‘Understories’ compiles tales of Vail’s early ski patrol
VAIL, Colorado – It’s Vail’s characters that make it such a colorful place.
Take Steve “Louie” Boyd, for instance. Boyd compiled “Understories: A Patrolman’s Tales of Life in the early days of Vail and Aspen.”
Vail in the early 1960s was filled with colorful characters, Boyd said.
“As the old saying goes, ‘If you can remember the ’60s you weren’t really there.’ Well, we were there and fortunately we can remember a few things,” Boyd said.
“Understories” is exactly that, 36 stories by Vail ski patrollers. Imagine your favorite uncles sitting around the living room swapping their favorite stories. Boyd came up with 19 on his own. Fourteen other ski patrollers contributed tales and photos.
Stories go on and on
One patroller was called “Goose” for reasons that remain unclear, but Goose was witty and sarcastic with a big smile and a lightning sense of humor. Patrolmen always went down to his place Monday nights for “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” on the only TV channel available in Minturn. So they started calling their morning meetings “Laugh In.” They are still called that.
There’s The Great Sheep Rescue. Vail’s Ski Patrol did not discriminate based on species. On a stormy, early winter day in 1963 they were dispatched to rescue some sheep from certain death.
The sheep had been caught by a series of late fall snowstorms at higher elevations, before they could reach the main valley floor and relative safety. Even though this rescue contained practical applications – especially to their owner, Allan Nottingham – the whole thing was actually one huge publicity stunt for Vail Associates. It was contrived to get the Denver Post writers and photographers up to Vail to produce another story on the fledgling ski area.
Nottingham was a pilot with a small, single-engine plane, and he had spotted his sheep and dropped hay to help them survive.
The press and the ski patrol were towed up the mountain behind a makeshift snowcat Earl Eaton had invented. Pictures and notes were taken, but not many of the sheep survived.
Boyd tells about how most afternoons would find Jake the Snake at the “Tuckem Inn,” entertaining one of his lady friends.
“We didn’t have a reservation system. All we did was hang our patrol belts on a tree 20 or 30 yards from the Inn as a, ‘Sorry, Occupied’ sign,” Boyd writes.
The Tuckem Inn died, but not Jake’s tendencies, Boyd writes. The story goes that he went out one spring afternoon with a rig equipped with blankets and his girlfriend.
At the All Colorado Ski Patrol Party in Keystone, Vail didn’t have a contestant for the Miss Colorado Ski Patrol pageant. The Vail patrolmen tasked with finding a suitable queen candidate had been a little too honest in describing what the party and contest might entail. “We’d arrived at Keystone absent any Vail woman willing to wear the Vail Ski Patrol sash,” wrote Jeff Supringer.
Their contestant, Panama Red, performed the talent section wearing nothing but red high heels. Then she ended the season of a teetotaling Vail ski patroller, but not for the reasons you might think.
The stories go on and on.
There was the time they set a couple skunks loose in Jim Slevin’s La Cave bar and restaurant.
There was adventure fishing, shot training, the ski patrol baseball game on skis, Dickey Pete’s Dynamite Prank, and Ski Patrol Limericks.
Not quite a year before Pete Seibert’s death, Boyd ran into him at the Shaw Cancer Center, where they were both being treated.
“You know, Pete, I guess I owe you an apology,” Boyd said.
“Oh?” Seibert said.
Boyd said the early Vail ski patrolmen wanted to become the best ski patrol in the nation, if not the whole damn world.
“We also had the inclination, as a sort of informal competition after clocking out, to be the absolute worst we could possibly be, all in good fun, of course,” Boyd said.
Pete smiled, but not necessarily a smile of forgiveness.
Some months later, Boyd said mentioned it to a guy named “Weed,” one of Vail’s more notorious bad-boy patrolmen.
“You know, Louie,” Weed commented. “I think we accomplished both.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.