m going,” I said.
Then I pushed off. When I hit the first mogul I was down in the gorilla attack position with my teeth clenched. The bump jolted me into the air and I landed on my rear. It was terrifically cold and I think the shock had a lot to do with my instant recovery. When I knocked into the next bump, it threw me sideways to the fall line and my body was suddenly turned uphill. I twisted around to slow myself and then suddenly I was skiing backwards in a reverse snowplow. Then I hit another huge bump, which turned me around again before my skis took off down the hill right toward the camera and the cameraman. It was a miracle that I didn’t kill myself as I ducked between him and his camera.
I hoped that letting my skis run off to the side of the wide run and then turning uphill was going to be better than killing myself in the mogul field. That’s when I hit the cornice. I should have known about that damn cornice. It’s right near the side of the run and before, when I was going up in the snowcat, I saw the cornice as we chugged up the cat track going under it. I was going so fast on the steep pitch that I’d forgotten, but just as I flew off the edge into the clear, white, empty space, I remembered. I landed on my skis and then fell head first between my skis into the soft snow.
Then, for what reason I’ll never know, I somersaulted in the snow and came right up minus only my sunglasses, which were sucked off during the roll. My skis were still strapped to my feet and I only had a short way to ski to a meadow, where I stopped.
“That was incredible!” the director said when he reached me. “I thought you were going to kill yourself. Did you plan the entire sequence?”
For a moment I was confused. Then I quickly picked up on what he was thinking. “Ah — yes — except for the second bump,” I said.
“How did you do the somersault?” he asked.
“It’s just a matter of timing,” I quickly lied. “You’ve got to duck just as your tips hit the snow. If you do it too late, it won’t work.”
The man at the bottom of the hill gave me a robe and escorted me to the lower warming hut, where I found my clothes and a cup of hot chocolate.
They told us who was going to be in the picture later that afternoon in the base lodge. The studio threw a party to make the occasion festive even for those who weren’t going to be stars. They posted a list and called us into the office.
“Well, Stefan,” the director smiled. “You were really something out there today. We want you to be our stunt man. All you have to do is ski like you did today. Your build and coloring are perfect for the part.
“So you want the part?”
“I had something a little different in mind. A speaking part,” I said.
“It still pays the same — $1,500 for 15 days work,” the director said. “All you have to do is run into things and crash like you did today. And if you’re worried about insurance — don’t. We’ve got you covered.”
“Nice,” I said.
“You think it over and let us know by Monday. We want you in our production.” Then the director stood and we shook hands.
So that’s the story. It’s not going to be an easy decision. Frankly, I’m a little scared.
Editor’s note: Because of the number of stories we’ve run by the late-Richard Barnum-Reece (we’ve got yet another planned for spring), we’ve decided to make him our very-first deceased senior correspondent.