Vail Valley Voices: Fired up to be in a ski film
Vail, CO, Colorado
Years ago, in Vancouver, B.C., a man approached me after my show and asked, “How can I get to be in your next ski movie?”
Without waiting for my answer, he went on to say, “I want to be famous for the rest of my life, and this will be a great way to get that way.”
“Why should I put you in my next movie? What can you do that’s different than turning your skis right or left or just going straight and leaping off of a cliff?”
He answered, “A friend and I have bought a $10 Army surplus asbestos firefighting suit. It even includes a complete asbestos helmet and Pyrex face mask. Here’s our plan: I’ll wear the suit. My partner will pour gasoline all over me. Then he’ll light me on fire. I’ll ski down the hill in flames and jump off of a big cliff.”
It sounded like a pretty good scene to me, so I said, “You do that, and I’ll make sure that I have a camera crew there to make you world famous.”
Sixty-one days later the drama unfolded on an overcast day at Squaw Valley, Calif., under the watchful eye of the local ski patrol. My ace cameraman, Don Brolin, had hired eight or 10 extra people to help him with fire extinguishers, first aid supplies, and to run a couple of his extra cameras. Don wisely figured that if they bought the fireproof suit for only $10, it probably had seen better days and would have a leak here or there.
Our soon-to-be-world-famous barbecued hot dog skier had selected just the right rock to jump off a few days earlier and had laboriously hauled 15 gallons of gasoline up to where he would start skiing down in flames. By his calculations, it would take five gallons of gasoline per try. He also had decided that the suit could probably withstand three flaming trips before it would be leaking too badly. The next day was going to be his big day, everything was ready.
“Fire extinguishers ready?”
“Asbestos Man, are you ready?”
A mumble came from inside the helmet, then a wave and thumbs up.
The gasoline started flowing over his helmet, down over his shoulders and back, his chest and then a little extra shot of gasoline on his skis.
“Get ready for ignition”
An explosion roared across Squaw Valley and everyone instantly had second thoughts about the wisdom of this barbecued hot dog trick for the cameras.
With three cameras rolling and flames leaping six or eight feet high, he shoved off, and before he had skied 15 feet, the viewing port on his fireproof helmet fogged up. He couldn’t see where to hit his take off properly but he had to jump anyway to get down the hill to where the men with the fire extinguishers were waiting.
The world’s first barbecued hot dog flew about 100 feet and crashed in flames.
The fire retardant fog was spewing out of the many fire extinguishers as the minimum-wage firemen skied down the hill while shooting foam at the skier in flames.
Don Brolin knew he couldn’t come back from this shoot without spectacular footage. He also knew he had a problem because Asbestos Man’s face mask was fogging up due to the flames.
At lunch, Asbestos Man, his assistant, cameraman Don Brolin, the firemen and the three other cameramen figured out that Asbestos Man needed to get warm air to inhale instead of the cold mountain air. This would eliminate the fogging problem. They decided to rig up a breathing tube that went down under his armpit. That way he could breathe toasty warm armpit-air that he alone would generate.
After lunch he once again suited up (but not until after he took a shower and sprayed on a heavy dose of deodorant). Don was set for another try at filming the barbecued hot dog skier.
Asbestos Man’s partner had suggested more gasoline for bigger flames that next time with, “Let’s try for 10 gallons.” While more gasoline was hauled to the top of the in-run by three off-duty bartenders, the cameramen practiced their pans so they wouldn’t miss and the firemen each squeezed out a practice squirt of foam. Everything was now ready.
This time it was really spooky as Asbestos Man took off down the in-run looking like a jet airplane going down in flames. Flying 100 feet through the air while looking through a clear visor, and breathing warm armpit-air, he still crashed in flames. The crash was immediately followed by the foaming-fire-extinguishing-ski patrolmen converging on him while he slid and finally rolled to a stop.
Asbestos Man’s first question after he wiped the foam from his face plate and removed his still smoking helmet, “Will I be world famous?”
Don Brolin replied, “Sure, you’ll be world famous as Asbestos Man, but no one will recognize you because your entire body including your head and face were covered up with your $10 asbestos suit.”
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. We’ve brought him back to where he started, beginning this week. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net