Ski Good Or Eat Wood: White Grizzly Adventures

catskills

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.

White Grizzly
Carole and Brad Karafil, owners of White Grizzly. Karl Weatherly • www.karlweatherly.com.

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.

WOOOOOO WOOOOOO!!!!!

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.”   

Concrete Memories

concrete memories

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. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #192

Artificial Snowstorm

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. 

Skiing Is Believing

cartographic October

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?

5. Bargains

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.  

On The Temporal Nature of Loss

burnt house

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.

Cold, Snow and the Fire in My Soul

Snowy Blueberries

Is it the Northern European and Highlander blood romping wildly through my veins? And that bit o’ Japanese blood found cavorting there; clearly it must hail from one of that island country’s many mountain ranges. For I cannot deny, nor would I want to, that I am a woman in love … with winter.

In the summertime, I hold my breath until it rains. Here, there are long stretches of time during which nothing wet falls from the clouds. If we are lucky enough to have any clouds. I grow bored of the blue-on-blue backdrop, the scorched and arid air. It is not very interesting. And then there are the rampant wildfires with that angry, maraschino cherry of a sun.

When summer finally ends, I am pleased as punch to see it retreat in a cowardly and vapid puff of dust. Good riddance to friable rubbish! And should 55⁰F still feel downright chilly, burr, go grab a sweater. Start adding to your coffers of rounds and splits and kindling. Chastise yourself repeatedly for not worrying about your firewood needs earlier in the season, like you always plan to do. Worry about it, get over it and then get on it. It will warm you up.

Graciously by mid-September, the days have cooled and the nights are chill. Soppy stuff falls from the gathering clouds in big, fat, confident dollops. A little more time passes and October clip-clops in, riding in his pumpkin carriage — no glass slippers here! And thank my Lucky Stars, snuggling up to October, draped in puffy white fleece and sucking on purple popsicles, is the delirious Promise of Winter.

Firewood has been split and carefully stacked under cover. Chimneys and stovepipes cleaned by the man who travels way up here from way down-valley, wearing a stovepipe hat and with a smudge of ash on his pointy nose. I stop holding my breath and release an overdue and hearty sigh, a sigh that looks like my papa’s pipe smoke spiraling upward in the Jack Frost air.

Praise Earl, god of weather, two-dog nights are fast on autumn’s heels and champing — never chomping — at November’s bit. Ready the hot wax! Add to your quiver of skis if fortune has smiled graciously upon your rosy cheeks! Damn if 22⁰F begins to feel toasty. Know that eventually 12⁰F will become blessedly doable if you are splitting more rounds or skinning up the mountain. Then, somehow make the negative numbers work.

Make certain to take midnight kick-and-glides in the light of the bright and waxing moon. Do not use your headlamp. Slide your fish scales across the mountain highway deep with snow and long since closed for the season. Gather a few good friends and bring along a thermos of blueberry
tea, a hot, adult beverage that has nothing to do with blueberries and yet tastes magically of the delicious fruit. A very adventuresome friend of mine proclaims, Everything’s better with booze. And while this may be an arguable point, it makes us laugh.

Watch as disembodied, reflective eyes mystically hover two feet above the glacier-blue and mica-garnished surface. Lynx in the sky with diamonds.

Much later, go on home, stoke the woodstove, sleep like a puppy.

The season becomes circular: shovel-shovel, split-stack, skin-ski, shovel-shovel, sleep. Grow quick and sinewy, in spite of the extra calories consumed. Snow and firewood management grow muscles. Skiing grows wings.

I dread the encroachment of late spring, with the threat of fierce and fiery summer lurking in its shrinking shadows, biting viciously at its heels. With some amount of sorrow, I anticipate the holding of my breath.

At the end of an extended winter season, across the border in northern Cascadia, when the cold and snow continued late and well into spring, nay nearly into summer, while many grew weary of the lingering cold and less enthusiastic about the promise of greening hills, an absent fire season and an increased water table, my dear and very adventuresome friend Anne called out heartily into the grey and frigid air, eyes skyward, fists clenched, Grow me some glaciers!

Acclimated.

Blueberry Tea for a Moonlit Ski

1 oz. Amaretto

2 oz. Grand Marnier

Lemon Peel

Piping Hot Earl Gray Tea

Absolutely No Blueberries

Pour piping hot Earl Gray tea steeped with lemon peel into thermos.

Add measurements of Amaretto and Grand Marnier for each full cup of tea.

Gently swirl.

Serve hot, while moving across snow, under the light of a shining moon.

Senior correspondent Tricia M. Cook is an avid wolf preservationist who lives in the North Cascades of Washington State.

Mountain Acts

mountain acts

We motored along the Peak-to-Peak Highway a few miles south of Ward, CO, I in my silver Honda S2000 with the convertible top presciently up and my friend in his red Mazda Speed 3. In my rearview mirror, I caught the blinking of his directional signal. I pulled over onto the hissing shoulder as he rolled beside and through the open passenger window asked, “Hey, you wanna switch cars?”

I replayed this brief exchange many times in my brain during the days that followed, but it seemed so normal, I couldn’t remember much of it. And then the Van-Gogh-looking man behind the wheel of the red Mazda lustily licked his lips, and with a sharp twist of the wrist, cranked the car stereo and sang drunkenly along with Morrison who was singing the swinging shit out of the “Roadhouse Blues” chorus and “Let it roll, baby, roll!”  

That would’ve been more appropriate. Much of the time, fiction makes more sense. I guess, because it’s created to make sense. Real life, not so much, especially when we act upon the mountain, or perhaps more accurately, when the mountain acts upon us. We don’t huddle up with our ski buddies just after we’ve hiked to the summit of Breckenridge’s Peak 8 and ask, “OK, guys, now what experience would logically follow this one?”

I didn’t want to switch cars. We were at the tail end of a spirited early Sunday morning drive — if you have a yen for sports cars, a mountain road is only a mountain road when no other cars are upon it — and I had already blown my automotive wad gunning over the ridges and snaking the tight twisties of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We were just cruising now, just cruising, like when you’ve been skiing the back bowls all day and then doing your best to enjoy the long and traversing run across the front side of the mountain so you can get back to your car. We would dip down through Ward, where the elements of nature transfigure the residents’ many rotting cars into roadside art, and then onto Left Hand Canyon Drive, which would drop us back into Boulder.

Six or so years before, he and I were returning to Boulder along this same stretch of the Peak-to-Peak after skiing a blustery day at Eldora. We had passed one or two of the marked-if-you-know-what-you-are-looking-for turnoffs between Nederland and Ward when he made a sweeping gesture with his right hand and said, “Back in high school, I almost got laid down one of these roads.” So many people are so full of shit that I tend to trust a person who says he “almost got laid” down a mountain road in high school. If a 21st century John Denver ever appears (I can’t be the only one sort of curious), I hope he writes songs like that.

We switched cars. It was about quarter of eight, which to me is a bittersweet part of the day, a time when the innocence of the morning dissipates in the glare of the sunlight and all the things we have to do in it. Still, it was quite pleasant gliding downhill through the gentle S-turns with Left Hand Creek roaring just outside the passenger’s window. Gliding next to running water, I become it, and there’s a slight, quasi-suicidal urge to let go of the wheel. Let the car feel the way for me.

I passed a man on my left walking downhill on the shoulder. Five hundred feet ahead, the road dipped slightly to reveal a shallow left-hand bend around a cropping of rock. “Not a great place to go for walk, my man,” I thought. I made the shallow left turn and then in the rearview saw my silver Honda S2000 rolling six feet in the air toward the shoulder of the uphill lane like a trained dolphin in a Sea World show.

Did I really just see that!?

I don’t know about you, but, these days, whenever I have the “Is-this-really-happening?” feeling, it’s a bad thing, as in really bad. When I was young, I did have two or three positive versions of this feeling, for instance, the two weeks in eighth grade when Sue Muller (who had actual breasts that pressed into me the one time we kissed) decided she could stoop below her station and date me — until that bus ride home from the school field trip, during which she asked me if I liked Judas Priest. The positive version of the Is-this-really-happening experience is mostly a young-person thing, caused as it is by an explosion of newness. When newness explodes around me now, it usually takes out something I sort of liked having around.

In the 30 seconds it took me to turn around, my friend had gotten out of the car. He had a respectable cut on his forehead right at the hairline (where his head most likely hit the road when the car rolled), but he moved good. The S2000 sagged on the right shoulder, like a crouching jungle cat vainly denying that its front legs have been crushed by a high fall. It pointed downhill, as if ready to go on. Then it died. It did what it was supposed to in a rollover and died. Windshield cracked but not shattered, all four tires blown, the tops of the front wheels canted seriously inward, right front and rear panels crushed, the frame surely bent beyond repair. Totaled, no question.

The dude we had passed walking (Good Samaritan Mountain Man, as it turns out) ran down to us. “I didn’t see it, but I heard it — are you alright?” GSMM asked my friend, who now seemed to be trippin’ on adrenaline and consequence: walking in tight circles, many “Dan, I’m-so-sorrys,” running his hand through the back of his hair like guys do when distracted or nervous. I told GSMM the car belonged to me. He took that in and replied, “Well — I’m not saying that you should tell your insurance company you were driving. I’m just saying that I didn’t see it.”

I understand you perfectly well, Good Samaritan Mountain Man. No witnesses. 

They stared at me for my decision. I remember wishing for more time as I stared back at them. Few cars passed this early, and the lean, androgynous cyclists from Boulder still needed 15 minutes to climb this high. I, too, began to freak at this point, but some part of me while on that wide shoulder smelled the fresh mountain morning, heard Left Hand Creek susurrating just a stone’s throw away, and thought “Jesus, this would be a pleasant place to be right now — if my friend hadn’t almost crushed his skull while totaling my car and the Smokeys weren’t about to roll up with their measuring wheels and their “Are you the owner of the vehicle, sir?” and other questions of that sort.

Like most people (but unlike my dad), I will usually lie if it will save me tons of cash. Yet, in the moments I was wrestling with whether or not I should tell my insurance company that I was driving, so as not to get ratscrewed out of the 20 grand necessary to replace my now scrap-heap of a car, a feeling shot through me that I simply couldn’t lie about anything this weird. Lying would have meant we were guilty, that we shouldn’t have been out there on the mountain. Lying would have cheapened the experience. The feeling, which was really resonating now, told me I couldn’t do that. The mountain punted my car off the road, and I had to tell the truth about it.

“I gotta go with the truth on this one, I gotta tell them you were driving,” I said to my friend upon whom I had just laid another brick of freak-out. “It just feels right.”

I grabbed my cell and, of course, had no service. I didn’t hear it, but I’m sure the mountain chuckled at this.

“You can use my phone. I live just up the way,” said Good Samaritan Mountain Man.

We drove him up to his place in my friend’s car. A one-room house with many windows and a hardwood floor. It reminded me of a large studio apartment, but, you know, on the mountain. No woman to be seen or presence felt. GSMM apparently read a lot, pop fiction mostly. Inconvenient for sure, but I had to take a dump, so I asked GSMM if I could use his bathroom. Somewhat apologetically, he said that he didn’t have a bathroom, but an outhouse. “But don’t worry, it’s clean.”

I walked up a winding path through some aspens to the outhouse. As advertised, it was commodious and clean with a windowed door that offered a nice little view of the pined canyon. One minute, you’re calculating the best line through a corner, and, the next, you are shitting with a view in GSMM’s outhouse.

My conversation with the representative of the insurance company grounded me. An experience doesn’t become truly real until we tell someone else about it. She told me to go down and stay with the car. Apparently, Smokeys don’t like it when people leave the scene of an accident, especially ones involving a convertible sports car that has obviously rolled a few times. We thanked GSMM and went down to the car to wait for Smokey.

To get out of the sun, we sat on a large, shaded rock across from the wreckage, and suffered the rolling commentary of Boulder cyclists. We felt guilty because we looked guilty. I mean, how could that much damage have been visited upon the car without us having done something completely boneheaded? I felt as if I were 15 again and waiting for my dad to pick me up, having been busted for pot or vandalism or some other stunt that only teenaged boys think they can get away with.

“Is everyone OK?” Yup, everybody’s fine. Just dandy.”

“Oh wow! That car is TOTALED!” Thanks for noticing. Please keep pedaling.

“You guys should have a party tonight and celebrate the fact that you’re alive.” Not a bad idea, actually. And while we are at it, we should toast that you are alive, dear Boulder cyclist. If you had been precisely where you are now during my friend’s flying dolphin act, you would have been gruesomely crushed. But let’s not mention that to the wives, OK?

A Boulder County sheriff’s deputy eventually rolled up. She sat in the cruiser for a few minutes, undoubtedly running my plates and analyzing the situation for herself, before asking the two clowns on the rock what had caused the accident. We crossed the road and stood in front of the automotive corpse and waited. She swung the cruiser’s door open and stepped out. On her proudest day, she maybe stood 5’3”. Aviator sunglasses dominated her face. If she had breasts, she had hidden them somewhere.

She walked over to us, slow and measured, which in my mostly law-abiding experience, is the only way cops walk. She asked who owned the car and what had happened.

Who knows why the mountain does what it does? We certainly didn’t, but you gotta tell a Smokey something. Our best guess was that, as my friend moved through the middle of the shallow left bend, a large rock rolled off the mountain and lodged itself in the right front suspension first causing the back end to come out and then the car to roll. I agree — a pretty much bullshit explanation. The deputy asked my friend how fast he was going. “About 25,” he replied.

The deputy walked (s l o w l y) over to the bend and did her measurements from all various angles with her wheely thingy. She came back over. “You weren’t doin’ no 25 — that’s bullshit,” she informed my friend and then pointed to my crushed jungle cat of a car. “That wouldn’t have happened at 25. The speed limit here is 35 mph and you were doin’ 40 or so. The rest of your story checks out, though. Seems like you hit a rock. The county may contact you about replacing the road sign you took out, then again, they might not.”

And with that she was gone. He wasn’t ticketed.

“Cal,” the chipper tow truck driver, arrived. I walked over to the S2000, leaned in under the convertible top that looked like a mountain troll had whacked it with a sledgehammer and placed my right hand on the dash. “You’ve been a great car, and I’m sorry it has to end this way.” That was all I had time for. Cal was backing up the truck, and my friend was waiting to drive me home.

A few years ago, I read an unpublished piece by writer and colleague David J. Rothman in which he stated that the “mountains…are not scenery; they are a cause, in the sense that they actually make things happen.” The mountain certainly acted upon me that morning. Instead of feeling maligned, though, I feel sort of chosen.

I continue my high-revving mountain practice and, drive by drive, come to understand the mountain’s action.

Daniel Brigham taught writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His essays appear regularly in the Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera.

Ephedra

Ephedra Cover

With summer hitting full stride in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Ideas Festival crowd turned into more of a Mountain Fair crowd, and instead of contemplating the economic value of a human life, I find I am contemplating the value of a poetic life. Partially spurring these thoughts have been two recent local poetry readings from the late-Karen Chamberlain’s posthumously published book, “Ephedra.” While I am not the first to say I miss Karen — who served for many years as Mountain Gazette’s poetry editor — I might possibly be the first to hope she really is just late, and maybe so wonderfully late, she will miraculously appear at a poetry reading, barn raising, horse dusting or goose-inspired fly-by.

Or perhaps, while collecting stinging nettles or yarrow, or plucking small wild strawberries, which are, at this very moment, very ripe, and very very tasty, I’ll look up and she’ll be there, smiling, the dusty desert and mountain babe of my dreams, second only to the salty surf and mountain babe of my reality. Until that time when Karen might appear, I’ve been reading and thumbing through the pages of “Ephedra” the same kind of way I might be reading and thumbing my way through the West. And what I have found in Karen’s collection, among poems dedicated to James Tate, Louis Simpson and Larry Levis (I have a bumpersticker on the back of my manly black Ford Ranger 4×4 that says “I heart Larry Levis”), are poems about real places and real people. OK, maybe not “Yerokastrinos,” which I wasn’t able to find in either Google or the Encyclopedia Britannica, though it captures both Greece and the feeling of longing in a particularly sweet, dark-red-pear kind of way. And who doesn’t love poems about real places and real people?

In “Medicine Women,” Karen takes us on a rooted, ridiculous and incredibly spiritual journey centered around sponge-capsule animals, of the variety you put in a glass of water and watch the gel capsule dissolve and the sponge saturate (along with mini-stories about the healing and strengthening of the three women). In “The Holy Fool of Bahia Kino,” Karen seeks a humane, human and spiritual connection with a boy who her friend describes as the village idiot, but who Karen listens to use the language of beauty to connect with both a dog and herself. Karen ends the poem by saying: “…Hapless boy,/ wronged by wonder…/ tomorrow I must leave the sea, drive/ the road of broken glass and dead tortoises,/ turn north toward the border. Then, even more,/ I’ll want for whatever’s wrong with you/ to be what’s wrong with me.”

So what’s the value of a poetic life? Everything. And then some. And then some more. As the old adage goes, you might even be one and not know it. A poetic life is like a bluegrass band wailing away on center stage with a sweaty audience dancing their hearts out. A bottomless dish of elephant ears, sno-cones and curried lentils. The righteous and valiant forward thinkingness of Carbondale’s Green Team, bio-degradable everything and coalitions that protect us against thoroughly fracking up the environment. But I digress. “Ephedra” captures, if ever so briefly, the life and lens of one of our very own poets. If we may claim her. And I think she would be generous enough to let us. One who graced many of us with her presence, and continues to grace us with this collection of poetry.

“Ephedra” is available through People’s Press, peoplespress.org, and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, www.aspenwriters.org.

Cameron Scott is a freelance writer, teacher, and a fly-fishing guide out of Basalt, CO. If you have leftovers, he will eat them.

Way of the Mountain: #192

In celebrating MG’s 40th year of publication, we thought to reach back to one of our most beloved poetry editors — Karen Chamberlain of the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs) — as this issue’s featured poet. Production issues led to a postponement of the poetry column to this October issue. We teased you on the cover of Aug./Sept. issue (blame Fayhee!) and here’s the real deal.

Karen’s work certainly embodies the Way of the Mountain that Dolores LaChapelle of Silverton championed. In 24989, we were both awarded a Colorado state arts fellowship in poetry (back when the state had an arts program). Karen was such a gracious soul. She loved poetry. She encouraged young writers. Maybe her greatest passion was for the wild — from Mt. Sopris and the Southern Rockies to Utah’s slickrock canyon country. She wrote a lot, won awards, but published only sparingly, although she generously published many of us in MG’s pages.

It’s wonderful that the People’s Press of Aspen has posthumously issued a collection of poems Karen had completed just before her passing, “Ephedra.” They’ve agreed to let us publish one of the poems from the collection in these pages. For more information on the book, an inspiration to all of us who love peaks and poetry, visit www.theephedracollection.com

Oh, yes, and what’s with the strange dates in this column, you are asking? As an earth-based spiritualist, I find the Christian calendar inappropriate for my worldview. So, I’ve created a Ancient North American Calendar (ANAC) that takes my keeping count back to one best-science guess at the millennium when humans first stepped into the New World of North and South America (names that memorialize European notions and explorers — maybe North and South Turtle Island would be more fitting). And then I’ve coordinated the ending date to match the Christian calendar, so we can begin the transition away from the Julian/Gregorian and into a new calendar system appropriate for our current understanding of this ancient world. Happy 25012.

— Art Goodtimes
Cloud Acre

White Lady

Sleepless before dawn
a woman opens the mirror
into her medicine cabinet, stands
for long minutes
leaning against the sink,
staring at the contents
arranged wearily
behind her face.

— Karen Chamberlain,
from “Ephedra” (25012)

For Don Lumpkin
(24922-25011)

Looking back
after cleaning out
my parents’ apartment:
Golden dust motes dancing
inside an empty room

— Kirk Lumpkin
El Cerrito

Stone Trail

A stark white slate of stone
abruptly faces me.
It waits, demands
I face myself
stripped to stark
white bone.

— Barbara Test
from “Raw Potatoes” (25011)
Denver

no temple bells
still the crow goes on
about awe, awe

— Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Placerville

SAR

The pager wailed and we gathered
headlamps probing the inky night.
Four-wheelers inserted us deep
into Coal Canyon. We never practiced
folding a once-warm form
into a black, zippered coffin.

— Richard Scott
Walla Walla

Untrainable SEAL

What a kick, carousing
in “big city” To-Hell-U-Ride

with fellow eco-roustabouts
who survived the Sixties

which used to mean San
Francisco, only to morph into

AARP AARP
most of my best friends

— Capt. Barefoot
Kuksu Brigade (Ret.)

Emergence

to the west
a mass of undifferentiated grey

to the east
a flock of small white clouds

half wolf, half sheep
scudding sunward

somewhere in between
a place of letting go

— Tony Alcantara
Carbondale

Summerville Trail

Talus slope
Chirping marmot
Bear? Me? Both?

— Joseph Van Nurden
Gunnison

Spectacular Mountain Country Club

Gated Ski Lodge

There are two strikingly stylish people behind the desk. One man. One woman. Both are helping the V.I.L.P. (Very-Important-Looking-Person) in front of me. I wait. Patiently. Looking for information brochures. Not wanting to be here any longer than absolutely necessary.

Suddenly, I begin to worry about all the things to which I rarely pay any mind. Should I take off my ski hat now that I’m inside? How many white dog hairs are visible on my maroon wool sweater? Insecurities peak their heads out where they rarely do. For how many days in a row have I worn these Carhartts? Maybe I should have shaved? Such odd, unusual thoughts and feelings.

I glance around at the spotless décor. The cathedral ceiling. The imitation rustic lodge feel. The shiny black Range Rover from Connecticut parked just outside the two large, imposing wooden doors. The whiny, middle-aged (but not admitting it to herself) white woman in the impeccable one-piece ski outfit with matching make-up, struggling to control/talk to/be with her two pre-teen children. They, struggling to grow up and remain children at the same time, already having more than enough to contend with without the added pressures of this first-class second-home asylum.

My thoughts are interrupted by a phone ringing. The stylish woman behind the desk answers it after a couple of rings. Fashionably late, I guess. “Good afternoon.  Spectacular Mountain Country Club.” Her voice sings to the caller on the other end. In my mind, I picture a secretary calling for an executive on Wall Street. He too busy wearing his three-piece suit to be bothered. Or a young trophy wife in Fairfield County, telling the Latino nanny to keep her kids quiet. Rolling her eyes in dismay, at her nanny, at her kids, at her life/style. “Well, we are currently putting names on a waiting list. You could be #82.”

I wonder how long it will take for someone to address me. To at least ask me what I’m doing here. I wonder how long I would wait, unnoticed, before finally giving up and leaving. The seconds tick by like hours.

This is an exhausting environment.

I think about my pick-up, parked outside in a spot that threatens the penalty of towing if it is not removed after fifteen minutes. I try not to worry.

I take a quick but deep and reassuring breath.

I try to look like I belong. I do, in a way. I’m no stranger to the growing annoyances of the New England ski mountain experience. The generically groomed trails of blue ice. The over-crowded lodge bursting at the seams with some of the most-entitled people you’d never want to meet. The impending unreality of its gated-community feel. The weekend warriors trying too hard to make it all seem worth it. When it’s not.

Something has gone wrong. Terribly wrong. This place is out of control. It needs to be reined in. I figure I may as well try. Do my part. And they know it. They know I’ve forsaken them. That I’m refusing to play the game. I’m not fooling anybody.

In the pit of my stomach is the growing nausea of being surrounded by so much plasticity. So much fakeness. I’m sure the proverbial pink elephant must be just around the corner, waiting for someone to notice it. The absurdity of this place.

The stylish woman hangs up the phone and glances over at the stylish man, who is still helping the V.I.L.P. We both know the stylish man doesn’t need any assistance. Dejectedly, she turns my way and smiles.

“May I help you?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“Hi. Yes. I’m looking for information on the club. The folks at the main desk suggested I try the desk here.”

She looks puzzled. Or annoyed. Or both. Obviously, the inferiors at the main desk hadn’t followed the proper protocol. They are never to tell someone to come here to get information. Interested parties are to use the elusive website or make a phone call only.  No face-to-face interactions. No Nobodies wandering in off the street. (Or slope.) That bothers the clients of the prestigious Spectacular Mountain Country Club. It makes them feel like they are part of a dynamic environment. It destroys the illusion that they are impervious to society’s Unknowns. Like me, wandering into their space, looking like I don’t belong. Which I pray is true.

“Do you want to be a member?” She tries not to look stunned.

“Yes,” I lie.

“Well, not surprisingly, we’re at full capacity. And there’s about an eighty-person waiting list.” Her tone is firm. Her message clear: Go away. You aren’t welcome here.

I try to remain undismayed. “Well, at this point, I’m really just looking for information. What does being a member in the club entail?”

She reaches for a sheet of information-packed official stationary, hands it to me, and highlights the most exclusive privileges. “Well, there’s a private ski lodge, complete with Lunatic, a fine-dining restaurant that is open to the public on a limited basis” (how did they let that happen? I wonder). “And there are private lockers and changing rooms with showers, private underground parking and valet parking, and a ski valet during the winter season. As well as the usual concierge service, to assist with tee times, ski school, dinner reservations and babysitters.”

The middle-aged woman with the two kids looks like she could use some assistance from the concierge. “Wow. That’s a lot,” I manage.

She manages to continue smiling at me. Eager, I’m sure, to get back to something or somebody else. I think about tipping her when I leave, just to mess with her, then reconsider.

“There is, of course, a one-time fee of $20,000, plus the annual membership fee,” she states matter-of-factly. “If you’d like to leave a check for the $5,000 deposit, and fill out this form, I can put you on the waiting list.”

It takes all of my self-control not to drop to the floor, laughing at the ridiculousness of this request. “Oh. I don’t have my checkbook with me,” I manage.

She doesn’t look the least bit surprised. “I see. Well, I can give you this Waiting List Request Form, and you can mail it in later with your check,” she continues, obviously well trained.

“Yes. That would be fine.” I try to sound self-important. Which is more difficult than I would have thought. “Thank you for your time.” Enough is enough. Time to exit this strange unreality.

She nods. Smiling. Always smiling. “Have a nice day.”

I manage to return the fake smile, look around in dismay one more time, and head out through the imposing doors, half expecting security to be waiting on the other side. (They wouldn’t want to disturb the patrons of the Spectacular Mountain Country Club.)

“Would you please come with us, sir,” they would command, in the kind of tone the V.I.L.P. being assisted at the front desk wished he could employ.

“Is there a problem, officers?” I would respond, noticing that my car was being towed.

“Not if you come with us, sir,” they would politely threaten.

I would be afraid.

They would bring me to a secret room with no windows, located somewhere deep under the frosted ground, far beneath the heated sidewalks of the ski village. They would charge me with being a nuisance in a rich person’s playground.

But I do manage to avoid security. This time.

Pete Redington lives in western Massachusetts, where he is a regular contributor to the Valley Advocate. Visit him at redingtonpete.com