Vail gone wild |

Vail gone wild

John O’Neill
Special to the Daily
More than 1,000 people gathered at Lionshead Mall in 1989 to watch the 17th annual Great Race. Twenty-six teams battled it out in full costumes and ski boots through an obstacle course involving a pool, a tricycle and a two-person set of skis. "Tone Deaf," above, won the lip-sync contest following the race by belting out "Wild Thing."
Special to the Daily |

Long before Vail’s event calendar was colored in full by professionally organized events, it was the amateurs who had their way with planning and living out their own kind of fun, by the locals, for the locals — and anyone else who dared to join in on the fun.

In the ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s, Vail was filled with free-spirited young characters sharing a like-mindedness for skiing and keeping spirits high. It was these bohemians who organized a laundry list of unorthodox events, some which grew to national fame and others that are looked back upon as simply great gatherings of the local crowd that worked hard to keep Vail on its feet.

“You might go to a party on the mountain and there would be 300 people there, but you knew all 300 of them,” said KZYR radio host Tony Mauro, who often emceed the events. “Everyone knew each other. It was everyone who worked in Lionshead or the Village coming out together.”

Events such as The Great Race, the Ravinos St. Patrick’s Day party, Midnight Movies at Crossroads, BB&B, the Hairbag Ball, the Cyrano’s Suitcase Party, the yearly party on Jebbie’s Deck, Mountain Formal, Chinese Downhill, lip sync contests at Bart & Yetis — the list goes on — dot an important timeline that is not often discussed by the resort or town nowadays.

“Back then, we all had a certain level of commitment within a very small community,” Mauro said. “There were so many people who cared about each other so much and wanted to have fun with each other.”

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In Vail’s 50-year flipbook, there is no mention of these grassroots events, most of which have launched, peaked and petered out, but like mountain-town folklore, their legend lives on in the stories of those who were there.

Ravinos St. Patrick’s Day Party (roughly 1970 to 1981)

What it was: Sometimes referred to as skiing’s Hell’s Angels, the Ravinos were a rambunctious group of Wisconsin skiers who migrated to Vail and became renowned for their cliff launching, ski jumping and inverted stunts.

They took that popularity and plugged it into St. Patrick’s Day, creating a massive on-mountain party featuring Ravinos members jumping cliffs and throwing backflips. According to Ravinos lore, crowds grew beyond hundreds of people and the party lasted late into the evening.

The Ravinos themselves sported sleeveless jean jackets with the Ravinos emblem sewn onto the back. The audience would picnic. Some brought kegs of beer, some brought wine and some decided they, too, could do the same jumps as the Ravinos. It was that “I can do that, too” attitude that was among the evenings’ highest form of entertainment.

Why it ended: In 1981, Vail’s management had enough of the stunts and banned the annual event. The Ravinos attempted to move it over to Meadow Mountain and then up to Vail Pass, where clashes with the Forest Service eventually cut it off.

In 2010, former members dusted off their patches and put it out to younger generations to take up where they left off. Five years later, the second generation of Ravinos can be spotted tearing up Vail in whatever ways they can.

The Great Race (roughly 1977 to 1995)

What it was: Hosted the day before Closing Day of the mountain each season, The Great Race took over Lionshead with reckless abandon. Like the scene in “Caddyshack” where the help get an hour to take over the pool, the town was turned upside-down by teams of ski patrolmen, restaurant workers, retailers and so forth racing through an obstacle course, with ski boots on, while an audience of equally bodacious and imbibing characters cheered on the spectacle.

Obstacles changed throughout the years, but some of them involved swimming across the Monteneros Pool, a tricycle race, sledding or walking back-to-back (or butt-to-butt, as it was described) with a partner through Lionshead on a pair of skis with two sets of bindings. The crowd would be on top of the competing teams for the entire race, donning costumes and ski boots of their own.

The event even garnered national recognition when Sara Purcell, a TV talk-show host, put together a story on the race for “Real People,” a national magazine show.

“One year, I was emceeing the event and I got hit by a snowball,” Mauro said. “I told everyone, ‘Hey now, knock it off.’ It was one of the stupidest things I ever could have said. I just got pelted by snowballs. I was a total sitting duck.”

Why it ended: The event originally ran from Golden Peak into Vail Village before being pushed over to Lionshead. It was there where those celebrating could be found drinking excessive amounts of champagne or anything else alcoholic on the street, shedding one too many layers of clothing or losing their lunch on the sidewalk. It was this sort of behavior that became off-putting as Vail began calling itself a “family-friendly” resort.

In its last year, a costume for a team dubbed “The Great Racists” turned off a lot of people, there were accidents caused by those under the influence and event sponsors pulled out after roughly 20 years.

BB&B (roughly 1983 to 2002)

What it was: On the second Tuesday of every April from the early ’80s to 2002, the revelry of BB&B grew ever more unrestrained and chaotic on Minnie’s Deck above Lionshead.

Originally, the festivities started as a birthday party attended by a handful of people but quickly grew to a gathering of hundreds. Supposedly the acronym stood for “Beach Blankets and Bikinis,” as reported by Matt Zalaznick in a 2003 Vail Daily article. Others remembered the acronym being the slightly more unsavory “Booze, Boobs and Butts” or “Bongs, Beers and Barbecue.”

Perhaps it meant all those things, as hospitality workers in Vail saw the opportunity as a chance to get together, celebrate the end of the season, throw some snowballs, cook out, moon or flash the chairlift and make merry times.

“Early on, the ‘zookeepers’ would organize the party. Vail Associates would let it happen and let them take a haul cat up to Minnie’s with chili, beer, potato salad, burgers, dogs, buns and a barbecue,” said Amy Phillips, whose husband once carried the title of zookeeper. “People would start prepping the site a few days prior with snow mazes or getting the area all flattened out. Everyone would be really excited in the days leading up. It was just a good time.”

Why it ended: Simply put, the resort and the U.S. Forest Service, even those involved in the early days, got fed up with the increasingly out-of-hand shenanigans. In its later years, partygoers left behind mounds of garbage and human waste, and there were fights, excessive drug use and dangerous behavior. In 2003, ski patrol and the Forest Service cracked down by banning open containers and shutting down access to Minnie’s Deck in April and threatened to revoke a ski pass for up to two years if anyone was caught trying to get on with the party despite its ban.

Cyrano’s Suitcase Party (exact dates unknown)

What it was: At its heart, the Suitcase Party at Cyrano’s restaurant was a gathering of locals at the end of the season as a sort of kickoff to the offseason. One would buy a ticket for about $5 to be entered into a drawing for a paid offseason trip to Mexico. The only catch: You had to pack and bring your suitcase for the Mexico trip with you to the party.

The raffle would happen in a reverse drawing format, leaving the last five people on stage. Often, someone from this group would have to open their suitcase and explain the contents of their bag, which could contain curious items.

“It was the end of the season, going into offseason,” Mauro said. “I mean, it was only locals. There were no guests at this thing. It was a true locals’ party.”

Why it ended: Well, Cyrano’s doesn’t exist anymore. Even then, Vail and the airline industry had undergone some growing pains that made hosting a local party and anonymous ticket/spontaneous travel very difficult.

Times change

Even the small events had their place. Take, for instance, Midnight Movies at the old Crossroads Theater, which closed in 2007. Determined not to let the fun run out on Sundays when the bar closed at midnight instead of 2 a.m., locals would head to the movie theater to catch a show that might not be suitable for young audiences.

And there was the Hairbag Ball, dubbed the first formal in Vail, and the Chinese Downhill race to cap off the end of the season down Simba.

“Back then, if you came upon a bunch of people doing something crazy, you just jumped right in,” said Phillips, who moved here in 1986. “Everyone was locals, so if you didn’t know someone, you would get to know them at something like this.”

And then, something began to change.

“When I moved here, I was the youngster at 26,” Phillips said. “Most of the people putting these things on were in their 30s already. I’m not sure when I got to be the old lady, but it seemed to happen all of the sudden and the events started to change.”

The town and the resort were seeing the benefits of sanctioned events, such as the 1989 and 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. The resort was growing and so was the population. Those who had lived in Vail, which was everyone at the time, started spreading out toward Eagle-Vail, Avon and Edwards.

The goliath event organizer of today, the Vail Valley Foundation, was founded in 1981, the Coors Classic Bike race came through for 10 years and the UCI World Mountain Bike Championships came in 1994 and then again in 2001. Then there came golf tournaments and tennis tournaments and then freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.

Eventually, Vail gave way to a year full of formal events, and the local economy boomed well beyond the ski season that brought those original locals and visitors to town.

“Continuing on with some of the grassroots events that were maybe more localized than a World Cup ski race, this valley has always seen the value in continuing what has been put in place and looking to the horizon as to what the next big thing could be for residents and for guests,” said John Dakin, vice president of communications at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and formerly of the Vail Valley Foundation.

The world now visits Vail to watch World Cup skiing, to see world-class kayakers paddling on Gore Creek or the world’s best snowboarders come down Golden Peak. But Phillips said that without the Ravinos, there might not be a Burton U.S. Open; without The Great Race, there might not be a summer Mountain Games; and without BB&B, Chair 4 @ 4 might not be what it is.

“Now, we’ve got a World Cup ski race every year at Beaver Creek, and that is so awesome,” Phillips said. “The events have become part of our financial model. They have allowed us to live here and continue to go to a lot of things and still have a lot of fun.”

But in the winks and the whispers of Vail’s longtime locals, one can see through to the first-timers, the trailblazers and the events that once made life and still make life something to remember in Vail.

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