Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Parking lot days were the best
Vail, CO, Colorado
I just hung up the phone after an hour of talking with Ward Baker, who is the only person I know who is as dumb as I am.
We slept in the parking lots of almost every ski resort in the West that had a chairlift in a small trailer with no heat. Most of our two winters together were spent in the Sun Valley parking lot.
Today, Ward lives on Maui in Hawaii and spends his life raising exotic fruit trees and skin diving for his dinners.
In 1947, Sun Valley was operating three chairlifts on Baldy, one on Dollar and one on Rudd Mountain – sometimes. There were only two chairlifts in Colorado, and they were at Aspen. California had one on Mount Waterman and one at the Sugar Bowl. Utah had three: one at Snow Basin and two at Alta. They had three for a while until one of them was wiped out when an avalanche tore out every tower of the lift.
When we returned from our two winters of parking-lot living, Ward did not go skiing again for 27 years. Then when he went again, for one weekend, it had gotten so crowded he never went again. Both of us are asked questions about those parking-lot days, and the rest of the world just can’t understand how we did it. But most important, he is asked why we did it.
We had grown up surfing in Southern California when a crowded day was the second car with a surfboard on the roof showing up at a beach. We instinctively knew how important freedom was. In spite of 100 pound, 11-foot-long surfboards and no such thing as a wetsuit, we still did it and enjoyed every wave we ever rode. We were constantly reminded how important freedom was to us.
Ward reminded me that he brought along on our expedition a hand-cranked ice-cream freezer. One day, he made two quarts of ice cream at a ski-jumping tournament. It was 10 below zero when he got out of the warm car with the hand-cranked machine, poured in the ingredients and, standing out in the cold, turned the crank.
Later, we drove down to Ketchum and traded those two quarts of vanilla ice cream for four hamburgers with fries for our dates and ourselves. We never did find out who won the jumping tournament on Rudd Mountain that day.
On the phone from Maui, we both agreed that the rotary snowplow was both the best thing and the worst thing that happened to us when we were camped in the parking lot. One day, we had to move our trailer so they could plow out the parking lot.
We had originally only planned on staying a week, so we had been burying our garbage in the snowbank behind the trailer. When the rotary snowplow hit that pile of buried garbage, it sprayed the nearby trees with milk cartons, paper napkins and a lot of rabbit skins. From then on, we told people that they could find us under the rabbit skins in the trees and just to the right of the three milk cartons and seven napkins.
A question Ward is asked all of time is what did you eat?” “Rabbits” is the answer. “How did you get them?” “We shot them.” “How?” “With an over and under .410 shotgun and 22 caliber rifle with a bent barrel.” It worked for us when we cleaned them in the warm water of the wash basins in the nearby Skiers Chalet bathrooms.
At 87 years old, Ward Baker is still healthy and physically fit. He blames his good health on never smoking a cigarette or even having a beer. That has really worked for him, and the same abstinence has worked for my health all my life. I won’t go spear fishing with him, but I sure like it when he cooks the fish that he catches.
There has never been any discussion between us about whether we were cold or not because we didn’t know the difference.
Ward remembered that when we left Alta, driving down the canyon road, the trip started off with a near total disaster when the left wheel just fell off of the trailer. I was driving down the canyon in the dark when I felt a lurch and watched a tire pass me up and roll up over the snow bank and disappear into the darkness of the creek in the canyon below.
Since I was driving, it was my fault and I had to wade down into deep powder snow and follow the tire track until it ended. Fortunately, the snow was almost waist deep, so it slowed the tire down before it got to what was a considerable-sized river.
It is very hard to climb up a steep snowbank in several feet of powder snow while wrestling with a tire and a wheel while hoping that no one would hit our trailer in the middle of the road.
When we got the wheel back onto the trailer, I was so frozen that Ward had to drive the Buick convertible down to Salt Lake City, where we found a deserted street in a new subdivision and parked under a street light to cook dinner.
We had already eaten all of the goat meat chops that Ward had brought along for the trip. He had shot the goats on Catalina from the deck of his fishing boat. No frozen meat was left, so it would be sauerkraut and wieners under a streetlight.
The smell of the boiling sauerkraut on our Coleman stove attracted the attention of the people who lived in the house we were parked in front of. They, of course called the police, but there is no ordinance in the Salt Lake City law books about cooking dinner in a public street unless you are in the middle of it. At least there was no law against it then.
I do know that as a result of my travels with Ward Baker, a lot of laws about things that were legal then got changed because of stuff we did.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to Warren Miller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.