Opening Day

By Beacon Staff

Think, for a moment, about your best first day of skiing of any winter in your life and know that the first day of skiing this winter is right around the corner.

I am very lucky because I’ve had 73 of them if you include three first days in the snow with my Boy Scout troop in Hollywood. The first time was in 1937 when I took along my toboggan that I built in my seventh-grade woodshop and we went up to the mountains on a Scout trip.

I quickly got hooked on sliding over snowflakes and spent most of the rest of my winters doing it. By the third winter, I had paid $2 at a garage sale for a pair of Spalding pine skis without edges, but they did have toe straps as bindings.

By the middle of November of that year, I got so I would ride my bike the three miles to the Hollywood Tennis and Golf sporting goods store that also carried ski equipment. In the back of the shop was a blackboard with four local Snow Play areas listed. By the time of our annual Boy Scout trip to the mountains to play in the snow that blackboard would have the snow depths written in big letters on it.

Today you just go to your computer, type in the ski resort of your choice and a video plays, so you can really get excited long before you drive into the parking lot with your wife and kids. With that many ski lifts, opening day with a good snow report, as many as 20,000 people might be at the same resort with you and your family.

Fortunately, for Laurie and me, we spend our winters in Montana, a state with 16 ski resorts and barely 1 million people in the entire state. One of those resorts, Big Sky, has more than 4,000 vertical feet of skiing and some very steep runs. I’m loving living my winters in Montana because it’s just like Colorado was 50 years ago but with state-of-the-art facilities. Great people, great snow.

I once spent my first day of skiing in the winter at Wilmot, Wis. I was on my film show tour and heard that they had snow – not natural, but the beginning of the man-made snow boom that helps start the early seasons for all ski areas today, though a bit more sophisticated. The hill at Wilmot is reputed to have only 200 vertical feet, including the unloading ramp at the top of the lift. It was many years ago and I was skiing on man-made snow for the first time and filming the other skiers.

I think that day of skiing in Wisconsin could well be my most memorable first day of skiing. I rented skis, boots, poles, gloves, and a 16mm camera. I had to buy eight rolls of 16mm Kodachrome film, a sweatshirt and pants, long underwear, a wool hat and a chairlift ticket.

I spent that first day running on adrenaline because it was my first day of skiing that winter and I was recording history at the same time. Walt Stopa was the real pioneer with his jerry-rigged batch of galvanized pipe and a rented air compressor. He was making history and still covering his ski hill with snow. What was not to like about a brilliant blue sky, the pulsing sound of the air compressor and the hiss of what would become known as snow guns?

My second day of skiing that winter began two weeks later in Hermosa Beach when I loaded my wife and three kids in the station wagon and drove the almost 900 hundred miles to Sun Valley.

It was one of those rare late winter snow years. The bowls on Baldy were closed because not enough snow had fallen. Over on Dollar there was not enough snow to ski except for a couple of narrow patches on Half Dollar because the sagebrush was too tall.

Years later, Sun Valley has one of the most extensive and technical snow making layouts in America. Thank you, Walt Stopa, wherever you are, from all of us who depend upon snow, natural and man-made, to support our addiction to skiing!