Ravinos ski and snowboard club celebrates 50 years in Vail | VailDaily.com

Ravinos ski and snowboard club celebrates 50 years in Vail

Evan Hannibal performs a backflip off a feature known as "The Wailer" in Vail. The Ravinos celebrated 50 years in Vail on Friday.
Zach Griffin/Courtesy image

The Ravinos ski and snowboard club patched in six new members on Friday in a celebration dating back to the 1972-73 season in Vail.

After watching dozens of people attempt backflips and double backflips on a step-down gap known as the wailer in the First Steps area of the mountain, six new members were given their “colors” — patches to wear on their backs from Ravinos Rocky Mountain Chapter President Rob Bak.

“The patch represents being awesome, being stoked, being a good human being, and pushing the limits of skiing and snowboarding,” Bak said.

Origins of stoke

The Ravinos ski and snowboard club was founded in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, by skier Jeff Van Tassel.

“The colors, the name, the concept of the Ravinos were all the brainchild of one man, Van Tassel,” writes William Jacobsen in Wail Tales, a memoir of Jacobsen’s life that also charts the history of the Ravinos. “He was a great guy, an amazing skier, and a pretty fair artist. His artistic ability came into play as he developed the design for the colors. It’s called the Death Jump and it’s a flaming skull flying between two cliffs over a ravine. Over the top was the name, RAVINOS and at the base was the chapter, which at first was always MIDWEST chapter but eventually grew to include the ROCKY MOUNTAIN, WEST COAST and even SOUTHWEST chapters.”

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Most of the early skiing was done at Rib Mountain (now known as Granite Peak) in Wisconsin, but after outgrowing that ski area, the most advanced skiers moved out West.

“They found what they were after in Vail, Colorado,” Jacobsen writes. “The biggest, wildest party in Vail occurred every year on St. Patrick’s Day. It became known as the Wail in Vail and was, in a way, a vestige of the gigantic celebrations in Oshkosh every year on that day.”

While it is unknown exactly what year the Midwest crew began flying its colors, the Rocky Mountain Chapter and the Wail in Vail began in 1972-73 following the 1972 Aerial Championships. But the party only lasted eight years, as inverted aerials were banned from all National Ski Areas Association ski areas, including Vail. The last Wail in Vail on Vail Mountain happened during the 1980-81 season.

“The crowd began to form in Vail’s favorite ravine at about 11 a.m., and by the time the entertainment began at a little after 1 p.m., about 1,000 were on hand, and the party was on,” the Vail Trail reported in 1981. “The kicker was ruled by Bobby Garcia.”

The climactic moment of the day took place sometime after 3 p.m. when a man named Steve Selvim parachuted out of a Cessna 128 onto Vail Mountain, wrote Walt Slater with the Vail Trail.

“He made his jump from 14,000 feet up, where, he tells me, the temperature was 40 below,” Slater wrote. “He was shooting for the ravine, but a 30-mile-per-hour wind above the mountain blew him 200 yards off course, and he came down at the edge of Northstar.”

Buzz Schleper launches the wailer in Vail on Friday.
Courtesy image

The next season, the St. Patrick’s Day party took place at Meadow Mountain, but was too large to contain. The following year, during the 1982-83 season, the Ravinos celebrated 10 years by performing inverted aerials in East Vail above the campgrounds near the former Highway 6 road.

Garcia, then known as “Chi Bear,” continued to rule the kicker. Garcia said the East Vail location was his favorite, but it was short-lived, as the Ravinos were forced further out of town the following year, up to Vail Pass, where the celebration remained for the next two years. But in 1986, the party was canceled, and the Ravinos returned to Vail Mountain, where they skied together as a group instead of getting inverted at First Steps.

“Ironically, after years of jumping, it wasn’t the skiing antics that brought the Ravinos trouble, but a car-pedestrian accident that sent a woman spectator to the hospital,” the Vail Trail reported.

The Vail Pass events attracted crowds estimated at 3,000, and were plagued by “massive traffic and crowding problems,” the Trail reported in 1987 after the St. Patrick’s Day party did not take place for the second year in a row.

“Garcia said last week that those problems and ski industry and insurance company prejudice against inverted aerials by skiers could mean that the Ravinos’ public shows ‘are over and done with,'” the Trail reported. “But Garcia said he hasn’t given up his interest in freestyle skiing and hopes that the Ravinos might return for future public displays.”

Original Ravinos member Buzz Schleper, right, gets some encouragement from next-generation member Ben Hilley in Vail on Friday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

‘Promoting positivity’

In the 2009-10 season, Garcia’s dream came true. Local Ace McKee rallied some original Ravinos, including original member Buzz Schleper, and a next generation, including Schleper’s son Hunter Schleper, renewed the St. Patrick’s Day tradition. Hunter performed backflips off jumps at Golden Peak and McKee vowed that while the party will never be what it was, “we just want to keep it alive.”

In the years that followed, the next generation of the Ravinos migrated back to the First Steps area where they found a 25-foot step-down gap feature dubbed “the wailer” to be perfect for performing flips.

At Friday’s 50-year celebration, Buzz Schleper — now 72 — visited the First Steps cliffs and launched the wailer on his race skis, getting massive air in front of a crowd of next-generation Ravinos who went wild at the sight.

At the ensuing patch-in ceremony, Schleper shared a few important words with the Ravinos of today.

“Anybody who wears the patch is about promoting positivity with skiing and snowboarding,” Schleper said. “Be respectful to everybody.”

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