April’s Fool: Vail sweater business thrives
VAIL – Dida Wallenbaugh of Vail was fed up with alpacas. For years, she kept two alpacas in a Vail barn, where she sheared their wool to make hand-knit sweaters. Alarmed with the rising prices of alpaca feed and shearing equipment, Wallenbaugh realized she would have to adapt her age-old business.
“I needed to find a cheaper alternative – but what?” she said.
One day, inspiration struck when Wallenbaugh stopped into Loaded Joe’s for a coffee during Mustache March. In the corner of the bar, she spotted a snowboarder who not only had a mustache, but a long, silky beard that flowed down the front of his Volcom hoddie.
“My God,” Wallenbaugh whispered to herself. “That beard. It looks so… soft.”
A week later, Wallenbaugh couldn’t get the beard out of her mind. On a whim, she put a job ad in the Vail Daily: “Two snowboarders wanted to provide wool for sweater company. No pay but housing included.”
Within hours, she had 500 applications. Thrilled, Wallenbaugh sold her alpacas on eBay.
When Brody “Broseph” Smith and Joe Bum came by to tour the barn, they were impressed. The open-air shack reeked of alpaca but they saw it as an upgrade to their current living quarters.
“This is way better than Timber Ridge,” Broseph mused.
As it turned out, the snowboarders were far cheaper to feed than the alpacas. Accustomed to living in Vail on a budget, they could subsist for an entire week on a single package of Ramen noodles. Also, the snowboarders had a milder temperament than the alpacas (Wallenbaugh suspected the special cigarettes they smoked) although they spit just as often.
The only time the snowboarders got skittish was on powder days.
But the best part of the snowboarders was their beards. Alpaca hair was soft, but the wool from the snowboarders was perfectly smooth. The sweaters Wallenbaugh wove from the beards became an instant sensation. Tourists came from far and wide to the Minturn farmers’ market to buy Wallenbaugh’s line of hand-knit beard creations, which she named “Bro-caid.”
Gretchen Blieler was even seen wearing a parka with Bro-caid trim.
Then trouble struck.
On August 1, Wallenbaugh stepped outside to feed the snowboarders when a sea of flashing bulbs and protesters greeted her. She was horrified to see a crowd of local animal rights activists crowded on her lawn. They were waving signs and shouting “Snowboarder cruelty!”
As if to demonstrate the point, the snowboarders were strapped into their snowboards, trying to jump the rails of their fenced-in pen but stumbling back every time and bleeting “gnarly” each time they fell.
From that that day on, customers demanded free range wool.
Early one morning, Wallenbaugh went out to the barn and found the snowboarders grazing on a box of Cheez-its.
“Alright guys,” Wallenbaugh said, opening the door to the fence. “Your new life begins today.”
Wallenbaugh trailored the snowboarders to Vail Mountain and set them free in the terrain park. At first, the snowboarders huddled inside the trailer, afraid of the shushing sounds outside. Unsteadily, Broseph jumped up on a rail. Bum carved a few turns, fell, shook the snow out of his beard, and howled a tentative “epic.”
Today, the snowboarders continue to thrive in their natural environment. Sometimes, early in the morning or just before dusk, passersby can spot them pulling up their pants or foraging on a Redbull.
Buoyed by the support of Pamela Anderson, who posed in a series of magazine ads wearing nothing but a beard-wool hat, Bro-caid’s free range line is more popular than ever.
One day, Wallenbaugh sighed as she watched her snowboarders frolic into the George in Vail Village.
“These strange and beautiful creatures,” she mused. “They saved my business.”