For more than 50 years, before the invention of instant communications except by telephone or telegraph, I made a lot of long distance phone calls in the fall and winter trying to find where the snow had fallen deep enough to start on my next ski movie. Even back in the days before the invention of snow-compaction and snow-making machines, resorts slowly learned to cut the trees near the ground when making a new trail so it could be skied with less than a foot of snow.
Big Bromely, for example, offered free lift tickets to anyone who wanted to join its rock gathering weekends in the fall. People from ski clubs would organize a weekend of cleaning rocks over a half inch so that eventually it could operate on frozen grass when the first two inches of snow that fell. In exchange for hours of rock picking, the rock pickers would earn credit toward their lift tickets when it snowed.
Then when the Tucker snow cat was invented, resorts all bought at least one to try and pack down the snow before it got skied down to dirt which would force them to close down.
Vail often had dirt on its ski runs during its first few years. At the bottom of the mountain there is a run now called Pepsi’s Face. Today that part of the mountain has become covered $14-million, ski-in and ski-out condominiums and is no longer skiable for that reason. Back in those early days when Vail did not even have a parking lot, the snow would quickly get skied off of the face. People would pull off of I-70 and that run seemed to indicate that the skiing was not very good. The carloads of people who would have bought a $4 lift ticket pulled back onto the highway and continued on to Aspen without ever seeing or skiing the back bowls. They missed out.
Where they built those condominiums used to be the final steep pitch of the World Championship downhill. Now that they no longer have a finish area at Vail they have had to move the race course from Vail to Beaver Creek.
Laurie and I were really lucky when we lived on a dead-end street in Vail where we could walk about 150 feet and put on our skis and coast down to the Lionshead gondola. On some days when the powder was good and everyone was racing to get one run in the back bowls and then spend a half an hour or more in the lift line we would just make endless runs in Lionshead in the untracked powder. Unfortunately for all of us the Vail ski school got to cut up the snow for an hour before we could get a whack at it but they couldn’t wreck it all because we had a secret monopoly on a lot of stashes.
After all, it is about searching for freedom. I was lucky I had it that first winter Vail was open. Some days, we were the only people making tracks in the back bowls – myself, my camera and my skiers.
Somewhere buried in a film vault unlabeled are all of the great shots of Pete Siebert, Christie Hill, Dick Hauserman, Pepi Gramshammer, Dave Gorsuch and Bob Smith. Bob invented the ski goggles that let us all ski regardless of the conditions.
Now good weather or bad, the Pisten Bullies roll out of the Vail garage for another eight-hour shift of grooming ski runs. There are almost 40 of them that cost more $300,000 each to buy and cost about a $100 an hour to operate so that you folks who complain about the cost of a chair lift ticket can have yet another day of total freedom. Try and educate people to spend their discretionary time later in the spring instead of early in the fall.
Some of the California resorts have closed even though there is still 30 feet of snow on their hills and it is superb. An inch of corn snow on top of that 29 feet, 11 inches of snow pack. What is not to like about that?
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