Vail Valley Voices: Bumming around at Alta
Vail, CO Colorado
Wind speed over on the coast has reached almost 50 mph while here it is just a little above 35 mph and the rain is slanting down and pounding against the windows of my office.
Winter is officially here!
In early November of 1946 it was raining just as hard and we had driven what seemed like endless hours from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. Driving north from Las Vegas the rain turned into driving snow. Our ancient Buick convertible somehow managed to get us to the bottom of Little Cottonwood Canyon and rather than drive up to Alta in the dark with it snowing so hard we decided to stop there and cook dinner.
Rather than do it in the dark we parked the trailer under a streetlight and proceeded with our preparation for dinner. We had bought a package of hot dogs and put that together with a can of sauerkraut and warmed it up on our Coleman stove. About the time we were on our second helping of hot dogs and sauerkraut a police car with lights flashing skidded around the corner and parked directly behind us with their bright lights shining into our outdoor kitchen. It took a reasonable length of time for the officers to get together with the owner of the house we were parked in front and decide that we were not committing a crime with sauerkraut and hot dogs in the homeowner’s view corridor.
Apparently what happened was that the smelly sauerkraut gas created by slowly coming to a boil on our gasoline stove had drifted into their living room. His wife had blown the whistle on us as soon as she smelled that sauerkraut gas was seeping under the front door in her living room, and when she looked out there we were.
The police ran a check on our license plates and decided that our car and trailer had not been stolen. Fortunately for us, they didn’t look inside the trailer because inside of our sleeping bags were some subsistence farming wild game we had gathered earlier in the day with our shotguns.
After everything settled down and the police had left, we put the lid on the back of the trailer down to close up the kitchen. We then drove to the suburbs of town. We had been cooking in what seemed like a suburb but was less than four blocks from downtown. Since we were not in a hurry we pulled off the road into a vacant lot for the night.
Ward Baker and I both have very thin eyelids, so we would always wake up to first gray light in the East. Then we went through our usual ritual of dining on oatmeal. After putting everything back together, we started up little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta.
We arrived at the Alta parking lot on a beautiful sunny morning, and I found a safe and comfortable parking spot for our car and trailer. It was across the road from the stairs that led down to the Alta Lodge. It was also just below the employees’ dormitories. We had heard a lot about avalanches, and this seemed like a safe place to camp for a while.
Within 24 hours. it had snowed 2 feet. The first day we were there, we put our skis on and coasted toward the chair lift. We found out that it cost $2.50 for a day pass. We knew we had a whole winter of skiing ahead, so we decided to really get in shape and climbed instead of riding the lifts. The next day was Saturday, and I was shocked with the length of the lift line.
After the ski lift shutdown ,we coasted over to the Snow Pine Lodge, and I sat around in the small restaurant until everybody had left and driven down the canyon. We were offered five dollars to clean up the dining room. By the time we finished, management offered us a weekend job. Why not? We hired on as combination fry cook and cleanup team, and suddenly we each had enough money to buy a lift ticket daily for four days
While working as fry cooks, we would occasionally drop the hamburger patty on the floor, which of course we could not serve to the guests, or we would overcook one and both types of hamburgers, which would end up in our rucksacks.
They were great when we added a lot of rice to them, and we managed to stretch those hamburgers all through the week for dinner in the back of our small trailer with the outdoor kitchen. Our trailer stayed parked at the entrance to the Alta Lodge until a few days before Christmas. When school got out for Christmas vacation the lift line was too long so we drove back to Los Angeles and spent Christmas with our parents in hopes that there would be presents under the tree for each of us. I was lucky. I got some good stuff. A set of skid chains for my bald tires so I didn’t have to slip and slide up Little Cottonwood Canyon anymore.
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 WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.
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