Old friend, familiar glutes
It was late May, 5 in the morning, in Yosemite National Park. My mate and I were loading our packs for a day of backcountry skiing.
Since mine was the only backside pointing in the direction of the disembodied voice, I could only assume the butt in question belonged to me.
I stood up and slowly turned around hoping to see my proctologist. Instead, I came face to face with a ghost from the past, Crazy Dave.
Twenty-eight years ago, Davie and I killed a fair amount of brain cells. He was a Renaissance man, with the lust-appetite of a goat, and slightly unstable. He was one of the first telmark skiers in the state and a promoter of one of the earliest three-pin events in the country.
When he wasn’t chasing women and howling at the moon, he was active in teaching the blind to cross-country ski. In a county full of colorful characters, Dave stood out.
This was back in the good old days of Colorado ski bumming, when ski resorts were about sliding on snow, not real estate. Dave was graceful on skis, dangerous in bars, and got me evicted from my trailer home.
It would be easy to reflect back on those wild days and assume they’d be impossible to re-create in today’s Disney-like resorts. It is easy to assume that because it is true. I’ve come to realize that say what you will about planning and preparation, timing and luck guide your fate.
I’m glad I was a child when “The Three Stooges” was suitable entertainment; single when the worst you got from sex was a bad reputation; and that I’m now getting older in an era of shaped skis and dual suspended mountain bikes where technology has compensated for human decline caused by time. I’m also grateful that I moved to a mountain town in the early ’70s.
Resort life was different then. Though the population was eclectic, love of the mountains provided a common denominator. Skiing, good times and financial survival were prioritized in exactly that order. Even for those of us working menial jobs, there was a sense of pride in and vested interest in the town and resort.
I met Dave on a chairlift in the winter of 1974. He looked down and saw my leather tele-boots (heavy and high for those days) metal-edged skis, and said, “Nice gear. Does your husband ski?”
I thought he might have mistaken me for a woman. Then I looked down to see he was skiing on skinny wooden skis and flimsy, low-cut Nordic racing boots. It dawned on me that this guy was calling me a wimp. I began to make excuses about how I like the steep stuff (intermediate runs?), so I needed the heavy gear.
Dave interrupted and said, “Your hair is kind of short. Are you a cop?”
“I’m not cop,” I answered defensively. “I’m a waiter.”
I had no sooner gotten those words out when Dave yanked a cucumber-sized joint out of his pocket.
“You seem tense. Have some of this.”
Of course I declined, but that was the start of beautiful friendship. Those memories flooded my mind as I walked across the parking lot toward my grizzled friend. He looked older but not old. We hugged and he said, “Damn Biff, you’re skinny. Are you still on that bean sprout and lite beer diet? That’s how I knew it was you, that boney ass of yours.”
We quizzed each other about the fate of old friends. I told him that Olaf was getting old, but Gene still skied like a man half his age. He asked me about Ghunda. I said that during the last year he won his age-class at the American Birkebeiner, but then got divorced.
Dave’s response: “Man, that’s what I call a good 12 months.” He mentioned several mutual friends now spread out from the Sierras to the White Mountains. It was amazing that virtually everyone we spoke of lived in or near ski country.
He looked down at my alpine touring boots and asked, “Biff, are you locking your heels?”
I began to make excuses of steep terrain and knee operations when he smiled and said. “That’s OK man. Change is good. I quit drinking. I’ve found booze and drugs are redundant if you’re crazy.”
Dave walked away and seemed to melt into the fog. As I skied off, I was reminded how life in the mountains changes a person.
Even those who leave for lower and greener pastures are marked by their time in high, cold places. They recall the frigid sunrises, alpenglow evenings, and those near perfect ski days. Most will never forget the friends and characters they met along the way. And some, like Dave, never forget a friend’s butt.
Biff America can be seen on RSN television, heard on KYSL radio, and read in this and other fine newspapers.
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Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season.