It was a bright sunny day as I was cooking breakfast the crew that was building our garage was noticeably absent. I checked the thermometer and it registered 32 degrees below zero. If you are a carpenter that is an ideal temperature to call your boss and take a day off. If you are a skier it is a good day to hunker down and rest your sore muscles and tune up your skis.
For the last three days the wind has been howling out of the west at about 30 mph and during lunch in the lodge someone asked me if it ever got that cold when I was living in the parking lot in our eight-foot, tear-drop trailer.
Yes. It was a similarly bright sunny winter day, except without wind and about three and a half feet of snow had accumulated in the parking lot. Ward Baker and I had just finished cooking our bowls of oatmeal when we were politely asked to move our car and trailer so they could plow out our parking place.
When we had arrived in Sun Valley we had only planned on staying for about a week and we had been burying our trash in the snow bank beside the trailer.
There was no chance that our car would start without warming it up first so we got out our empty one-pound coffee can and filled it up with gasoline, lit it and shoved it under the engine. It contained just enough burning gasoline to warm up the oil in the engine but not big enough flames to catch the engine on fire. As the flames went out Ward stepped on the starter and the engine came to life. Well, it coughed and wheezed a little bit and then struggled to barely run.
Finally we were able to tow the trailer out from its own snow bank and the rotary snowplow could then carve a clean path through our part of the parking lot. We forgot about the trash that we had been burying in the snow bank behind our kitchen for the last three weeks. The giant rotary plowed through that trash and it landed in the trees above where we had been parking. Now hanging from the trees were milk cartons, polka dot Wonder Bread wrappers, old cans of corned beef hash and the carcasses of five rabbits we had shot in Shoshone on the way to Sun Valley.
From that moment forward for the rest of the winter it was easy to tell people that we were living under the tree with the milk cartons, pink napkins and bread wrappers.
But I have diverted from my temperature discussion. That winter we had no quilted parkas; they had not yet been invented. No one knew anything about layering and our soft leather boots were just that. The important thing for me in retrospect is that I didn’t know that I was supposed to be cold. It was a question of skiing every day all winter. And that was the answer, too.
We never had frostbite and we never complained about the cold because there was no one to complain to.
We did learn to wear long underwear with a sweater over it, then a nylon windbreaker and then another sweater. The second sweater kept the nylon parka close to the first sweater and somehow it worked.
You could always go into the Round House and warm up. You had to be careful, however, if you got too close to the fireplace because you might spend the entire day by the fireplace. I thought it was kind of dumb to ride clear up to Sun Valley from Los Angeles on the train and spend the day by the fireplace.
It really was great in Sun Valley then because the chairlift only hauled 426 people an hour and you could ski in untracked powder snow from one storm to the next whether you were cold. As far as I can remember, I was never cold, chilly perhaps, but never cold.
But my wife says I lie a lot.
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