Panties, bras and Mardi Gras beads, oh my!
VAIL – The panty tree in the Sun Down Bowl has sprouted yet another lascivious bloom – an ad for liquor.Grand Marnier, a blend of cognac and wild oranges (which is actually extremely popular here in the High Country as a shooter) has incorporated the panty tree into its latest national ad campaign.”You just recognized a pair of panties in the Sun Down Bowl Tree,” the ad compels … and the tagline hits you with, “The conversation is waiting.”The campaign light clicked on in Steve Luttmann’s head, the creative behind the campaign, when he was talking with a focus group of women.”They talked about Grand Marnier as a conduit for going deeper in your conversations,” said Luttmann. “Our mantra is meaningful conversations are back.”
“Conversations that matter” is a series of 12 potential scenarios all encouraging people to have more meaningful conversations. For every magazine the ad is featured, the conversation starter is a unique one. The panty tree ad is featured in the February edition of SKI Magazine, and will be replaced next month by another conversation starter focused on skiing. March’s reads, “Your new girlfriend doesn’t ski … The conversation is waiting.”But the real conversation is why those panties hang in the tree.”That’s the big mystery that everyone wants to know. I’ve never known anyone to put them on there. I’ve never seen anyone put them on there. It is a huge mystery and I would love to know,” said Luttmann, who freely admits that Vail is his favorite mountain to ski. The panty tree’s history is a checkered one, and its origin is undoubtedly subjective. There are many legends branching out from its lace-laden bows.Frank McNeil, who was a Vail ski patrolmen in the late 1960s, said it didn’t start off as a panty tree at all.”The panty tree started out with a lone wool scarf as the only thing in it for about 10 years. It was a March powder day in about 1975. The sun came out and the snow quickly got heavy and wet. The morning’s face shots took their toll on the wool scarf and it became wet and heavy like the snow. The person wearing it ripped it from his neck and threw it off of Chair 5 past tower No. 3 on the left,” said McNeil, who didn’t want to reveal the name of the scarf’s owner, in fear he might get picked up for littering on Forest Service land.
McNeil said the scarf was the only thing that dangled from the tree until about the mid 1980s when panties started to christen the aspen branches. “The panties cannot be your own and must be stolen from a woman you didn’t’ know last week, but know biblically as of the previous night. And any panties not gotten from a fresh gettin’ will be thrown off by the gods of lasciviousness, and the valley will be temporarily punished by rain and Texans,” said Stephen Kohler, who moved from Denver to Vail 18 years ago.Kohler said the story behind the panty tree is common local knowledge, and he heard about it in middle school.I guess the good mountain legends never die, because Elizabeth Eber, a freelance journalist who has been skiing Vail since 1968, wrote of a similar racy panty tree origin in 1998:”Rumor has it that this special decor was donated courtesy of triumphs of the nights before. Others swear it was the serendipitous generosity of ski partners who just couldn’t wait. The fact is, the Back Bowls can get pretty cold. But then they also can get pretty hot,” she writes.But the panty tree isn’t what it used to be. Now big brassiers, Mardi Gras beads and even a purple penis pump swing freely from the aspen. Panties are just a minority.
“In the early days, it was just panties, and they were just gorgeous panties, the kind you would find at Victoria Secret,” said Eber. “The tree isn’t as pretty as it used to be. And it truly used to be just one tree, now it’s scattered over a few of them.”Why the panty tree sprouted its silky blossoms may forever remain a mystery, but Grand Marnier is right, the panty tree is definitely worth talking about.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado