The taming trend
This is a story of the beast and the beauty, the burly and the harmless, the wild and the fair. It’s a story as old as skiing itself, playing out (once again) on the slopes of Vail Mountain in the old battle between the unsanctioned vs. the sanctioned, the chaotic vs. the orderly and the people vs. the corporation.To be more specific, it’s the story of BB&B vs. Spring Back to Vail.Apparently this story ended up with the creation of a bumper sticker, and a mean one at that. But endings sometimes make good beginnings, so we’ll start there. The sticker features a photograph of district Forest Service ranger Cal Wettstein and it reads (and I quote): “Cal Wettstein is a whiny Bitch Bitch Bitch.”OK, a little background may be necessary here. Wettstein is the target of all the latest hubbub among Vail’s grumpy groups of gregarious party-goers. He’s the guy who is taking the fall for shutting down BB&B, which (for those of you who have been living in a cave for the past couple of years) is the impromptu end-of-the-year party that traditionally takes place on Minnie’s Deck on Vail Mountain on the second Tuesday in April.Like most things impromptu and locally organized, BB&B started out with pure intentions. It was a small gathering of locals who still lived in the spirit of the town’s founding fathers meaning they equally liked to ski and sip on spirits and everybody pretty much had a good time.The bottle-chucking started about two years ago. The clearing around Minnie’s Deck would fill with a small nation (estimated at more than 2,000) of hallucinogenically blazed, blitzed, rebels whose extremist faction felt violence was the only balm for an overblown case of ski rage.Patrolmen were ducking projectiles. People were laughing at things that were not funny. Squirrels climbed high in the trees and waited it out.Still, most of the people there just wanted to live in their own way. They wanted to let the wild side rule before off-season emptied the town. And any time the wild side wants to come out, it wants to do it somewhere beyond the reach of guys in uniforms. Where better than a ski town? Where better than public lands? Where better than the forest surrounding Minnie’s Deck to sail the seas of chaos and disorder?It was a regular Woodstock on the hill, replete with nakedness, snowball fights, regular fights, heavy drug use, beer, barbecues, dislocated shoulders and boatloads of human waste in all its various forms. The little patch of woods was transformed into an outdoor frat house, and cleanup was left to you guessed it – the stiffs in uniform.Well, problems ensued. Crushed in the melee, injured persons were dragged to the outskirts of the thick trees, where cautious patrolmen would treat the injuries of their bottle-chucking counterparts. Sometimes this required tying down (and talking down) the patient.Then there was cleanup. Then there were a few weeks of quiet panic among the ranks of the uniformed, all of them hoping that an injury wasn’t blossoming into a lawsuit somewhere on the horizon.Enter Wettstein and Vail Resorts.Pre-emptive strikes seem to be all the rage these days. Jumping on that bandwagon, the Forest Service (already taking litigious fire from all possible directions, including the Meadow Mountain sledding hill) decided to head off any future damages. The party was getting too large, the neighbors were complaining, and the authorities were there to shut it down.”I didn’t want to be the bad guy on this one,” says Wettstein, who led the campaign to liberate Minnie’s Deck. “But that’s my job and that’s what I’m paid to do.”And what about the bumper sticker?”Some people are taking it to the next level and getting personal, and whatever I don’t like doing it and I’d just as soon see people party and have fun. I’m just so tired of it.”Vail Police, Sheriff’s deputies, and extra Forest Service Rangers flooded the mountain Tuesday, April 8 the traditional day for BB&B. The scene at the base of the mountain was reminiscent of a String Cheese show at Dobson Arena. Cops stood ominously in the background while Patty PR asked nicely if she could check your backpack for narcotics and alcohol. Local and regional media outlets seemed to have spread the word well, however, and peace prevailed for the most part on April 8.Still, a few “mobile” BB&Bers invaded the mountain.Pete Peil, Mike Wanhala and Ken Stephen were among those who fearlessly defended the toppling BB&B regime. Dressed like tie-dyed Scottsmen on a twisted journey through clown school, the trio led a group of about 15 people who slipped security and took the party to the people.Generally speaking, the group was pissed off that they weren’t left to their own devices and allowed to partake in peace. Although they admit the party was somewhat perilous, Wanhala wants to say that he and his friends aren’t children, they can take care of themselves, and they don’t appreciate being treated like children by the federal government, local police and Vail Resorts.”Inside your circle of friends you take care of each other,” he says. “You never leave a man behind.””We’re just here to have fun,” Stephen says. “They need to let it go. If we’re responsible, then let us enjoy ourselves.”Several people were arrested on Vail Mountain April 8, one of them for carrying enough psilocybin mushrooms that the law saw it as intent to distribute. There were also a smattering of marijuana possession charges, and minor in possession charges. With more law on the hill than ever before, those kinds of arrests were no doubt inevitable, and perhaps not related to BB&B.The corporate alternativesVail Resorts never intended Spring Back to Vail and Revolution Spring (both of which are sanctioned, on-mountain spring festivals happening April 8-11) to be alternatives to BB&B.But locals and perennial Vail visitors are used to the idea of a spring blowout, a once-and-for-all harangue where everyone who’s anyone can get into the spirit of the end of the season. Comparisons are just a matter of course.For $25 you can be part of the action and join a couple of ski races. There’s also a T-shirt and prizes and general festivities, including a performance by the Bacon Brothers, featuring actor Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael on Friday, April 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola.The Bacon Brothers will have to compete for the weekend’s top billing with the pond-skimming competition, however, to be held at Golden Peak from 4 to 7 p.m., Saturday, April 12.”If you’re someone who thinks they can walk on water,” says Jeff Brausch of Vail-based Highline Sports & Entertainment, “then this will be the time to prove it to the rest of the world. We expect the competition to be extremely fierce and fun, especially among the traditional pond-skimming world powers, but at the end of the day, when the ripples subside, it’s going to be a great reason to party.”As fun as that may sound, guys like Wanhala, Peil and Stephen feel sanctioned events are too canned, too forced, and too structured. None of the wanna-BB&Bers who cruised Vail Mountain April 8 had even heard of this weekend’s festivities, and none of them planned on going.The dichotomy seems to be at the heart of Vail’s ongoing how-to-stay-cool nightmare. There appears to be no middle ground between the chaotic, dangerous, lawsuit-factory parties that everyone loves and the sanctioned, canned, fee-for-fun product expo fests that provide safe and clean entertainment. Forced to shut down the party or face possible on-mountain deaths/serious injuries, VR and the FS look like bad guys, party poopers and corporate lackeys. But when they come up with their own party, complete with trashcans and a cleanup crew, lots of people say it’s lame and virtually nobody thinks it’s the place to be to run into all your old friends.That’s the way it goes, apparently. But Vail can be secure in this: while BB&B lasted (22 years), it was the coolest, most outrageous party in ski country, and it defied every stereotype about the mountain that ever was. And there’s no way to deny that as long as young people come here to ski, there will be some kind of unsanctioned, local spring blowout. And as long as there’s a blowout, there’ll be authorities there to eventually shut it down. It’s just a matter of time before the cycle starts all over again.
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