Countdown to Ski Season

By Beacon Staff

The first-of-the-season edition of Ski Magazine and The Ski Journal dropped into my P.O. Box recently, but unfortunately it is still a while until mid-December when many of America’s ski resorts open. There are a few of them at oxygen-starvation altitudes that will open earlier and some that are in a sub-zero climate.

Skiing earlier is sort of for bragging rights for anyone under 30. However, I readily admit that for the first decade or so that I skied, I was right there, too, at the head of the rope tow line, waiting to make my first tracks of the season. But as I settled into my seven-day-a-week movie schedule in the early 1950s, I knew I would be skiing somewhere in the world almost every day beginning in February and ending when the snow melted at Mammoth after the Fourth of July weekend.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago I stepped out of a binding while traversing. The ski I stepped out of landed on its edge and when I came down square on it, I broke my back. That’s the end of that story and more or less the end of 73 years of making right and left turns on skis.

Today I am often asked, “Do you miss it?”

Of course I miss it, but my good luck continues because we have a home on the side of a hill in Montana at the Yellowstone Club where the main ski run goes right past our front porch. The ski run is less than 100 feet away so I can pretend to be making turns while watching other people skiing. Life is really good because now I can be imagining my turns while writing my stories at the same time.

I decided to quit after the accident because I just don’t want to fall again and have my wife push me around in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I have learned that the older the bones, the easier they break and that comes from personal experience the hard way.

There have been a tremendous number of innovations and changes since I painted a sign for Pete Lane’s ski shop in Sun Valley in exchange for a top-of-the-line pair of skis in 1948. The retail cost of those skis was a whopping $29.95.

The year I painted that sign for a pair of skis, there were only 13 ski lifts in America and I had a season pass to four of them, including Sun Valley, Idaho. I was living the good life as defined in the pages of the ski publications today.

Of course, in the old days, a pair of skis would last only 20 or 30 days in the bumps because there was no such thing as groomed snow. The hickory or ash just plain wore out.

The ski publications almost never have an article about the injuries connected with skiing. No doubt about it: skiing is a risky sport, but over the years equipment companies worldwide have spent untold amounts of money making bindings so they release before the leg bone or the skis break. I was really lucky because all of those years I only had one skier injured while I was filming.

But the only way you can guarantee that you will not get hurt while skiing is not to go skiing. I got hurt a lot more times during the dozen or so years I windsurfed than the more than 73 years I skied. So far I have yet to get hurt in that high-impact sport called golf.

Yes, the ski lifts will soon turn on again and your freedom will once again return. Meanwhile, you will have to find freedom in the tattered ski publications’ powder snow photos that you have been thumbing through for the last few months.