Envelope: Rod Tatsuno, Idaho
We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.
Arrested for shooting Hitler
MJF: Inspired by your “Arrested Development” column (Smoke Signals, MG #186): In late 1976, I was a Physics major at CSU. My wife was working at some mundane vitality-sapping job with a bunch of lifeless zombies to pay the bills and concurrently put her husband through school. I was at my desk, fulfilling homework requirements and feeling weighted-down by whatever I figured the oppressive demands of the quotidian sought to drain from my soul. Like rainwater, my attention went from the textbooks to listlessly turning the pages of a CSU general information booklet. I flipped through the requirements for other degrees, and, lo and behold, there was a certificate I was well on the way to fulfilling, which was somewhat similar (maybe only in name only) to that which I had two years yet to attain. I could graduate with this other degree in one year. I felt better already.
Physical Science. I already had the biology (a prior attempt at another major), all the math (hard-core physics mandated an additional four or so courses), most the miscellaneous requirements, except for two categories. Humanities and upper-division courses.
I became an expert at upper-division humanities without prerequisites. I believe I took all classes in that category that the university offered. History of Jazz. Introduction to Formal Logic. The Nature of Culture. History of Ancient Israel (at least I had to, finally, read the entire Old Testament, among other things). The only non-post-grad-level Linguistics course. And Politics and the Environment.
Politics and the Environment was intended to be somewhat “left-leaning,” in that the professor who had always taught it was of the viewpoint that The Environment usually got screwed when coming up against Politics. The first day of class, Professor Meeks took the lectern and made his introduction. Apparently, the usual teacher for this course was missing in some foreign country or something like that, so the university procured a last-minute stand-in. And he announced that, though he did not share the other teacher’s view of the environment needing some assistance in the fight with politics, he’d try to present the material as even-keeled as he could.
He was an enthusiastic lecturer. He’d pace back-and-forth on the stage (the venue for the class was a small auditorium) gesturing and debating points, usually smoking a cigarette, with a NO SMOKING sign high on the wall over-head. He’d finish each smoke, looking down to crush the butt under his heel while maintaining his monologue. I’d look around at the three or so dozen other students, most of whom appeared to be in a trance, or between bouts of light sleep. It seemed incongruous — no, not the smoking — that he’d be pontificating loudly, sometimes waving his arms to make a point, and we’d seem to be … well, so dead.
One day I sat for coffee with him after class. I mentioned the seemingly strange phenomenon of him lecturing enthusiastically, while most or all the class sat there quietly, as if in a stupor or something. I said that I’d been considering doing something to liven up the class. I had a starter’s pistol at home (used to start running races) and thought of staging a mock assassination as he lectured. I am pretty darned sure that he was not adverse to this idea.
THE VERY NEXT DAY the lecture topic was Politics and Overpopulation. And, I had packed the aforesaid starter’s gun in my daypack. Professor Meeks paced back and forth as usual, puffing on a cigarette every few sentences. He progressed toward the scenario of a regime in a country deciding that having many more citizens would be an asset. Out-number the neighbors, more bodies for the army.
“Now, imagine that I am the dictator of your country. I am not a democratically elected leader; I have seized control through ruthless means. And I appear on the national media and issue an edict: YOU MUST HAVE MORE CHILDREN! How would you REACT?”
I’m sure he looked right at me. “He’s calling my bluff!” I thought. Professor Meeks repeated the ultimatum. “You must have more children! How would you react?”
“Why, I’d shoot you,” I said as I stood, aiming the pistol at him and pulling the trigger. As expected, the class was stunned, and it’s safe to say everyone was awake. The Professor did not miss more than half a beat.
“That fellow would shoot me,” gesturing in my direction. “What would the rest of you do?”
“I’d complain and write to my congressman,” announced a girl. A few other classmates joined in the discussion. This was more group interaction by far than this class had ever had. I thought my job was done, until the next day.
I should not have continued to carry the pistol in my knapsack, but after class the following day, several town and university officers were waiting for me to leave the room. I was arrested, and led away in handcuffs. After telling my story, more than once, ending up with the chief of the University Police, most of them thought that this circumstance was not only ironic, but a little silly. Arrested for shooting Hitler. The Chief was surprisingly human, and in spite of the uniform, very much like a normal open-minded reasonable person.
I was called a few days later and told that the charges were dropped. The CSU police had consulted with the County D.A. Charges? “Using a facsimile weapon in a manner intended to cause stress and alarm.” Oh, the things I do to help make class interesting.
High Praise for MG’s Covers
J. Fayhee and Gazette Crew: Congrats on your 40th anniversary! It is great to see that, after so much time, you continue to put out quality articles, pushing the edge of political correctness and imagination. Although I have not been alive as long as my dear Gazette, I have been an avid reader since my late teens, first drawn in by the visual appeal of your covers.
I was pleasantly surprised after reading through my first Mountain Gazette, and was glad that you were more than just a pretty face. I grew to love your covers, and love your stories. It was around issue #104 that I stopped throwing away the covers and started papering the walls of my college dorm with them. The covers have been torn from wall after wall only to be rehung in new locations. They have graced my ski bum cottages, houses in Colorado, Utah and Florida, and they all now reside in my classroom, where I am an 8th grade science teacher in Aspen (minus certain issues, specifically #113, which would distract the 13-year-old boys in my class for a long, long time). After covering my cabinets, they have slowly snaked around the room.
One day, while the kids were taking a test, I let my eyes drift through the beautiful artwork you all have created through out the years, and I made a rough estimate that I will be set to retire around issue #490. I am looking forward to reading that issue, but more importantly, I look forward to pinning that cover up in some off-the-grid cabin deep in the mountains, where I only have to visit with folks when I come into town to pick up the new Mountain Gazette.
Until then, thanks for all you do.
Cover contest angst
Dear Mountain Gazette, I will not be voting in your cover contest today. I am too disappointed in the cover choices that you made available to voters. When I saw the “Cover Contest” headline on Facebook, I jumped to the MG page knowing exactly which cover I would vote for, but it was, alas, not on the list of options. The cover I reference, and have framed and hanging in my house, is from issue #96. It is a photograph of an ancient old man standing atop a rocky crag high above a mountain lake. He is wearing a rack of climbing gear and is tied into the end of a climbing rope. He looks cold and exhausted and utterly happy. His giant hands are gnarled and probably aching. His furrowed brow exclaims the feat he’s just endured. It’s a great moment captured by whoever had the pleasure of climbing with the tough old gent. And, in my opinion, it deserves a spot on the list of options for cover contest, as it captures mountain life at its finest moments. Maybe you could replace one of the five half-dressed female figures on the list (Fayhee’s picks no doubt) with #96.
Jeannie M. Barton
Editor’s note: The cover photo referenced was of none other than Fred Beckey.
Futile Book Search
M. John (I can call you that, can’t I?): Although we’ve never formally met, I feel like we’ve known each other for years, being that I’ve read the Mountain Gazette and your columns since its resurrection. In fact, you may not recall, but at the time you were bringing it back to life in ’99, I was living in Summit County and working in the marketing department at Copper Mountain — “working” being a relative term, if you call being cooped up in an office during Summit County summers for nominal pay “work”; more like … well, anyways, it was soon after that that I saw the light and spent the following six years working outside in the county every day, like the Postal Service says — through rain, sleet or snow — tons of snow during a good winter and tons of sun, followed by afternoon rain storms that operated like clockwork in the spring and summers.
Anyways, getting back to my tangent before I get to my point for writing … you were calling the Copper Mountain marketing department and trying to line up meetings with the director in order to figure out a way Copper could support the Gazette’s return and since I was the hired summertime help that answered the phone, all your calls usually went through me and I helped you and whoever it was that you were working with at the time line up those meetings. Not that you don’t know the rest of the story, but the Gazette opened up shop shortly thereafter on Main St. Frisco and I’ve been a reader ever since. I’d see you around town — usually at the Moose Jaw and other watering holes in the county, and, as typical in Summit, recognized you as one of the locals, but we never really interacted. I’ve been from the county to the California coast and now in Boulder for the last six years, where I never fail to snag a copy of the Gazette whenever I see it. Which brings me to why I’m writing …
I remember seeing the ads not too long ago in the Gazette for the book that was published that’s a collection of your writings — the “Colorado Mountain Companion” — we’ll I’ve searched all over. You name the local book store, and I’ve looked there; you name the used bookstore, and I’ve looked there; you name the big-box book retailer, and I’ve looked there; you name the internet site, and I’ve looked there. I give up. I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve been told it was printed in limited quantities and is out of stock (Amazon will even sell it to you for $25 and send you a copy “if” it gets one); but this is Colorado, and I know there’s gotta be a copy somewhere. I’m not the one to give up easily … and I’m patient, so I’m still determined to find it. I like to consider myself fairly intelligent, resourceful and intuitive, but not so much when it finally dawned on me to email you and ask if YOU could tell me where I could get a copy???
Hope you get back to me, keep up the good work, and one of these days I run into you somewhere in these hills I’ve always told myself I’d buy you a beer for being one of the contributing forces behind a magazine like the Mountain Gazette, which has shaped and articulated and reflected so much of my experience of living in Colorado.
Thanks. Let me know.
P.S.: By the way, where is the Mountain Gazette’s office these days??? In the masthead, there’s a Boulder P.O. box listed with a Virginia phone number. What’s up with that?
Editor’s note: Thank you for your diligence. The book to which you refer, “The Colorado Mountain Companion: A Potpourri of Useful Miscellany from the Highest Parts of the Highest State,” has finally been released. As to the P.S., our sister publication, Elevation Outdoors, has an office in Boulder. Therefore, we use that as our mailing address. The company that owns us both, Summit Publishing, is HQ’d in Charlottesville. Ergo the Virginia phone number. MG operates as a virtual office. Yours truly lives in the Border Country. Our art director lives in Oregon. Our ad people are spread all over the place.
Let there be light
Dearest Mountain Gazette,
I am just partaking in your 40th Edition and lovin’ every minute of it. 1969 was a year of innovation. Bob Gore developed Gore-Tex, but, being skiing dirtbags we were still in the 60/40 material era, what rocked our world was Bob Smith’s new goggle. I was working at Pete Lane’s in Sun Valley, a gathering place for the old-world cognoscenti of skiing. We had tried everything to see in the powder: Boutons, Uvex, Carreras with Band-aids over the air inlets. Bob walked in with some prototypes, which we fought over. The result: Let there be light! We could see. We proudly displayed Smith Scars on the bridges of our noses for the season, a result of going over the front in the deep snow with our narrow Head Standards, the powder ski of choice in those days. The goggles were a bit stiff and unforgiving in their earliest stages, but we didn’t care.
Keep up the good work, showing the fun side of the mountain experience.
Monkee Voodoo on Halfmoon Creek
Dear M. John: Greetings from Half Moon Road. We read the most recent Smoke Signals with great interest (“The Fire Rings of Halfmoon Creek,” MG #190). We are the only people that truly reside on Half Moon Road. We have the purple barn with the United States and Peace Flag flying. We do hope you noticed us. We have been here 18 years in August and are heading into our 19th winter. We have seen it all.
Interestingly, we know very little of what goes on up Half Moon Road. We have other, better options. Our local friends refer to it as “Little Denver.” We do have many tales of the general public visiting our spectacular, easily accessed piece of the Divide.
We ate dust for years until we figured out that this road was illegal for Colorado Air Quality Standards. Too much traffic.
An endless parade of RVs, macho SUVs, beat-up pick-ups, ATVs, dirtbikes, plain old cars and bicycles and runners. Trying to get away from it all and simultaneously bringing it all with them.
2,375 “trips” past this house in seven days of rain following the 4th of July, 2007.
We got recycled asphalt laid down and improved the air quality by leaps and bounds.
Another problem was the tendency to plow to our house and stop in the winter. This created a winter trailhead, literally, outside our front door.
The general public has a tendency to keep going through unplowed snow until they get stuck. Or they forget sunscreen. Or water. Or gloves. Our favorite is the group that came knocking on the door at 4 a.m. looking for a pipe so they could get stoned for the sunrise in January.
Oh the stories!
We have resolved the trailhead issue through many years of battle with Lake County. We have an awesome county commissioner now who has worked with us to fix things.
We have direct access to private land and the federal wilderness beyond. That place is our cathedral.
We know nothing of the fire rings up Half Moon Road. We laugh hysterically at your descriptions. We are not surprised. We love reading about your interpretation of Halfmoon. We have gone up there a few times and have run into some real Monkee Voodoo. It is ridiculous, the traffic going up into the campgrounds!!
We love this place. We belong to it. It belongs to us.
If this letter were to be printed, we are not sure we are comfortable with our full names being attached. This is a funny place to live in terms of being both isolated and very public.
Therese and Rocky
John: I’m not a climber, but enjoyed #189 about those who do — dog issue is still the best — but, thinking about topical issues, have you ever considered one on guns? I’ve lived in the Colorado mountains most of my life. I own guns and I used to hunt. But, ever since I was a Boy Scout in the 1950s, it has never occurred to me to carry a gun when I camp, fish or hike. Lately, I have become aware of several acquaintances who do carry weapons in their backpacks, even on short day hikes. Is this becoming the norm these days? It might make an interesting issue just to try to find out how your readers feel, experiences they’ve had, etc. You have at least one reader who’d be interested.
John: When I first read the “Rumble in Hawai’i” story by Craig Childs in #187, I thought it was well-done and useful, a cautionary tale of how easy it is to get on the wrong side of the locals even in your own country and with the best of intentions. But I have to give credit where it’s due. Robert Shepherd’s parody of the “ugly Coloradan” in #189 — booted, backpacked and obtuse — is brilliant. I especially loved the conceit that if a natural disaster — fire? flood? windstorm? — wipes out your gazebo, your land becomes everybody’s. A perfect expression of cultural arrogance. (I’m just glad he didn’t identify himself as a Californian. We already have a bad enough reputation!) OK, kinda mean but definitely funny.
John: Charles Clayton’s “Jesus and the Joshua Tree, or How I Almost Became a Climber” (MG #189) reminded me of J-Tree’s effect on this non-climber. While not a religious experience per se, I certainly thanked Gawd for that place during my visit. It’s a park that always held some level of enchanting curiosity for me. If I had to place on objective attraction on it, it’s the desert Seussical landscape, groves of goofy-looking lily relatives resembling toy poodle arbors, the botanical reincarnate of the Muppets’ “Animal” in the hugantic desert palms, and, of course, the rock formations, some literally appearing as vertical geological jigsaw puzzles or even ice cream cones. I recall one that was a perfect V cut into the cliff with a perfect sphere cradled perfectly in the top! J-Tree was all I’d hoped for.
What I didn’t expect was the climbing-friendly rocks! I am not a climber and have little, if any, interest in (though appreciate the skill involved) scaling up walls and back down when I could be coursing in and out of canyons seeking oases and staking out austere mountain passes looking for desert bighorns. However, by the amount of climbing one sees there, you can’t help but feel some sort of tacit peer pressure, and the fact that the large-grit sandpaper rock surfaces make for fairly easy jaunts up 89-degree surfaces made me a dilettante free climber for that week.
In the mornings and after dinner, all I’d have to do is put a boot up and lean forward and upwards to start my way to some outcropping 100 feet above me. It was on some of these perched rock jumbles I have some of my fondest J-Tree recollections. The friendly free-climbing allowed me to scale up to vantage points to see the solar carpet and purple shadows see-saw with each other across this fantastic landscape — a religious experience of its own kind.
East Longmeadow, MA
Editor’s note: Given the fact that our snail mail address is two states away from where our editor lives, handwritten, typed and scrawled Letters to the Editor often take a while to reach the Official Desk. These next three letters were sent our way last spring. The stagecoach to Gila Country is running slower than ever.
Even More Colorado Songs
Hi, Mr. Fayhee: The Colorado Songs article was wonderful. (Smoke Signals, “Colorado Songs,” MG #185.) It was surprising how many songs exist referencing Colorado. Many of those listed are new to me. And you are right, in that this reader and others can come up with more. Here’s one: A group called Grubstake has a folk-oriented tune that might be called “The Colorado Song”. Harry Tuft, a local folk legend, is one of Grubstake’s musicians, along with three or so others. He runs the Folklore Center in Denver.
The song deals with visitors to CO that stay, thereby adding to the population.
I recall one stanza running something like: “Now we’re having trouble with the jet set/Them lazy no good bastards love to ski/ And they all want fly to Colorado and buy up all our mountain scenery.”
The chorus is roughly: “Oh you can visit now and then/Bring your money and your friends/Just don’t forget to leave when you get through.”
I suppose other Western states enduring an influx of folks have similar songs and sentiments.
Thanks again for a fun article,
Rainer (Said Ry’-ner) Hantschel
Hello: I live in Colorado. I know all these Colorado songs and like them, but let me make a suggestion for the finest song about our neighbor to the West. “Utah,” by the Osmonds, off of their hard-rockin’ 1972 album “Crazy Horses.” It is one of the most amazingly non-specific songs ever written … no references to anything that might make Utah a special place, except that the Osmonds live there, and they are going back there because it’s home and “the place to be.” (The least they could have done is make a pro-Mormon pitch like they did on their follow-up album, “The Plan”). That said, it’s a good solid rocker by a truly astounding and underrated group of young men.
Shouldn’t have got that MBA
Dear John, Hey — I figured I could call you John as 1) I love the Mountain Gazette, 2) Sometime in the ’80s, my ex-wife & I were just coming down from hiking Greys Peak ( I believe … at 57 now I can barely remember my name, much less which 14ers we hiked) and you were hitchhiking down the road + we gave you a ride, 3) I’m re-reading your book, “Up At Altitude” 4) I pick up this great copy of MG at Ken Sanders’ Rare Books — EARTH FIRST!
Hey — great magazine — A. Stark’s article, “Cosmic Justice” (MG #185) strikes a cord — in 1975 myself + ex brother in law + other best friend camped up the rock north of Nederland + hiked Arapahoe Peak — then, as the road was too tough to drive a fucking Ford Fairlane back down to Boulder to get booze (before Pearl Street was rebuilt) my pal + I hiked from Rainbow Lakes to Nederland to hitch to Boulder. I too noticed these cows, all smarter than me — all trying to deter me from getting my MBA.
I should have listened.
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your publication — like Bowden’s “Tucson City Weekly” in the ’80s — like Jim Stile’s Moab Rants — like DeVere Hinkley’s ’80s single-spaced typed eight-page missives from Cowley, Wyoming — “The Cowley Progress” — the must-read “A Man Can Believe Anything.”
Take Care – keep it going!
In the Service of Her Majesty — Mother Earth! EF!
Loving life behind the ZION CURTAIN
A Sport That Encourages Drinking & Smoking!
Hi! Well March did come in like a lion in these parts — but it sure seems way to lamb-ish too soon! Snow is certainly fading fast — faster than ever I’d bet! Some would claim it’s been mud season all winter. Of course, we’re spoiled here with our geographic advantage — skiing’s been fine to great — alpine @ Wolf Creek and nordic all over our little corner of the state. I don’t mind the mud — it goes away on ground and shoes —eventually. I only hate the wind — the Chinese claim it’s evil — I won’t argue that. I am looking forward to hiking now, I must admit, though, I suspect the beetle-killed pines may pose a real danger when the winds rip!
In the meantime, there’s disc golf — I think you’d really like it ,M. John F. You can smoke & drink before, during & after and throwing things at a target satisfies the primal urge — hunting?
Anyway, I wanted to send in a decorated envelope, haven’t gotten to fully digest the dog issue of MG and didn’t want to wait for the next issue. Love ’em all — only wish they were LONGER — with more info, fotos, etc.
If you want to play Pagosa’s sweet disc golf course, look me up and I’ll get you discs & show you around the course — it’s truly a sweet one! Won’t be ready for a bit of course, got to dry up the ice, snow & mud!
Editor’s note: The following two Letters were addressed to long-rime MG contributor George Sibley in response to his article, “The Colorado: The First River of the Anthropocene,” which appeared in MG #188.
Hi George: Greetings from Silverton, where the aspens in my yard finally popped their buds just yesterday …
Really enjoyed your piece in MG and the turning two-by-four studs back into trees analogy! Thanks for injecting this much more useful perspective into the mind-numbing litany of “woe is us” literature on the River.
FYI — CSAS, in discussing our organizing premise, talks about the “anthroposphere” and the “music of the spheres” (atmos-, litho-,cryo-, and anthropo-spheres) … the anthropocene is the context for all this!
Chris Landry, Executive Director,
Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
George: Beer or wine? I want to know what to buy you in appreciation of your latest work. In fact, whiskey is not out of the question.
I thoroughly enjoyed this essay each time I read it and only curse the Gazette’s format for the difficulty of scanning it so I can distribute it to my fellow members on the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District board — even if it’s to watch them choke on the word Anthropocene. Congratulations on another fine job.
Books: “Salt To Summit: A Vagabond Journey from Death Valley to Mount Whitney,” by Daniel Arnold
As the crow flies, 84.6 miles separate Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, from the lowest in North America, Badwater Basin in Death Valley. One could choose to bridge the distance between the two points with roads and established trails in 146 miles, but you would miss the raw power of the landscape they circumvent. It is for precisely that reason that writer and vagabond extraordinaire, Daniel Arnold, decided to take the route less travelled, which he chronicles in his latest book, “Salt to Summit.”
Determined to link these natural wonders in his own way, Daniel escapes Los Angeles by bus and hitchhikes the last stretch of road into Death Valley to begin his adventure. After topping off his 85-pound pack, lovingly nicknamed “The Goblin,” with water, he sets off across the same salty flats that drove uninitiated pioneers to madness and death. Aimed at the summit of Mount Whitney, Daniel lets the need for water, the curves of unfamiliar canyons, the trails of daredevil sheep and the oppressive sun determine his path to the summit.
This is more than a tale of climbing Mount Whitney from the very bottom. It’s a tale of how the wilds have always found handholds in us and what is possible when we follow the pressure. Before Arnold, the Shoshone, the Paiute, John Muir, Mary Austin, mysterious hermits and legendary 49ers all chose to survive by the rules of this desolate country to reach one end or another. Daniel uses these mostly forgotten histories to shade the story of his excursion with a depth that tugs at the reader’s sense of adventure and makes them wonder why they aren’t out exploring the same wild spaces before it’s too late. $17.95, amazon.com
— Cole Lehman
Short Film: “Of Souls + Water,” by Forge Motion Pictures
Forge Motion, a small film company founded in 2007, attracted the attention of many in the paddling community with its 2011 film “Wildwater.” Billed as a “journey into the mind and soul of whitewater,” the initial trailer for “Wildwater” featured stunning HD video footage of one of the most impressive feats in modern whitewater kayaking — a record-high June 2010 run of Idaho’s North Fork of the Payette. By combining off-the-charts production values and filming techniques, talented athletes and thoughtful interviews, Forge Motion produced a landmark achievement in paddling cinematography.
Now, a year later, Forge Motion is back with another project for the paddling community. Produced in association with NRS, “Of Souls + Water” is a series of five video shorts released monthly starting in April 2012. The films consist of gorgeous, slow-motion shots that at times feel more like photography than film, accompanied by a monologue delivered by the nameless subject. The jaw-dropping visuals go a long way toward anchoring the somewhat abstract philosophical musings that anyone who has spent time on the water can relate to, but ultimately hardcore boaters accustomed to watching tightly cut sequences of stout drops with a pulsing Dub Step soundtrack will likely be disappointed by the slow pace and lack of a narrative. Those looking for an artistic examination of how the waterways we love share the human experience, however, will find Forge’s newest work thought provoking, inspiring and deeply memorable. Free, http://community.nrsweb.com/souls-and-water
— Ben Peters
Film: “Reveal the Path,” by Mike Dion
In Mike Dion’s latest mountain-bike film, “Reveal the Path,” he and three compatriots (including Tour Divide record holder Matthew Lee) travel on a global bikepacking trip to ride new trails, meet new people and challenge themselves at every turn. While it’s missing the built-in narrative of Dion’s previous film, “Ride The Divide,” “Reveal The Path” does a wonderful job at inspiring a little wanderlust, which the film declares to be its objective in the opening scene. Mission accomplished, then, right? Mostly.
I was left wanting more stories at every stop, and specifically, more about the inter-destination travel. The four riders flew from the U.S. to Wales to Switzerland to Morocco to Nepal to Alaska. Anyone who’s flown more than a couple states away knows that the farther you travel, the greater the likelihood of lost baggage, missed planes, surly customs agents and interpersonal discord. How difficult was it to bring four mountain bikes and all the gear between countries?
That said, the time the riders spent in Nepal looked like just about the most fun you could have on two wheels — until they flew to Alaska and broke out fatbikes for some beach riding. The smiles in the Alaskan segment likely did as much as the rest of the film to inspire folks to go ride a bike and find their own path. $29.99, revealthepath.com
— Brian Bernard
Sundog of Steamboat Springs photo by George Fargo
You just shredded every possible stash of new powder, so the need for après-ski brews, grub and the exchange of grandiose snow tales is well justified. A little music wouldn’t hurt either. Lucky you — après-ski drinking and music are synonymous and plentiful around the slopes of every resort mountain town. Ever since there’s been après ski, there have been musicians trying to book a gig at it. On stage for the past decade or three are those same musicians cranking out mostly the same tunes for so long that they’re back in vogue. They can play the same music every afternoon because the majority of the faces change every few days. Order up another beer because these timeless troubadours are actually making you look very cool and lyric savvy with their popular songs that everyone knows every word to.
Although the set lists between musicians vary slightly, there are some who venture beyond the island genre of Jimmy Buffett, since apparently it doesn’t matter whether the H²O is frozen or if there’s a beach involved, because it’s all about vacation mentality.
Arnie J. Green has been funking up the stages of après ski venues for twenty years with his quartet Arnie J. Green with Shoes. “I didn’t need shoes living in the Bay Area,” he explains of his move from San Francisco and the band’s name. “I had a couple pair of sandals and two pairs of socks when I moved up to Grand Lake and at 8,700 feet. Shoes were no longer optional.”
There were many gigs throughout the 1990s at the Derailer in Winter Park (where the crowd is still blowing off steam when that whistle blows). “The après stuff was usually solo, or me and a drummer who sang bass lines and tenor harmonies. It was nuts, but people loved the old R&B stuff because we could create a dance groove,” Green says. “We didn’t get a lot of typical requests because we weren’t your typical après line-up. Most people were playing Buffet, the Dead and John Denver. It’s not the stuff I wanted to play, so I didn’t do it. I don’t think too many people were offended.” (Arnie is along-time mainstay performer at the Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon, CO.)
Tourists on vacation tend to be more tolerant of different types of music, even if it’s not their style, as long as it’s played well. But the majority of resort bars prefer a smorgasbord repertoire, since their guests range from young families to mezzo-centenarians to the college crowd who will request Taylor Swift to Willie Nelson to Tupac.
Bill Dowell has been playing après-ski gigs since he landed in Crested Butte in 1982, back when there were more venues. As an acoustic soloist, he covered a lot of Jackson Brown, Dan Fogelberg and Cat Stevens. Since most of the tourists were from Texas, Oklahoma and points south, the requests were for popular classic country tunes. “Back then, they loved to hear ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw’.”
Bill verifies the après need for anything Buffett and, when combined with a country twang, it was all the rage to make you feel good and tap your feet. His current band, High Nowhere, is still rocking slopeside at Butte 66, the only après ski with live music on the Crested Butte mountain. The tastes haven’t changed all that much, Bill says. “They like the stuff they’ve heard and listened to for years, but there are a lot of younger kids, who, as they were growing up, their parents listened to the Beatles, the Stones and other now-classic rock, and those kids recognize and appreciated that music as the foundation for the music they’re listening to today.”
Ski Town USA, aka Steamboat Springs, has veteran-of-the-après clan, Randy Kelley, who has been entertaining the throngs of snow people since 1979. “I’ve seen a few seasons,” says the founder of the band Sundog. “First, we were right at the base of the mountain at Spaces, which became The Inferno. We’ve been playing at the Bear River, bottom floor of the Sheridan, right where you take your skis off, three and four days a week.” His band has been covering the required eclectic music from jazz to bluegrass, classic rock to classic country for twenty-three years. He boasts that they’ve forgotten more songs than some bands have learned. Randy does wonder though why one of the most requested songs from eight-year-old kids seems to be “I Love This Bar.”
Most musicians love the après-ski gigs … there’s no pressure, everyone’s elated about a fine day on the mountain, and it’s great fun to watch the crowd get happier as the brews get poured, the ski clothes come off and everyone’s down to dancing in boots and long johns. Hell, yes, bring it on.
Dawne Belloise is a writer, photographer and vocalist who has performed more après-ski gigs than she can recall. She has currently taken leave of the real world to move back to her clan in Crested Butte. Contact email@example.com.
Sometime late in the last century, rumors of a mysterious low-level hum audible in and around Taos, NM, grew loud enough to draw national attention. Congress ordered an inquiry, and some of the brightest minds from institutions across New Mexico descended on the hapless village to get to the bottom of this “nonsense.” The scientists eventually focused on a group of roughly 1,500 people, and determined that, at most, two percent of the population perceived a low-level rumbling noise with no discernible source. The “hearers,” as they became known, were consistent in their descriptions of the phenomena and tests ruled out physiological reasons as a possible cause.
The scientists left baffled, concluding that the evidence could not disprove the existence of the hum. Later, sources not interviewed by the Congressional team emerged, and firsthand accounts agree the root cause of the hum in Taos was likely a series of Grateful Dead shows that went down seventy miles to the Southwest in Santa Fe, NM, September 10-13, 1983. A quick listen to “West LA Fadeaway” from the night of the Sept. 11 confirms it: weirdness was rampant, magick unleashed. While science cannot explain the exact meta-geophysical mechanism by which the energy and glow of thousands of hallucinating individuals writhing together to the cacophony of their manic screams mingled with music blasting from deafening amplifiers actually caused certain layers of the Earth’s crust to resonate around the city of Taos, agreement is unanimous that, “well, the shit must have been real good”.
It is well known by locals that sitting down for a pint of the fresh after riding the fresh is an excellent way to relax and tune in to the cosmic vibes emanating from the hills around. To that end, a new venture, Taos Mesa Brewing opened its doors recently. With a menu created by local rockstar chef Scott Barady and a state-of-the-art venue for live music, they plan to have the valley rocking and the beer flowing in time for the season opener this year. In addition to brewing beer, private-label wine sourced from regional producers is also available. It is uncommon to find this in combination with a production brewery, and the wine offering adds a degree intrigue to their operation. Clearly, these people have heard the siren call of the hum, itself perhaps a beacon for the wisdom of the Age of Aquarius, the bringer of water and sign of the times (see MG #191).
A short distance from the historic old-town plaza, Eske’s Brewpub offers excellent fare and fine brews in a century-old building. Of note is the chile beer that is offered. For those unaware, the famous green chile grown near the towns of Hatch, Socorro and Lemitar, NM, while bearing some physical resemblance to what marketing teams from the Golden State have hoodwinked your average grocery store conglomerate into believing are “Anaheim Chilis” (note the misspelling as well), in fact bear no flavor resemblance at all to the pusillanimous Anaheim. First off, they are fucking piquant. Not in the melt-your-face-off manner of the habañero or tabasco, but in a solid full-tongue-engulfed-in-nuclear-hellfire kind of way. Yes, milder varieties are grown, but this seems to be dependent on rainfall rather than genetics. Eske’s has taken these chiles and infused the subtle smokiness from their roasted flesh along with the right amount of heat into a simple base beer that reflects these qualities cleanly. Many have attempted this feat, but few have achieved harmony like Eske’s has between these flavor aspects.
It is possible that finding the proper balance of flavor and heat in a chile beer is, in fact, impossible outside of the state of New Mexico. In his treatise on anatomy, the prominent Western philosopher Rene Descartes (the “I-think-therefore-I-am” dude), wrote that the heart was a pump for heat, pushing this life-giving blessing throughout the body and thus sustaining life in all creatures. While modern medical science has proven his theories to be slightly off, it is possible that, in the Land of Enchantment, the heat from the chile, like the mysterious hum of Taos, courses through the hearts and minds of the people and mountains and sustains the spell that makes this place so fascinating.
Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO, and is always on the lookout for excellent green chile. Drop him a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
It was dark and cold on a March Sunday at 4:30 a.m. outside the Sawtooth Hotel on Ace of Diamonds Street in Stanley, Idaho, many days the coldest town in the continental U.S. Right on time, Karl Weatherly, the well-known, fine ski/mountain photographer, pulled up in front of the Sawtooth in his 2002 BMW M3 which, I was soon to learn, he drives, as noted in my journal that night, “…with skill but like a maniac and I am really uncomfortable in the car with him.”
Maniac. Uncomfortable. Really.
Karl and I had met a few times but didn’t really know each other when he asked if I was interested in going to White Grizzly Lodge near Meadow Creek in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia for a few days of cat skiing. I checked out its web site, which proclaims “Hibernation is for wimps.” It seemed interesting, different, quirky and, you know, worth a try, and so it proved to be. We all live in Ketchum, but my partner Jeannie Wall and I spent that weekend at the Sawtooth for a book reading/signing at the hotel, some backcountry skiing on Banner Summit and the best food in the Sawtooth Valley in the company of friends. So I rose early and left lucky Jeannie to her sweet dreams and another day in the backcountry and joined Karl in the BMW. He had made the hour drive from Ketchum in 45 minutes and we had 12 hours to do the 15 hour drive to catch the last Ferry across Kootenay Lake in order to be at orientation and dinner at White Grizzly, but I didn’t know any of that until we were on the road and words like “maniac” and “uncomfortable” were sliding through my mind the way the BMW was (skillfully) sliding through the twisty black ice corners of Highway 75 on what is known in daylight hours as the Salmon River Scenic Byway. Committing to long drives with casual acquaintances is never risk-free.
After one particularly unnerving slide, Karl noticed my discomfort and immediately assured me with his soft North Carolina accent that, because of the superiority of the car, the tires on the car and the skill of the driver of the car, there was nothing to worry about. Everything was under control. After all, his car is equipped with radar detector and GPS. Besides, he explained, he likes to drive fast and outlined the time constraints involved in catching the ferry and, with what I have come to know as a particularly Karl Weatherly (maniacal?) smile, he immersed himself in what he likes to do, a trait I recognize, admire, practice and, my own discomfort notwithstanding, consider healthy for both individual and society. Still, it was a wild, stressful (for the passenger), amazing ride I’ll not soon forget, and, as I learned, a perfect warm-up and introduction to White Grizzly Lodge cat skiing.
We made the Kootenay ferry with 45 minutes to spare and dinner that night was worth the drive.
White Grizzly Lodge is a labor of love and the love of labor of its owners, Carole and Brad Karafil, who, though they have university degrees in things like biology, special education, business and accounting, have devoted their lives to skiing. They met in 1990 when Brad was 19 and Carole 29 and have been together ever since, and, in my view, they are both personally and professionally wonderful. They have owned and operated White Grizzly since 1998. I have been skiing for more than 60 years in a wide range of mountains, terrain, snow conditions, skiing pursuits and challenges, and I’ve never experienced anything quite like what Brad and Carole offer.
I mean, White Grizzly Lodge is not for every skier, not even for every good skier, not even for every very good powder skier. The lodge is rustic and spotless and the food exquisite, but among the many souvenirs, oil paintings, mugs and skiing accessories for sale are two revealing bumper stickers: SKI GOOD OR EAT WOOD and KEEP UP OR FUCK OFF.
Brad puts it this way: “I’d rather have eight skiers with the skills and experience to enjoy what we are offering here, than have eleven where three of them struggle and hold up the group because they aren’t fit for the terrain … We screen our guests because we aren’t willing to take those risks on the mountain. It’s about finding a balance. I value safety because I want to keep on doing what I do, and we only bring in guests that love steep powder, so my reward is being with them on the mountain every day.”
According to Carole, the French Canadian: “It’s the art of experience really, paying attention to all the details. What we do is a labour of love, and I want to celebrate that. I would really like to see more creative works coming through cat skiing. It’s all about carving the white, however you see it. It’s a very subtle thing.”
Carving the white is subtle, but skiing steep, deep powder in closely spaced trees in the company of 15 yelping, yodeling closely spaced other skiers (some of them sometimes a bit spacey) is as exhilarating as Karl’s driving, as subtle as one can make it. There is room at White Grizzly for 12 guests. One of three snowcats is used every day and each customized (by Brad, a master metal worker) snowcat is big enough for the guests, four guides and a driver. The lodge tends to get repeat customers, often repeat groups. The week we were there, I was one of two White Grizzly neophytes. The main group of seven Canadians had skied together for 25 and more years and consisted of Andrew Buck, Jay Wilgar, Matt Walker, Chris Andrews and Matt Stemerdink, who grew up in Ontario and learned to ski on the 200 vertical feet of Chicopee Ski Hill as boys; Tom Kusomoto of Calgary; and Darin Cox of Vancouver, B.C. Stemerdink and Wilgar had skied together since they were three years old, and the tradition of an annual road ski trip to an exotic location was started by Stemerdink’s father, John, before the boys were old enough to drive. John is reported to be looking forward to the tradition continuing with the grandchildren. Responsible, respectable, traditional, energetic members of middle-age mainstream society, all but one of them family men, the seven gather once a year for a holiday (sometimes at White Grizzly) break of hard skiing and partying with a fervor and return/regression to youthful abandon that made Karl’s driving seem comparatively tame. The lone bachelor, Kusomoto, is engaged to be married and the group is plotting a 10-day bachelor party for him in Chamonix in 2013.
French Canada was represented by two Quebecers, Francois Morin, the lone snowboarder in the group, the only one besides myself unfamiliar with the scene; and Jean Francois Racine, a talented artist who painted snow-covered mountain landscapes of the area to sell and, for an additional fee, will include you in the painting making your best powder turn of the day.
The U.S. was represented by me and Karl and Tony Crocker, a California ski journalist, blogger and actuary who rolled skiing-related statistics, risks and costs off his tongue as easily and blithely and with as much obvious pleasure as he danced through the spaces between trees in deep powder snow, carving the white.
Francois and I had more than neophyte status in common. We were both Buddhists and vegetarians and, I surmised, were suspect members of the group of three Brad referred to, candidates for holding up the group. Francois was not only the lone snowboarder, but he admitted to me that he had never before boarded in powder. My deficiency was that, with the exceptions of Karl, who turned 60 that week and who skis as well as he drives and with a similar ethic, Tony, who was 59 and experienced in steep, deep powder in the trees, and Carole, 51, who lives for carving the white, I was 30 years older than anyone in the entire group. I suspect I passed Brad’s screening on Karl’s recommendation.
Thanks, Karl. Thanks, Brad.
Like snowflakes, clouds, people and parties, no two turns on a pair of skis are ever the same, and each run and day at White Grizzly was different from the others, while, at the same time, being remarkably organized, scheduled and thought out, an orchestrated improvisation worthy of Art Tatum, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane or Jerry Garcia. (I’ve already alluded to my age.) The schedule got the most out of a day: up early, eat, 20-minute car ride to the staging area, load into the cat, hour ride to the top of the White Grizzly Peak adjacent to the Goat Range Provincial Park and 11,000 skiable acres that receive an average of 11 meters of snow each season. Unload. The cat leaves. Saddle up. Ski down about 1,000 vertical meters on a different route each time to where, miraculously, we popped out of impenetrable woods onto a road where the cat was waiting. Load into the cat for a 30-minute ride back to the top. Repeat. Repeat again and again until 5 p.m. Gourmet snacks, drinks and lunch during the five to eight rides a day, depending on tree well burials, lost skis, lost skiers, photo ops and photo set ups. Then back to the lodge for evening festivities, which will be described shortly.
The White Grizzly learning curve for me was as steep as its terrain and not nearly so soft as the powder. The first morning I went up with my backcountry randonee set-up, the one I normally use for powder days in Sun Valley and for all backcountry adventures. The skis are wider and shorter than I normally use for lift-serviced Baldy groomers and even moguls when they are covered in fresh white. They have served me well on Baldy powder days, where I ski with a circumspect velocity and trajectory suitable to the natural governor built into the muscles and reflexes of age. I have, of course, observed with interest the young dudes and dudettes skiing the bowls of Baldy on powder mornings with a verve and velocity I fully appreciate and vaguely remember with a mixture of nostalgia and envy, the best of them on HUGE twin-tip rocker boards, each nearly the size of a monoski. Such big boards require more strength and better reflexes than mine and I never gave them a second thought for personal use until I’d spent half a White Grizzly morning skiing the heaviest, deepest powder to my arm pits that I’d ever skied (and I grew up skiing in the Sierra Nevada). The steepness and the trees were manageable, though I managed (sic) to get clipped three times by my faster comrades in powder, but it was clear I would not last a day, much less a week, at armpit exertion levels. (Four feet of fresh powder had fallen in just the previous three days.) Karl had suggested switching to larger skis during our drive the day before, but I was too fixated on the present moment’s velocity over which I had no control to focus on the subtleties of a future over which I had even less than no control.
After a few runs, Brad made the identical suggestion to Karl’s of the previous day and he had a couple of pairs of giant twin-tip rockers on the back of the cat, just in case someone lost a ski or an old guy came to his (literal) senses. I put them on and life in the trees and powder of the Selkirk Mountains immediately became easier, more enjoyable and worthy of carving the white. After a few turns on the giants, I was only sinking to my knees in powder that miraculously wasn’t quite so heavy, and I knew I had knee-deep energy and would be able to carve the white and make it back to the lodge for dinner. And so I did.
And each night it snowed. And each morning we rose early, ate and went back up to fresh powder on White Grizzly Peak. Group dynamics, always interesting to the attentive participant/observer, range from the harmonious worthy of the Grateful Dead or the Sun Valley Summer Symphony to the cacophonous worthy of the U.S. Congress. I have been on climbing expeditions that ended with some members of the team never speaking to each other again and others that formed lifelong friendships, and, when strangers are brought together even for something as enjoyable as powder skiing, it can go either way. During the cat rides between runs, this group easily engaged in a comfortable, harmonious dialogue of story-telling, jokes (among the seven Canucks often at the expense of one of them), questioning and philosophy, and, in truth, Brad and Carole were master conductors and the core group of Canadian friends treated everyone as family. As the elder of the group with the most mileage both on and off skis, I was sometimes called upon by the conductors to recount an exotic tale or two from earlier days of skiing and skiers. Judging by the intensity and intelligence of their questions and responses to my remembrances, as well as their skiing skills and enthusiasm, it was clear that my comrades were true lovers of the well-carved turn, the adrenaline high and the satisfaction and personal growth that can only come to those who pursue what they like to do.
Because slopes are steep, snow deep, trees closely spaced and branches loaded with snow that drops like a bomb from time to time, there is ample opportunity for skiers to get in trouble at White Grizzly. And, given enough time and turns, those who ski hard, like those who party hard, always get in trouble. Thus, at White Grizzly, the buddy system is used. Skiers are paired up for each run and encouraged to stay close to each other, as all pairs are encouraged to stay close to the other pairs. A skier, for instance, who fell and was trapped upside down in a tree well and could not get out on his/her own, would not likely survive the hour and a half it would take to make another lap and track him/her down. Almost every year, someone dies in a ski area boundary from the tree well scenario, in a more skier-friendly environment than the Selkirk Mountain woods. At White Grizzly, skiers keep track of each other for good reason. Each person also chooses a yell/yodel/yelp/woof/call/song/sound to emit from time to time so that the partner and the others have an auditory idea of location. My yell was HEEEE HAAAAA!!!!!! Others were more imaginative and melodic.
One guide always took the lead with instructions to stay close to and either left or right of his tracks and to give him a head start. Then, in pairs, with a few turns in between the teams blasted into the powder snow magic of the woods of British Columbia.
HEEEE HAAAAA!!!!!!!! HOOOOO!!!!!!! HAAAAA!!!!!!!! OH-DI-LAY-EE-OH!!!!!! WOOOOOOO WOOOOOOO!!!!!!! BUGGGGAAAAA BUGGGGGAAAAA!!!!! KA-CHING KA-CHING!!!!!!!!!
Through tight trees we skied, carving the white with none of the ballet-like grace of vast solitude and wide-open slopes of the powder skiing of dreams. White Grizzly powder skiing is less ballet and grace, its carve through the white more like break dancing in the Bugggggaaaaa Bugggggaaaaa Bar on a Saturday night in the company of a pack of serious break dancers. It works and it is great fun to dodge trees and other skiers in a skier’s dance in powder, and, as the slowest except, sometimes, Francois, I was always alert to the possibility of OH-DI-LAY-EE-OH or WOOOOOOO WOOOOOOO meeting me head on coming around a tree. There were some close misses, but no true encounters and, despite a few crashes, tree well burials, snow bombs dropped, lost skis and a few temporarily lost skiers, we always managed to meet the snowcat for the ride back up, the stories, laughter, hot and cold drinks, snacks, good food and good will. For me, the accent in skiing has always been more on the solitary, even meditative aspects than on group dynamics, but that isn’t possible or advisable at White Grizzly, and I wasn’t alone in having one of the best skiing weeks of a long life of skiing.
One day, Jean Francois spent the entire day at the top of White Grizzly Peak with his easel and paints. We checked his progress after each lap and gained run by run a better appreciation of the rigors, techniques and skills of the art of landscape oil painting.
Several times, Karl set up shots, so that, one by one, two by two, and three by three, skiers could have powder photos taken. Some of these adventures involved cliffs, rocks and other large drops into bottomless powder that cushioned equally the nailed, inelegant and the hopeless landing, all to the whoooooops and laughter of spectators. I refrained from air time, but thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. Since there were a couple of web cams on helmets in the group of seven, most flights were recorded from both air and ground perspectives, and the day’s events were shown/relived/celebrated/cheered/booed late into each night in the lodge after proper preparation.
Like the days, nights at White Grizzly were a series of different improvisations on a theme. On arrival back at the lodge, there were hors d’oeuvres, hot tub, drinks, showers, naps, the internet, even reading. There is no smoking allowed in the lodge, so, despite fatigue from the day’s efforts, some of the boys took long walks of smoking indulgence before dinner. The entire crew, including Brad and Carole, dined together and wine, stronger spirits and conversation flowed freely. Long retired from the delights and demons of dipsomania, I sipped water and paddled only in the conversations, and when the talk and the emerging party moved to the lounge, I usually retreated to my room upstairs for reading, jotting in my journal and, when possible, sleep. Karl and the web cammers showed their day’s work to that most appreciative of audiences — the subject of the work — and the sounds cheers, boos, laughter and comments that made their way through the floorboards were muted enough that I usually but not always fell asleep before my roommates Tony and Karl arrived. Soon after, the muted sounds of serious partying were lost in the honking/snorting/earsplitting/unbelievable snorts of Tony’s snoring, sounds unlike any I’ve ever heard before. Still, despite snoring sounds one imagines could be made by wrestling or copulating elephants, I managed enough sleep to rise each morning with sufficient energy to continue to carve the white.
Downstairs, the party continued.
Hard and long.
Difficult for the non-participant to know what transpired at the downstairs party each night, though imagination can easily fill in the blank spots. One Canadian gentleman was so overcome from each day’s carved white exertions and dark night’s indulgences that he managed to fall completely asleep on one of the lounge couches every night. His nightly slumber inspired his best and oldest friends to unbutton his shirt and decorate his face, belly, chest and arms with demonic, humorous and even obscene black paint works of art that were not so easily removed when he discovered them in his morning mirror.
Still, he and everyone else was ready for the morning cat to the top of White Grizzly Peak and a day of carving the white.
On the last morning, after skiing was finished and we were getting ready to leave, I noted in my journal, “Skiing is over and it has been a unique and wonderful experience. I am filled with good will towards and connection to all the people here.”
That feeling alone is worth every and all effort and drive the labour of love of carving the white requires.
Long-time senior correspondent Dick Dorworth is the author of “Night Driving” and “The Perfect Turn.”
One of the paradoxes of driving on concrete in search of powder is that what you search for is not a thing you wish to encounter any sooner than necessary. A snowy road may mean a day spent laying down fresh tracks on the mountain, but it also brings the risk of not getting there — soon or ever. Every drive has its dangers — even those not rooted in mountains and deep snow — dangers often hidden beneath a veneer of familiarity. Maybe your trek takes you to your local hill with little more vertical drop than a playground slide. Perhaps it crosses sun-soaked fruit fields in California en route to some snow or consists of sliding on ice in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Together, these travels often fade into a fabric of monotony, leaving in their wake little more than themes around which memories with rounded edges cling. Yet, some events may crystallize into something more — the time you picked up the hitchhiker who didn’t kill you, the time your truck pulled a rodeo and landed perfectly in a streambed or the time you took a friend riding for the first time. Whether your road time is in pursuit of manicured booters in a terrain park or a trailhead cloaked in powder and begging for a bootpack, you share a common language with anyone who has ever headed down the road in search of a little snow.
Who hasn’t laughed uneasily while driving down the road listening to weather forecasts that warn that travel should be reserved for emergencies? Any Midwesterner who has made the pilgrimage to Summit County in a snowstorm — and for that matter anyone who has put in interstate time in the middle of winter — can attest to the otherworldliness of a freeway right after a storm. There are plenty of jackknifed tractor trailers and upended cars to remind you of the fragility of steel and glass and your own mortality. Roadside ditches and medians are littered with half-buried cars, often flagged with orange tape to announce that people are no longer inside. Growing up in Iowa, every few years, you would hear of an old timer who had been missing for weeks only to be discovered by hunters peacefully frozen in a car far from the road from which it slid. The roadside aftermath of a storm also creates strange tasks for the mind, begging answers to questions like: How did that truck get there or what was that driver thinking? Once on Interstate 80, I saw a boat blanketed with snow and upright in a median, twenty feet from an overpass abutment. No tracks, no trailers and no trucks were in sight. It was a strangely peaceful scene, as though a family had decided to moor their craft to the overpass and step out of the bow to picnic and make snow angels.
If you slip away into the backcountry a fair amount, your avy shovel probably bears more scars from digging your truck out than buried bodies. In a single weekend, I broke in a shovel in Silverton by first sliding off the edge of a county road, later submerging my car in a snowbank on the horseshoe turn that leads back into town and then digging out some travelers beached on a scenic overlook on Molas Pass. I’ll always shudder when I think of how I feverishly dug my Jeep out on that horseshoe turn. I had just begun shoveling when headlights illuminated the ice-covered road and two vehicles began sliding in my direction. As I scrambled off my knees to jump out of the way, I envisioned my body with a hundred broken bones and pinned in a pileup of sheet metal. Needless to say, the vehicles made it through the turn and I took note of the new tires I needed to purchase.
Perhaps you have held a strange and tense form of communion with thousands of other drivers who have inched forward for hours, attempting to descend into Denver or Salt Lake. Perhaps you have slammed on your brakes only to be passed by your board as you realize you failed to secure your roof rack. Perhaps you have bagged a buck with your bumper and windshield, emptying your pocket of the money earmarked for lift tickets. Perhaps you have attempted to steer your car while leaning out the window to wipe down the windshield and study exit signs in order to acquire washer fluid. Perhaps you pulled your first 900 not in a terrain park, but on a two-lane highway. Perhaps you have had to surrender your dignity and give up shoveling to call a tow truck. Perhaps a great day on the mountain has been marred by red and blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror.
Yet, time on the road is not inherently an exercise in disappointment, defying death or perfecting one-finger salutes. It is just as likely to be a comforting routine. For three years, I dedicated nearly every weekend to driving from western New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona, to ride Snowbowl and the adjacent backcountry. I caught countless sunsets framed by the Painted Desert and the San Francisco Peaks. I miss those days. I also miss the smaller details that helped forge my memories: letting my mind drift while watching the chutes of the San Francisco Peaks fade away in my mirrors, pondering the ways in which my weekly four-hundred-mile pursuit of snow threatened the very thing I was seeking, questioning how much longer petrified wood and “real Indian jewelry” could be sold to tourists from wooden tepees out of place in the desert, and stopping at the same desolate exit each Sunday to piss on an access road partially obscured from the interstate.
All routines, however, begin as something new. For those who have spent some time hitchhiking in order to ride lines along roadways, each ride back to the summit can quickly become faceless. Although I have forgotten many of the rides I have thumbed, the first ride remains. As I leaned against a tailgate, wedged between a pile of skis and boards, I remember noting how much colder negative-five feels in the back of a truck kicking up snow at forty miles an hour and developing a strong desire to find something to hold onto in preparation for the tailgate rattling lose. I also remember the smiles shared with a good friend and a handful of strangers in the cramped bed of that truck as it careened up Loveland Pass. I remember thinking I have to do this again.
As meaningful as each day on the mountain can be, much of its beauty is owed to the minutiae that is so easily overlooked: the conversations on the chairlift, the free meals of ketchup and crackers in the cafeteria, the sunburn you claimed would be impossible to acquire on a partly cloudy day or the pristine kits toppled like dominoes when a four-year-old snags a board with his pint-sized skis. This is equally true for the concrete pilgrimage that leads to snow. Memories surface from the suicide concoction of gas station hot chocolate flavors, the smiles shared with new friends, the spring waterfalls that flank the road, the rare glimpse of the Northern Lights or the innovative uses of duct tape pioneered by travelers on America’s roadways. Sometimes the miles spent staring through an ice-caked and cracked windshield emerge as the story and it is the riding that fades away and is forgotten.
Michael Sudmeier is a writer based in Jackson, WY. He can be reached at michaelsudmeier.com.
Artificial Snowstorm, The Beginning of The End • Aspen, 1982
The beginning of the end began with a rumor that electrified the 1950s ski underground with the smoking news that, “They’re actually packing the snow in Aspen!” And they were. And it was my first job in Aspen–packing the snow. The “packing crew.”
“We could side-step the whole mountain, from top to town, and be down and done by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. This being mid-October, there was hardly anything else to do except spend the rest of the day drinking beer at the Red Onion. Tough duty.
No such fine nostalgia attaches to the gradual insinuation of the pipes, pumps, fire hoses and gun turrets of the artificial “product.” Nor does the unremitting roar of slurry under high pressure remind you of the solitude of a silent storm of featherlike snowflakes drifting quietly down on top of one another onto the buried shapes of once-earth-like objects all around you.
But it’s not supposed to. It’s only supposed to keep quad chairs full of bodies, at least one head on each pillow in town, and to keep the ACL ward at the hospital occupied and in demand. “Skiing for the Millions,” (a title from the 1940s) and millions it costs to do it.
No, the packing crew has gone elsewhere, places like Telluride, where they side-step uphill, instead of down, and it’s all by invitation only. Otherwise, it’s turned into a fleet of 8,000-pound machines, which doze and roll and chop ice that’s been dumped into a pile, where the water drains out of it, so it can then be moved somewhere that it’s wanted by dozer blade. But if it’s ice you want, you may as well find out what the real thing is all about; at the local rink, they can show you how to skate, how to scrape ice and how to make ice. Hijack the Zamboni, and you can re-surface the whole mountain with hot water after every hockey game, which is pretty much what you are doing already. What’s wrong with artificial snow? Very simple. It’s not powder.
Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
Who knows if any of this news will matter to anyone now that Snooki has given birth, but Michael Phelps wants to join his mountain brethren in our sports of choice. Some parts of the U.S. will have better snow than they did last year; some of us will freeze our asses off. And no doubt there’s a pending lawsuit in whatever we choose to do.
1. A WTF frontrunner
We’re not sure if this 2006 entry in the WTF Hall of Fame is the absolute nadir for the legal world, but when seven-year-old Scott Swimm got sued for accidentally crossing over a man’s skis on a Beaver Creek catwalk at 10 mph, the reputation of the human species took a decidedly southward turn. The 48-pound Swimm and David Pfahler, 60, of Allentown, Penn. tipped over after Pfahler turned in front of Swimm. Pfahler reportedly grabbed the boy and told him to expect a lawsuit. Months later, a sheriff’s deputy showed up at the Swimm home in Eagle-Vail to serve papers to the child. It’s anyone’s guess who felt worse — the newly appointed defendant or the cop. Suffering a shoulder injury and claiming the young Swimm was in violation of the Colorado Ski Safety Act, Pfahler sought more than $75,000 in losses. His wife got in on the action as well, claiming that she had spent considerable time nursing her husband back to health. Long story short, the Swimms reluctantly let their insurance cover the claim — thereby giving up Scott’s right to sue Pfahler when he turned 18. They were featured in a 2009 U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad campaign against lawsuit abuse.
2. Clime and punishment
Having called the shots on the 2011-2012 Winter That Wasn’t, the Farmers’ Almanac is back at it for the 2012-2013 season, predicting that places suffering from drought should start to trend toward normal — if not seriously good — precip. Using several variations on the word “excrement,” there are many descriptions for the worst season in 30 years, so for the sake of bringing skiers and riders in off their window ledges, we hope the FA is right. In addition, we personally checked out the NOAA/NESDIS Geo-Polar Blended 11 km SST Analysis for The Equatorial Pacific, and initial conclusions point to a little less snow in the northern Rockies and Northwest, with southern storms fueling better-than-average powder in Mammoth, New Mexico, northern Arizona, Utah’s Southern Wasatch range, and in Colorado: Wolf Creek, Durango and maybe even Summit County.
3. Swimming sucks in comparison
Michael Phelps has a lot going for him as he segues into skiing/snowboarding. Before shattering Olympic medal records in London, the swimmer declared he’d like to take up snow-sliding sports when he could get a little mangled and not damage his career. “I knew if I got hurt, it wouldn’t be good,” he said. Anyway, we’re guessing those award-winning paddles at the ends of his legs are going to make boot-fitting difficult and that Phelps will ultimately use his own feet — adequately waxed, of course — in lieu of boards. And while he hasn’t revealed where he plans to obtain his new skills in skiing, snowboarding or paddlefooting this winter, we’re putting our money on Aspen.
4. At what price do we pay to play?
When Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke died from brain injuries last winter after crashing at the bottom of the Park City superpipe (following a routine 540-degree flat spin), the very sad incident raised the question: Can protective gear keep up with extreme sports? Stating the blatantly obvious, researchers say human bodies just weren’t made to withstand hard impacts at big speeds, or to get dropped upside down, and that despite the continued development of helmets, boots, bindings and various braces and paddings, the fatality rate in snow sports hasn’t improved in 40 years of tracking — although there have been changes in how we specifically die. Thirty-five to 40 people die each year at U.S. ski areas, not counting heart attacks, avalanches and the occasional fall from a lift. Statistically, there are .7 trauma-related deaths for every million skier visits. For those not wearing helmets, head injuries are the cause of death more than 75 percent of the time. If you’re wearing a helmet and manage to expire on the slopes (short of a heart attack), it’s most likely due to torso trauma, usually the result of hitting rocks, trees or other skiers. It also should be noted that, while helmets help the statistics, nearly half of deaths among people who wear helmets are due to head injuries. That kind of sucks, no?
A survey last year by TripIndex claimed that Salt Lake City is the best place to ski on the cheap, where a trip can cost as little as $239. That compares to Vail, at $746; Aspen, $673; and Park City, $667. The figures are based on one night in a hotel, a basic ski-rental package, an adult one-day ticket, a local restaurant meal and a beer purchased at a ski resort. The Salt Lake City ranking was apparently due to affordable lodging — $122, compared to Vail at $582 nightly. MG researchers, however, found considerably better deals at the latter, and if you want to get the best rates for lift tickets, remember that the ticket window is usually the most expensive way to go. Plan ahead, find a couch and know that you get more mileage from your beer dollar the farther you get from a ski area.
Tara Flanagan is an equine enthusiast who lives in Breckenridge, CO.
Photo courtesy of B. Frank
Way I remember it, he was wearing a corduroy jacket, or maybe it was wool flannel — either would have stood out as old-school, since we were already living in the age of miraculously wicking fabrics with trademarked and patented pedigrees, available even to thrift-shop-haunting dirtbags like me. I’d been following his outbound ski tracks for a mile or so away from the snowshoe-chopped roadside trail. I was climbing with my partner toward a paradise best left unnamed, the better to keep trail-choppers from realizing how easy it is to reach from a certain over-used highway in my home range.
He appeared at the top of a hill and stepped out of his ski tracks. While waiting for us to pass, he pulled out a battered old thermos and poured himself a cup of steaming dark brew. As we neared and could see his white-whiskered chin and weathered face, I idly speculated that he might’ve started skiing these mountains before I’d been born.
After exchanging comments with the old man about the day’s snow and sunshine, as people tend to do about impermanent things, we skied toward paradise, he continued down his back-trail, and I forgot that day for years — until just now as I pass by the soon-to-be-forgotten hulk of yet another piece of my home range’s history.
To hear the mourning former regulars tell it today, without the Hollywood Bar, there will be no haven from the “ … hippie bar across the street,” no place a man can “ … get a cheap beer, shoot some pool and go smoke a joint on the patio out back.” You see, this is the story of the last days of the Hollywood, a bar with a reputation for trouble and comfort, for providing sustenance to sawmill savages, dam-builders, fire-fighters, dirtbags and bar bums of all stripes, so long as you kept your name off the 86ed list. One local remembers hanging out at the Hollywood as a child, while his mother tended bar and added a few more names to the list, some with a note that the ban would last a lifetime.
As with my version of skiing paradise, I’m not going to name the town the Hollywood called home, so you’ll have to seek it out if it’s that important. If you find it, though, nothing will look the same to you, because the history is different now — so let’s go back to those final days. The tin ceiling tiles wore a bronze patina of ancient cigarette smoke, and there were brown splatters above the ceiling fan from the time a guy got his throat cut at the bar below. (It’s said he lived. It’s also said that Cactus Ed Abbey drank here, but that might not be any special distinction, judging by the author’s self-reported reputation.)
A couple years back, I took a newly arrived resident of my home range to the Hollywood, hoping to show him a piece of the area’s history, but since I’d last been there, the bar had been bought by a Texan, who’d replaced the tattered tables and ripped chairs with polyurethane-smelling wooden booths. The bartender treated my friend (a scion of a still-wild place in another urban-wildland-interface blighted state that [you’re right] I won’t name here) like a tourist. I left with only the blood-splattered ceiling, the bar-top with generations of names carved into it and a silent television screen showing a burning oil rig as reminders that the Hollywood still had a bit of history in it. I never went back inside to witness its decline into yet another sanitized caricature of a mountain-town bar. Now, of course, I wish I had.
My partner and I walked by a day before the fire, noted that karaoke night was just beginning, and went across the street to the “hippie bar.” It’s a micro-brewery that serves good food, while providing a place for traveling musicians to earn a little gas money to get to bigger, more lucrative gigs on the other side of the mountains. At least a couple of local kids have grown up behind the bar and in the kitchen, washing dishes and helping make the place a destination for the area’s younger set, along with more than a few miracle-fabric-clad dirtbags. I’ve seen forest workers, construction crews, skiers, river-rats and rednecks mingle there. The brewery was packed, the band was good and the next time I saw the Hollywood, there was a bouquet of flowers in an old Jim Beam bottle on the sidewalk, in front of a burned-out hulk.
Crime-scene tape blocks the door. A sign says that arson is suspected and warns that trespassing is a felony. The old stone walls are blackened, the roof gone. Firefighters say the blaze was so hot that it almost ignited an apartment building next door. Local gossip says the bartender 86ed an unruly patron, who slipped around back and started the fire a couple hours later. The bartop, the ceiling, the list of 86ed lifers, the still-new wooden booths, the pool table — from the alley behind the patio, it looks like a total loss.
The owner of the hardware store down the street remembers that his wife’s family ran the place back in the sawmill days, but now the mill site is underwater behind the dam, and the people who remember those days are dying off, or selling out to new folks who are more likely to take their kids to a micro-brewery with live music than a bar with blood on the ceiling and karaoke Wednesdays.
I now have almost as much white in my beard as the old man who broke trail to paradise, and as losses keep piling up in my personal history, I’m spending less time with other graybeards lamenting changes in my home range. More often, you’ll see me nursing a good micro-brew while I eavesdrop on the multifarious life stories playing out around me. Here’s to hoping the next time I pass through that little town, at least a couple of the Hollywood’s old regulars will be bellied up to the bar with me.
Senior correspondent B. Frank is the author of “Livin’ the Dream.” He splits his time between the Colorado Plateau and the Border Country.