The Original Mountain Slamdance

“Conversation didn’t seem necessary when I put the accordion down and swung some young lady around the floor.”
– Lawrence Welk

Pete Dunda performs outside in Crested Butte. Photo by Dawne Belloise

You’re wondering what a dance step ever had to do with dots. Or bubbles. Or what this has to do with mountain music. Maybe you remember how your elderly grandparents carried on about some guy named Welk with a bubble machine and his own orchestra and a TV show. Well, polka is back with a new fervor and it’s not just a geezer three-step anymore. The lively bounce has evolved into the modern equivalent of Slovenian slam dancing, drawing in younger crowds who grew up with mosh-pit ethics. Grab a brewski, a partner and twirl into the sea of musical bumper cars, because anyone who can count to three and is still breathing can polka. The trickiest part of the groove is not to slosh your beer on the downbeat, because the old timers on the floor frown upon wasted brew.

Early Central European immigrants, who came to mountain towns for work in the mines, brought with them musical traditions and culture that involved accordions, concertinas, horns and drums that broke into impromptu home jams and consequently ended up on packed barroom dance floors extending into the streets. You can bet the immigrants knew how to hold on to their drinks and their partners in the heat of the whirling oompah. Every mining town from the late-1800s into the 1900s had its own band composed mostly of the original work-hard/party-harder clan who hailed primarily from Croatia, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Germany, Ireland and Italy. After washing off the ore dust, they’d often grab their instruments and the entire family would head to the bar, which was an extension of the living room. Often, a toddler’s first steps were a three-step polka.

The Pete Dunda Band has been playing the polka-dancing circuit since 1976, but Pete’s been on the polka party scene for more than 40 years, taking accordion lessons since the age of seven — six-plus decades ago. Spanning a 23-year Air Force career as laser physicist and jet fighter pilot to being the ultimate polka king, Pete has continuously played various Rocky Mountain holiday events. He remembers earlier times in high-altitude bars. “It was very crowded and very wild in those days,’ he says. “At the early dances, you couldn’t move on Memorial Day … but the Fourth of July was obscene.”

The cultural generation gap was a bit wider then, as the old timers came to polka but the younger and newer locals and visitors would just want to bounce around spilling their beer all over everything and everyone. Pete remembers a quarter-inch of fermented amber liquid engulfing the entire floor and submerging the electrical cords for the band’s equipment just waiting to add even more spark to the already lively steps. “It got to be a drunk-out. Someone was going to get hurt on the dance floor,” he worried, but no one ever did, and the party was carried forward. These days the floors are jammed with all ages of dancers, couples young and old happily smashing into each other while laughing hysterically, like an upright rhythmic game of Twister between good neighbors.

Polka was probably invented by a Bohemian Polish peasant woman named Anna Slezak in a small country town outside of Prague in the early 1830s. It was composed to a folk song entitled, “Strycek Nimra Koupil Simla” (“Uncle Nimra Brought a White Horse”). Anna called the step “Madera” because of its quickness and liveliness, but “pulka” is Czech for “half-step,” which refers to the rapid shift from one foot to the other. The accordion, the backbone of the polka, was patented in 1829 and had only buttons and not the modern piano accordion with keys, which came into vogue around 1885.

After WWII, more German and Slavic immigrants to the United States brought their traditional folk songs and adapted them to polka mode as the craze of the ’50s brought various styles of polkas and the popularization of both the dance and the accordion. Names such as Yankovic, Cantino and Welk all put the dance on the floor and into the mainstream. Polka parties were held at local bars to celebrate the victories, homecoming and family. Jake Spritzer Sr., an old-timer from a mining family in Crested Butte, learned to polka as a young child, as his father played accordion. In those days, the Spritzer family had a band, but they would also play solo. “Nothing was planned,” Jake remembers. “They’d just sit down and do it. They were all very talented and several others around town also had instruments.”

Spritzer recalls how the locals would spill out into the streets dancing because, “The bars were so packed you couldn’t walk in or out. I was little, so I thought every town did this.”

Most mining-town populations in the Rockies did dance and play with abandon whenever they could carve a moment from their harsh real-world lives. Not only a stress relief from being cooped up in dark, dank mines all day, it was a celebration of memories of the old country. The homemade dandelion wine common and abundant in those days helped loose the feet and spirit. Back in the post-WWII days, the Fourth of July and Memorial Day were Jake’s favorites when, “Everyone would get together at each other’s houses and share lots of food. Everyone would stop over here and over there and accordions would be played.” It was a moving feast that ended up in the bars for a polka and a waltz.

It’s important to carry on tradition … being spun in tight circles while knocking back pints of libation in the swelter of a frothing dance floor where all that dizziness perhaps imitates love, invokes a collective memory of the old world and music that certainly makes everyone euphoric. Give in to your inner bohemian and save us a dance …

Check out the Pete Dunda Band at petedunda.com; for more info on the Rocky Mountains’ largest polka fest and club, visit bigskypolkaclub.com; in Colorado, the Edelweiss Club is a German dance organization with great info at tevedelweiss.org

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in a tiny cottage with a ginormous cat on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte’s paradise. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact dbelloise@gmail.com

Mayor McCheese, and mountain culture, missing

Leftover Salmon sans Mayor McCheese.

Leftover Salmon’s iconic Mayor McCheese has been missing since the new millennium went double digits: The 40-pound, three-foot-tall plastic figure disappeared on New Year’s Eve 2009/10 when Colorado’s self-described “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” musicians played at The Ogden in Denver.

Since the early 1990s, LOS toured with the McDonald’s playground figure, originally liberated from a Denver chain in the 1980s and granted custodial care to Leftover Salmon when a friend moved from Crested Butte. Audiences would work the cheeseburger head up to orbital warp speeds as its sesame-seed bun surfed mountain crowds far and wide.

Leftover Salmon fans regularly “stole” the Mayor, then returned it once they had their way with it — and the band had its way with the pranksters.

After one woman posed with the head — riding it naked — the musicians photocopied her picture with the caption, “Have you seen this cheeseburger?” and hung it on every telephone poll within a half-mile radius of their gig. (Luckily, she had the good sense to put a bag over her own head before straddling the infamous noggin).

Another gig gag in Washington led to a ransom note demanding 500 pounds of feed corn for the wide-grinning mascot. The corn worshippers ceremoniously returned the Mayor in full splendor, with a 30-piece marching band ushering him in. Little did the bar owner know that Leftover Salmon members made good on their end by passing out plentiful corn feed to the crowd, who expected the Mayor’s return that night. As the marching band came in, corn began a flyin’.

“It looked like a beehive for the next half hour in the room,” said Leftover Salmon front man Vince Herman. “We never played that venue again. They were a little pissed.”

The Mayor’s latest disappearance is perhaps symbolic of the changes Herman sees in mountain towns altogether: the vanishing of true ski-bum traditions.

“The early 1990s made a festering ski culture in Crested Butte,” Herman says as he recalls a 1990 boisterous gig at the Eldorado. “People were psyched to be on the mountain, the town was fun and cheap, and people slam danced. The faster the bluegrass, people went nuts because of what the ski towns were in the 1990s … they were really connected to each other; club owners were really tight, as the locals were. If we were starting the band today, I don’t think we could have that strong physical response. Now the mountains are populated by a different kind of ski bum. They have to have more jobs, they can’t buy a house — ski corporations are mainstream and not allowing the delicious divergence that once was … there’s a little less personality being brewed out there. We’re all becoming a little more white bread.”

And though Leftover Salmon hasn’t received ransom or any communication from the Mayor McCheese kidnappers, and the musicians “fear the worst” for their cheesy friend, Herman still maintains hope, for both the Mayor and ski town culture.

“I think the rowdiness of ski towns is ready to happen again because of the fall of the real estate market,” he said. “Mountain towns are where young people went to retire, and I think they can be again.”

River rats and ski bums alike can catch Leftover Salmon, most likely sans McCheese, June 12 at State Bridge near Bond, Colo. The band is playing at the Grand Re-opening party of the New State Bridge Amphitheatre (which officially opens May 28), after a fire destroyed the property in 2007.

Kimberly Nicoletti is the entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Silverthorne, CO.

Fourteeners and Fire Season

“Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs,” by Gerry Roach

Coloradan Gerry Roach has climbed about a million mountains. That’s not an exact number, but compared to most of us, it might as well be. Whatever the real number is, it’s so high that most of us have no concept of it. He’s climbed 1,200 named peaks in Colorado, including all the Thirteeners, and all the Fourteeners, which he completed in 1974. Most folks who move to Colorado’s Front Range spend their first winter here skiing, then buy Gerry Roach’s Fourteeners guide the next summer, when they realize they still want to do something cool in the mountains after the snow melts. This year, 12 years after the second edition of “Colorado’s Fourteeners,” Fulcrum Publishing is putting out the third edition of this bible of peak-bagging. This fatter edition adds another 70 pages, with new features of GPS coordinates and Roach’s own scoring system of mountain climbing, so you can keep track of your “R Points” as you tick off hikes. I don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s based on a peak’s elevation, length of the approach and climb in time and distance, elevation gain and technical difficulty of each pitch. The West Slopes on Mount Bierstadt, which you can climb with hundreds of people any Saturday during the summer, gets 140 R Points, while the 5.8 Prow on Kit Carson Peak gets 1,285 R Points. Still a steal at $22.95, with all the beta in here. www.fulcrum-books.com.

“Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout,” by Philip Connors

Philip Connors is the typical run-of-the-mill U.S. Forest Service employee. Except, you know, he can write like hell. His writing has appeared in such highbrow places as Harper’s, The Paris Review, The Nation and Salon.com. When he left a job as an editor at the Wall Street Journal to become a fire lookout 10 years ago, I’m sure he wasn’t hoping to get his hands on an adventure that would provide grist enough for him to write a book that would one day be reviewed in the Mountain Gazette. But here we are, and I’m not going to not use this opportunity to tell you this book is great, like Norman-Maclean-“Young-Men-and-Fire” great. Ruminations and history of wildfire, the Forest Service, work and solitude might make you jealous of Connors’ five-month-a-year job up in the lookout in the south part of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Like this: “Most of us, if we could change one thing, would either make our seasons longer or forego days off, the longer to enjoy our state of grace and the quicker to attain it. Once you can sit on a stool for an afternoon, unmoving and unmoved by anything but light on mountains, you have become a sensei of the sedentary and need answer to no one for it, except perhaps your husband or your wife.” Connors is wrapping up his book tour out West this month. $24.99, HarperCollins.com.

Portrait of the American Climber

Film: “Portrait of The American Climber”

Filmmaker Oakley Anderson-Moore’s father, Mark, was a “full-time” climber for 13 years starting in the early 1970s. He picked fruit during harvest seasons and climbed when he wasn’t picking fruit. In this incredibly exhaustive journalistic effort, she tries to capture that story, and an incredible amount of the other stories in the history of American climbing. By the time the film was finished, literally hundreds of people were involved in the grassroots effort — including the 50 or so legendary climbers interviewed, and the more than 150 donors who contributed upwards of $14,000 on Kickstarter.com. The film is so grassroots that the filmmakers stayed at my pal Lee’s house when they stopped by the American Mountaineering Center in Golden to do an advance screening. Climbers interviewed by the crew (who crossed the country to do many of them) include Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, John Gill, Allen Steck, John Bachar, Lynn Hill, John Long, Ron Kauk, Ed Webster, Peter Croft and Tommy Caldwell, just to name a few. Tons of fantastic historic footage, including the opening scene in the film, archival news footage of the first ascent party topping out on The Nose on El Capitan in 1958. Oakley’s father wasn’t a famous climber, but he’s sharing the stage with about every other famous climber in American history here. I’ve been excited for this movie to come out ever since the advance screening in November 2010. “Portrait of The American Climber” is a nice balance to compliment all the contemporary climbing films that celebrate the most-difficult-route-du-jour — we spend all this time looking forward in tiny increments, but not enough looking back at the pioneers who got climbing to where it is now. www.rockadventuremovie.com

Craft in Cans Float the Boat

Steve ‘Duder’ Kammerer, general manager at Steamworks Brewing Co., performs a difficult balancing act with cans of the Third Eye Pale Ale, Colorado Kolsch and Steam Engine Lager. Photo by Erich Hennig

Float-trip season is on, and for those of us lucky enough to have won a permit lottery, the arduous planning process has already begun. If, like me, you find that floating down some remote canyon on a 100-plus-degree day in Utah necessitates the life-saving presence of copious cans of ice-cold beverages, then you understand the complex nature of determining the correct quantity to pack. Failure to crack this nut results in the number of beers available on the raft being equal to the amount that you want to drink, minus one. This is completely unacceptable, and avoidance of this tragedy is a sound gauge of the relative experience level of the trip planner or river guide. Likewise, should you have the misfortune to witness glass bottles being loaded onto watercraft en masse, run like hell, as this is a sure sign that whomever is in charge has no fucking clue what they are doing. Glass on the river is about as cool as the presence of Cesium 137 in coastal Japanese waters.

My first experience of craft beer in a canned package happened in 2003 at a backyard BBQ in Boulder. Fishing through an icy cooler in the dark, I grabbed one of the remaining cans from the water, cracked it, and took a gulp. Expecting the piss-thin flavor of Milwaukee’s finest, I was completely shocked as a floral explosion of hop aroma and bitterness consumed my senses. Swallowing hard, I tipped the can and chugged the rest of the magic elixir, convinced I had found some rare and holy artifact. Clutching the empty, I staggered towards the lights from the house to ascertain the brand, in hopes that it was locally produced and that I would be able to find more in the morning. About that time, the hostess, known to some as “Evil Annie,” appeared with a huge funnel and hose contraption and a gallon of some railroad gin, which I believe consisted of cheap tequila mixed with Rufinol and turpentine. Regardless, waking up the next day, red-eyed and blurry, four words stood on the barren plain of my blasted brain like distant monuments on the desert horizon — Oskar Blues, Lyons, Colorado.

Since 2002, Oskar Blues has been packaging their brews in cans for the portability cans offer in outdoor recreation, and for the protection that the fully sealed and light-blocking package affords the beer inside. They currently offer five styles year-round in their 26-state distribution footprint, led by their flagship Dale’s Pale Ale. Oskar’s would like to invite all kayakers to the Lyons Outdoor Games to be held June 10-11, 2011, on the mighty St. Vrain River in downtown Lyons.

A long-time supporter of wild and scenic rivers, New Belgium Brewing Co. in Ft. Collins, CO, proudly supports conservation and preservation efforts on four western rivers through their Skinny Dip campaign, and recently via a $300,000 grant to SaveTheColorado.org, an effort to preserve the Colorado River flow. 2011 will be the third year that the brewery has released its flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale in 12-packs of cans, an effort that was pioneered with the help of Oskar’s in Lyons. Additionally, canned versions of Mothership Wit and Ranger IPA are available in Colorado and select Pacific Northwest markets.

Up in the Summit, Pug Ryan’s brewpub has entered the canning revolution, offering up their Pali Pilsner (named after a run at A-Basin), and the needs-no-explanation-for-the-name Morning Wood Wheat. Pug Ryan’s and the Dillon Business Association would like to invite you to the first-ever “Summit of Bluegrass and Brews” to be held at the beautiful Dillon Amphitheater on the June 24-25. Twenty-four breweries from across the Colorado will convene for two days of bluegrass music and craft beer on the shores of Dillon Reservoir.

For those of you lucky enough to be running the Smith in Montana or one of the arms of the Salmon through Idaho this summer, keep your eyes out for the multitude of canned craft brews proudly brewed under the Big Sky. Kettle House Brewing Co., of Missoula, MT, has recently expanded to 10,000bbl of annual production capacity, supporting their distribution in western Montana. Look for their Eddy Out Pale Ale, Double Haul IPA, and Cold Smoke Scotch Ale in the 16-ounce ”pounder” package. Missoula is also home to Big Sky Brewing Co., whose Trout Slayer Ale, and oft-imitated but never-equaled Moose Drool Brown Ale, are widely available in cans throughout the West.

If a lighter brew is your preference to beat the summer heat, Great Northern Brewing Co. of Whitefish, MT, markets canned sixers of its flagship Black Star Golden Lager in six states (MT, WA, OR, CA, AZ, NV), with Colorado to be added later this summer.

Got beer related-event news that should be included in the MG? Drop me a line: beer@mountaingazette.com

Cheers!

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners columnist for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #177

Local Apparent Lunchtime is one variable of celestial navigation that is usually possible to estimate with a great deal of accuracy. When you are not allowed to handle the oars, or raise a sail, and your craft is only an inflatable rubber life raft, your mind travels naturally toward something good to eat. At sea, after two weeks and some heavy weather, it’s a crisp salad with plenty of ripe tomatoes you’ll want. But on the river, it may be only a long drink of cool water, and a ham sandwich. Why a ham sandwich? Because given the choice between a ham sandwich and Eternal Bliss, the correct choice is a ham sandwich, since nothing is better than a ham sandwich!

Mountain Hootchie-Kooch Takes Off

Always threatened to run off and join the circus? Good news… it’s within the realm of possibility with even more options and you can stay based in your mountain home paradise. You can still run away and throw your hat, and most of your clothes for that matter, into the world of burlesque. It doesn’t matter what gender, age or body type, you can take off in your new chosen career in this traditional enticingly provocative musical strip tease revue that’s making a huge comeback in both mountain towns and cities. If you’re unfamiliar with real burlesque and its variety of entertainment, it is in essence Gogol Bordello meets Mae West at Cirque du Soleil and the entire evening is sabotaged by the Keystone Cops as Nina Simone sings from a second story cathouse window while brightly colored feathers rain down from the skies.

Photo by Red Scarf Shots

Originally burlesque was a parody of the more ruling classes in England in the 1800s, making a travesty of popular songs, opera arias and other music that the audience would easily recognize. As it developed, the shows depended on comedy and a variety of acts including titillating strip teases that really didn’t show much but the audience thought they saw what they wanted. It gained its sleazy reputation decades after arriving in America and as the art of “Burley-Q” went into decline in the ’30s house managers depended more on female nudity to draw crowds. Alas for progress as porn became readily available and strip clubs and titty bars became the bastard child of the once grand offshoot of vaudeville. Not that there’s any shame in heading off with a fistful of singles to your favorite strip joint, but it’s refreshing to see authentic burlesque make a fervent return to whistling crowds.

And what better place than mountain towns where costuming up is a natural way of life and people are wondering what to do in their off season doldrums? In Durango, Colorado, a gaggle of talent unveiled itself at the initial call for auditions for a new troupe being put together. Bare Bones Burlesque and Salt Fire Circus director Tami Graham says, “Everybody’s Durango based. It’s amazing all this talent, an amazing oddity. It’s the perfect convergence of performance artists, musicians, jugglers, dancers and singers. We even have a strongman.” The show supports five musicians who play everything from a saw and Tibetan horn to traditional drums, bass, violin, accordion guitar, keys… but in an unusual genre. “It’s sort of gypsy meets circus meets its own style,” Tami has a difficult time putting their original music into a specific category. Current burlesque shows utilize live music, canned music and tracks and depending on the taste of the stripper and the act it can range from classical striptease songs and jazz to BB King and Marilyn Manson…. with accents marks for bumps and grinds, of course.

Having successfully survived its third winter the show is a combo of old time circus with burlesque and sells out quickly. “It’s because we all like to be entertained. The sex appeal of burlesque is enjoyed by everyone… men and women. These are very real talents. It’s a great adult circus and mountain towns have always supported great entertainment,” Tami has a sense of showmanship beyond the beloved bar follies of beer and wet tee shirts. The troupe plans a summer tour this year through Crested Butte, Aspen, Steamboat and lots of other mountain locales. “We all know people in all these towns because we’re mountain folks ourselves and these audiences make it fun since they’ll come to the show in costume at the drop of a top hat,” Tami says. For the past couple of years small mountain communities witnessed the unbridled kitschy antics and talent of the Yard Dogs Traveling Road Show, a San Francisco based vaudeville troupe, who performed to full houses and whose numerous fans mimicked the performers’ stage style attending their shows with painted faces, bustiers, bowler and top hats. Mountain men groomed their curled mustachioed guise for weeks prior while women browsed online Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogs.

Down in southern Colorado, Peaks and Pasties have been shakin’ up the shimmy since 2008 with traditional burlesque and boylesque shows. That’s right men, in boylesque you too can dress to undress. The delightful Lola Spitfire, director/creator of the troupe confirms there’s no age limit for performers in the genre, “The legends of burlesque are sixty and seventy year olds who still perform, take their clothes off and twirl fire tassels. The beauty of makeup and corsets is that burlesque is a celebration of all body types and all ages.” Finally, there’s hope and encouragement for even geezer girls… it’s all in the art of squeezing anticipation from the audience. “It’s a strip tease, you don’t see all the goods but you see enough,” the sultry Miss Spitfire says.

If you don’t know how to do it but have a burning desire to twirl fire tassels and learn the artistry of stripping there are schools across the Rockies in places you would never expect. Miss Spitfire is the headmistress of The Spitfire and Sparkle Academy of Burlesque in Pueblo and a producer of The Colorado Burlesque Festival, which takes place in Denver July 7 through 10, 2011. This gives you plenty of time to get your act together, find your corsets, boas, learn to juggle, redefine your id and pump up everyone’s libido. Burlesque is still alive and strutting it and we’re all invited.

Information on the Colorado Burlesque Festival online: coloradoburlesquefestival.com

Find the official video of Bare Bones Burlesque and Salt Fire Circus on YouTube and friend them on Facebook. Get updates on Miss Lola Spitfire’s troupe and engage your burlesque career through peaksandpasties.com.

Stone Mountains, Best Climbs and Skiing Tales

“Stone Mountains,” by Jim Thornburg

“Stone Mountains” is 10 pounds of coffee table awesomeness. Photographer Jim Thornburg masterfully captures it all in this 320-page behemoth — in his photos, the rock is the star just as much as the climber. There are plenty of photos of climbers on moderate routes, which makes the book inspirational in a way — you might find yourself writing down names of routes and areas and planning your next trip around them. Thornburg’s photos truly span the continent, from Squamish to Potrero Chico and everything in between: Smith Rock, Tahoe, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Bishop, Needles, J-Tree, Red Rocks (and Vegas Limestone), St. George, Zion, Mount Lemmon, Cochise, Hueco, Horse Pens, Chattanooga, Obed, North Carolina, The New, Seneca Rocks, The Red, The Gunks, Rumney, North Conway, Devils Tower, Wyoming, Boulder, Rifle, Moab, Joe’s Valley, Maple Canyon, SLC and City of Rocks.

If you’re a climber, this book will make you count the days until spring, or go ahead and decide it’s okay to put a plane ticket to Joshua Tree or Red Rocks on your credit card. If you are buying a birthday gift for a climber, this book should be it. Jim Thornburg has spent 20 years of his life photographing climbing, and we can all be better off for it.

$59.99 at ChesslerBooks.com or JimThornburg.com.

Best Climbs Series, by Stewart Green

Stewart Green must have spent most of his adult life writing guidebooks. He has more than a dozen to his name, including five or so mega-guidebooks to climbing areas in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New England and Europe. Typically the climbing books are overviews of a state or region’s more worthwhile areas and run about 500 pages and contain more than 1,000 routes. He’s back with a series of three books from Falcon Guides — “Best Climbs Moab,” “Best Climbs Denver and Boulder” and “Best Climbs Rocky Mountain National Park” — which are much more digestible overviews to throw in a backpack. Each book contains 140-200 routes at the better crags in each area, and clocks in at a much more svelte 145 pages. Those who own Green’s earlier guidebooks can consider these more focused, localized versions of their wide-angle predecessors — the Denver and Boulder volume covers 25 crags in seven geographical areas, including trad, sport and bouldering, from 5.2 to 5.14a. Those who are just visiting for a weekend or three a year, or someone just getting started climbing in an area, can find enough climbs in one of these editions to keep them busy. Full-color photo topos, beefy pages and a sewn binding keep these up to the higher standard of the later generation of guidebooks, and beat the hell out of some of the hand-drawn black-and-white topos in the guidebooks of old. These are pure beta, with a minimum of historical info.

$18.95 at falcon.com.

“The Perfect Turn and Other Tales of Skiing and Skiers,” by Dick Dorworth

Dick Dorworth has probably been skiing longer than you’ve been alive. He raced for 15 years starting in 1950 all around the world, and set the world speed record in 1963. He coached the U.S. Ski Team and was director of the Aspen Mountain Ski School. Lucky for you, he can write about it, too. You may have read his stories in magazines such as SKI, Skiing, Powder, Snow Country, Men’s Journal, and your beloved Mountain Gazette — Chapter 6 of this book, “In Pursuit of Pure Speed,” appeared recently, in MG #173. If you liked that story, prepare for more tales from the heart of man whose life has been defined in large part by skiing and the people and places he’s encountered doing it. Dorworth, based in Ketchum, Idaho, fills these pages with striking narrative of skinning up Bald Mountain and the feeling of breaking 100 mph on skis; opines about the frustrating treatment of ski instructors in America; details the history of speed skiing; and reminisces about old friends (ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore) and chance encounters (the day he skied with Sen. Ted Kennedy). A great read on your way to make turns somewhere, in the middle of winter or before spring backcountry skiing.

$15.95 at westerneyepress.com.

Life on the Mountain Music Road

Sharone Digitale

High-altitude sexification
The music world is full of stories about band members always getting laid — the allure of the fantasy has compelled many a young teen to pick up a guitar and spend hours strumming strings, only to later end up stroking his own instrument alone in his bedroom. But even musicians face sticky situations with the world of sexual magnetism; sometimes when they’re desperate for it — and feeling pretty confident –— they don’t get it, and other times, when they don’t want it, it comes on just a little too strong.

Sharone Digitale, an electro-pop, trip-hop group that dubs its sound as “baby makin’ music,” wasn’t so keen on the sex scene in its hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

Yes, I know, Life on the Mountain Music Road focuses on the strange and weird in high-elevation towns, but the (very loose) tie-in is, Sharone Digitale just rolled through Vail and Breckenridge on a national tour, and the artists were relieved to come home without any crazy stories for a change.

Writer Sharon Lang prides herself on penning music akin to rose petals strewn upon silky bedroom sheets that make listeners feel smooth, extravagant and sexy. But one night, her sound got a little too luscious for her to handle.

After a Nashville show, an apparent swinger couple told the band members that their music “made them so horny that they just wanted to smoke bowls and make out with us the whole time. Us, meaning, they wanted to basically take the whole band back to their place and ‘sexify’ us, as they so gracefully put it,” Lang said. “It was quite a hysterical moment in which we had to respectfully decline the offer, but it nonetheless added some interesting zing to the evening!”

Afro-Zep

If only that happened to Afro-Zep
Afro-Zep drummer Marshall Greenhouse never got so lucky — in fact, quite the opposite, especially when he first played in Breckenridge (at the dark underbelly on Main Street formerly known as Sherpa & Yeti’s) 10 years ago with his Chicago collective of musicians who mash Led Zep classics with the grooves of Afrobeat and Afropop.

Greenhouse claims he’s “not really that coordinated (although somehow drumming comes easy to me),” so when he decided to try snowboarding the day of the show, it “ended in obvious results,” namely, three front flips through slushy snow, resulting in a separated shoulder.

“That night, the band played a pretty awful acoustic set, while I sat at the bar on tons of Vicodin and took advantage of the discounted booze,” Greenhouse said.

Though he doesn’t remember much more about the trip, one painful image remains burned in his mind: Being Unable to take his clothes off himself. He said, “Luckily Chris’ girlfriend at the time had a bunch of really hot friends that came on tour with us.”

“I remember going in a hot tub later that night thinking I was going to get lucky with this girl I met in Frisco the night before, but when I asked her to pull my pants off to get in, she kinda stayed far away from me the rest of the night.”

And in the end, he says never learned his lesson. This time around in Breckenridge, he’s snowboarding in-between his Breck and Vail shows.

“I’m gonna beat the mountain this time,” he said.

No word on how he’s gonna get laid, but I bet Lang has some silky sounds he can slip into his Afro-Zep beats.

Next issue: Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman muses on ski towns and bums of the past — and pleas to get Mayor McCheese back, for god’s sake!

Salmon River Brewery

In 2004, Tamarack Ski Resort, located across Lake Cascade from Donnelly, ID, became the first major new ski area to open in North America since Beaver Creek, CO, and Deer Valley, UT, back in 1981. The resulting spasm of real estate speculation, and associated influx of “far-ners,” many fleeing the more populated mountain towns of Colorado for the relatively underdeveloped paradise of Idaho’s Valley County, brought with them a culture and ideas that were a “mite differn’t” from those that had dominated these rural areas in the past.

Uninterested in sheep herding, the newcomers had ideas about recreation, recycling, education, public transportation and green living that hadn’t been given widespread credence in these parts before. They also brought with them a taste for something other than Olympia and PBR. Ten-year resident Matt Ganz, himself working full-time ski patrol at the resort, heard the call, and in 2009 with partner Matt Hurlbutt, founded the Salmon River Brewery in the nearby town of McCall, ID, with a 7Bbl brew system bought from the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver.

On the opening day of the brewery, it was announced that Tamarack would not be open the following year. The perfect economic shit-storm that had hit the rest of the country took an early toll, and the owners of the resort were in court, or on the run. Despite the news, the brewery and restaurant flourished, and sales of their Salmon River Quiver IPA and Udaho Golden Ale kept on strong. Now, two years later, a group of homeowners at the resort have worked a deal to get the lifts at Tamarack turning, and the slopes were open again this past winter. Rumors of possible investors abound, and all involved hope to see a stable operator at the helm soon.

Robbie Russel enjoys a proper-sized mug of Salmon River Quiver IPA a the Salmon River Brewery in MCcall, ID. Photographer: Colin Gamble

At the brewery, the resort opening has helped the winter business some, but their focus has been the details of a possible expansion this summer to allow for a wider distribution footprint. According to Ganz, the current brew system and production volumes don’t pencil well with large distribution, and he is eyeing some 15Bbl fermentors and a new cooling system to fix this. In the meantime, expect to see a series of small-batch beers on tap where the brewers have taken a mainline offering and done something different, such as changing up the yeast strain, or adding some dry-hopping (post-fermentation addition of hops to increase floral aromas and flavors in the brew).

After the lifts have been stopped, but before nighttime temps in the High Country have quit turning barley-pop into beer-sicles, the weather is near perfect out in Utah’s Canyonlands. Moderate daytime highs make this one of the best times of the year to get out into the red-rock backcountry. And if, despite this, the rumor of Beehive State 3.2% beer laws give reason for pause, then you have not visited The Moab Brewery. According to head brewer Jeff VanHorn, the brewery maintains a rotating lineup on eight taps, spanning the spectrum of color and ABV. Additionally, he is bottling a series of imperial-strength beers (above 8% ABV) in bombers for campsite enjoyment. By press time, these should include a Scotch ale, a black imperial IPA and a Belgian triple. These, as he says, should help non-local beer drinkers to feel safe about coming to Utah. Spring of 2011 will also see the ground-breaking for a planned 5,000-square-foot expansion of the brew house to allow for more fermentation space and a new canning line. Plans for off-site distribution are not complete but a definite possibility for 2012.

From the back deck of Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters, located atop Durango, CO’s mighty Bodo Industrial Park, one is afforded an excellent view of the rocky craw of Carbon Mountain, less than a half mile distant. Azure afternoon skies are saturated with San Juan sunshine, and, generally speaking, the air is perfect for drinking. It was here one Saturday afternoon a few years back that I sat with some buddies and watched the ski club from Ft. Lewis College practicing their backcountry turns down the still-snowy north face of the mountain, while consuming the last barrel of Ska’s winter seasonal, Euphoria Pale Ale, punctuated by mugs of the first batch of their summer seasonal, Mexican Logger (look for a canned release this summer). A more perfect trifecta of spring rites in southern Colorado cannot be described.

Brewers! Got news about your brewery, your brews or beer-related events in the West that would interest our readers? Send email and a sixer to beer@mountaingazette.com. Cheers!