Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #193

San Francisco Ski Show

Used Shoes, San Francisco Ski Show 1976

In the course of auditing my tax account, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that I was allowed to take a deduction for one pair of skis a year, but could not deduct my boots. As they saw the matter, the boots could be conceivably be used for purposes other than skiing. What those other purposes were was not clear. My attorney made the analogy with his three-piece suit, which he was required to wear in the courtroom, even through he only appeared in court only about once a year. It was necessary for his profession, but could be worn places other than in the courtroom, so was not deductible.

I can hardly see myself clomping into a courtroom in my Lange boots, or being able to sit comfortably as a juror for any considerable length of time. Or wearing a three-piece suit in a snowstorm, for that matter, although it may already have been done. So there you are, ski boots are not deductible.

If “skiing” is not a sport, but a “way of life,” then ski boots are not sporting goods, but life-supporting goods, so they should be chosen with care, and made to last. Which is how they were originally made — leather starched over a last — until Hans Heierling’s hands were no longer enough to sew the elephant hide he used in his last boots. Thus began, by default, the era of plastic. At last, or so we thought.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

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. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision

Bob Chamberlain's Mountain Vision

When I first met her, Keeney’s highest aspiration was to move to Paris and become a Lady of the Evening, or of the Morning, for that matter. A French Afternoon was all very pleasant, but it was still lacking, somehow.

In the even, she went back to school, graduated and then went on to get a Master’s Degree in Anthropology. Her work on Pitcairn Island helped make her a world authority on the subject, with almost every citation under the heading in the Colorado University Library being, “Keeney, (such-and-such a date).” She even became embroiled politically through a BBC interview concerning child sexual abuse by elderly male island residents. As a result, several older men were arrested by New Zealand authorities, tried, sentenced and incarcerated on some other Polynesian island. No French Afternoons here.

After a couple of years teaching English and yoga in Micronesia, she can now be found in Park City, where she teaches English as a Second Language, and presumably studies the local ski culture. An Absurd princess in an Absurd world

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Mountain Vision #189

Savage Basin

Savage Basin, Imogene Pass 1979

When I was in junior high, I once walked from Manitou Springs to the top of Pikes Peak, non-stop, by way of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, and returned by the same route, after a couple of hours of hypothermic fits and altitude sickness, and swore I would never do it again. As far as mountain climbing was concerned, this would have to be it. There would be no more.

I slept for two days after that, waking only to wolf down a T-bone steak and collapse into bed again. Lactic acid froze my body into a contorted position, from which I could not rise, and it was several days before I could walk correctly. Sir John Hunt would have to do without me.

The change in altitude had been extreme; from a summer of sailing in Minnesota at, say, 800 feet to 6,000 feet for two days, and then to 14,000 feet. Acclimatize if you can; it was Mountain Baptism.

So, when Lito proposed skiing to Ouray from Telluride, I naturally jumped at the chance. What is a poor boy from the plains to do?

Karen insisted on hiking in low-cut cross-country boots, and only later did I surmise that it was because of her congenitally mangled feet. Alone, and kicking her own steps, she resolutely soldiers on. The Inch-Worm Technique, Lito insists, will always get you there.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Mountain Vision #188

Ashes on the Colorado Utah • 1979

It’s not the River Ganges; these are only campfire ashes they’re spreading on the waters, and these guys are not really panning for souls, either. However, the ashes of a couple of close relatives would eventually be committed to these
headwaters, anyway.

My mother in this way hoped to meet up with my father again, even though he was given to the sea off-shore of Monterey Bay.

I released Karen at the same spot on the Roaring Fork River, near its confluence with MacFarlane Creek, east of Aspen. It always was a matter of catch-and-release with her, anyway. It’s Gold Medal Waters. ‘Nuff said.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Mountain Vision #187

The Road Nevada 1967
The Road, Nevada 1967


Desert rendezvous, westbound; destination Pacific Ocean. You can’t drive to the island, and it’s too far to swim. Time to make the Pierhead Leap. Start scanning the horizon. Feel the Earth turn as the Sun sets and stars come out. That’s where we’re going.

Where water out of an iron pipe is warm enough to shower. Where winter is two days with louvered windows closed and wearing socks. Where Christmas is a refrigerated ship container of trees, tied in bundles, and a stack of Coors beer in the entrance to the liquor store, which disappears before it can be stocked in coolers.

Where time is what you see in the sky. The Clouds of Magellan are where we’re headed, every night, standing South, South-by-Sou’west, a-quarter-South, and in the fo’csle bunk below, the sound of the sea rushing past.

But the Colorado River is “Closed to Navigation,” so we drive.


Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Mountain Vision #186

Independence Pass, 1976Independence Pass, 1976

Love me. Love my dog. Oh, I do, I do! He was left behind with Karen when his owner left for South Africa to meet their boy-friend-in-common, ostensibly to finish sailing around the world.

His name was Bear, he had a displaced hip, and was about twelve or fourteen when he was shot by the Telluride town marshal, for being on the loose and chasing a Great Dane bitch in heat.

It happened in someone’s back yard, about two or three blocks from our house, with the dog catcher looking on helplessly and crying out, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” — at which the plaintiff, also present, replied, “If he doesn’t, I will!” The marshal shot the dog over the back yard fence, but even at that didn’t kill him, only wounded his other hip, so he couldn’t stand. They loaded him, alive, in the back of the dog catcher’s station wagon, and drove out of town and threw him, still alive, over the steep embankment that drops right down to the San Miguel River.

The marshal immediately left town to attend a law-enforcement convention in Grand Junction, and it was a day-and-a-half before we could reach him by phone. When we finally did, he told Karen emphatically that not only did he not owe us an apology, but he would do the same thing again, if he ever had the chance.

We got the law changed, to prevent a recurrence, but they had Won the West. We are West of Dodge, after all. A dog is just an emotional “Sink”, we were advised.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #185

Mica Creek, BC Canada, 1974Mica Creek BC Canada, 1974

After this picture was taken, Narcisse had the misfortune of skiing into a crevasse-like chasm created by creep of the entire snowpack. He fell eight feet onto the wet grass at the bottom of the crevasse. He landed on the point of his shoulder, which separated, and had to be reduced on the spot by one of the guides, who, in his turn, had to churn uphill, sidestepping rapidly through the deep snow to reach him.

I, for my part, skied too close to a tree-well, collapsed the shoulder of the well, and tumbled out of sight and head first into the snow-free column of air next to the trunk, one ski below, with a twist in one ankle. With a teeth-clenched lunge I was able to reach one binding and release it, only to find myself hanging upside-down from the ski above me, dangling by an Arlberg strap and the full length of the front-throw cable, which had come free of its side-hitches.

I was able to pull myself upward slowly and carefully, hand over hand, until I could reach the ski itself. Then I hauled the other ski up from below, and began to build a platform using both skis, which might be able to support my full weight. I could hear the sounds of  the second group skiing past, but realized that I would never be able to make myself heard through the thickness of the snowpack, even though I could hear them.

As I thrashed around with my skis, I was suddenly inundated by a cascade from above which threatened to choke off both air and light. At first I thought it must have been some sort of slide set off by passing skiers, but when it finally stopped, I could tell it was caused by one of those enormous, snow-burdened branches above me, unloading its full weight all at once. Coughing and spitting, I first knelt, then stood up on my shaky skis, and began to climb out of the hole.

I knew that the first group, of which I had been a member, was long-gone down the hill, and that the second group, although they had just been here, was also not waiting for anyone. If I could follow just the right set of tracks, at least I could hope to get to where the helicopter had been, even if it in fact was not still there.

It was there, alright, with everybody aboard except for a couple of the guides. I had been in the fast group, and then the slow group, and then the fast group again. Now they took me aside and told me that they had decided that, if I wanted to continue to ski the way that I skied, on the skis that I skied on, that I should get my own helicopter, and my own ski guide.

Not such a bad idea.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 


Mountain Vision #184

Mountain Vision by Bob Chamberlain: San Francisco Ski Show, 1966

Death of GLM San Francisco ski Show, 1966

These are last year’s rental skis, dumped on the ski show market to clear current stock, a precursor event to the modern disposable ski. Santa, please don’t send me any 150s or 165s, even if they’re shaped, fat, mid-fat, wide, double-ended, reverse-cambered, with duck-foot tips, and split-tails. The Graduated Length Method died because no one ever graduated. Why bother to go to First Grade when Kindergarten is so much fun?

I once demo’d a pair of 205 Miller Softs, and my first turn was a 360. Gymnastics and stunts do not skiing make. I finally got a pair of 207 VR-7s, but just for teaching. The Luddites did have a point, you know. Long skis, wooden boats and B&W film, that’s my bumpersticker. A Jeep is my vehicle, and a stick-shift is my drive.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #183

At the Mad Dog. Aspen, 1966At the Mad Dog. Aspen, 1966

Here’s Pierre, taking stock of his life: He’s got the job on the Mountain, with plenty of time to ski, a place to live, and his “Honey” to take out dancing when he wants, and enough change in his pocket to have a beer or two in the bar. This is it.

So here he is, contemplating the seasons still to come, and wondering how long he can continue to do this, how long before too many people make it impossible. And what about Taos, when will it be time to move on? To keep this happening, this life. Because this is “The Life.”

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.