Vail Valley Voices: Still plenty of snow
May 6, 2011
For over 50 years, before the invention of instant communications except by telephone or telegraph, I made a lot of long-distance phone calls in the fall and winter trying to find where the snow had fallen deep enough to start on my next ski movie. Even back in the days before the invention of snow compaction and snowmaking machines, the ski resorts slowly learned to cut the trees right down at the ground when they were cutting a new trail so it could be skied with less than a foot of snow.
Big Bromely, for example, offered free lift tickets to anyone who wanted to join their rock-gathering weekends in the fall. People from ski clubs would organize a weekend of cleaning rocks over half an inch in any dimension from the grassy, not very steep ski runs so that eventually they could operate on frozen grass and the first 2 inches of snow that fell. In exchange for x hours of rock picking, the rock pickers would earn credit toward their lift tickets when it snowed that first 2 inches.
Then when the Tucker snow cat was invented, resorts all bought at least one to try and pack down the snow before it got all skied down to dirt, which would force them to close down until the next snowstorm.
The classic case of dirt on a ski run was at Vail in the first few years. At the bottom of the mountain there is a run now called Pepi’s Face (used to be called the Slide for Life!). Back in those early days when Vail did not even have a parking lot, the snow would quickly get skied off of the face. People would pull off of I-70 and that run seemed to indicate that the skiing was not very good or the dirt would not be showing up like that. The carloads of people who would have bought $4 a day lift tickets pulled back onto the highway and continued on to Aspen without ever seeing or skiing the Back Bowls. They missed so much.
They built a development near the final steep pitch of the world championship course. Now that they no longer have a finish area at Vail, they have had to move the race course from Vail to Beaver Creek. Even though the races are advertised as world championships at Vail, the parties will be held at Vail and the races will be held at Beaver Creek with all of the attendant problems of access to the bottom of the chairlifts from Avon, which is several miles away.
Laurie and I were really lucky when we lived on a dead end street in Vail where we could walk about 150 feet and put on our skis and coast down to the Lionshead gondola. On some days when the powder was good and everyone was racing to get one run in the Back Bowls and then spend a half an hour or more in the lift line, we would just make endless runs in Lionshead in the untracked powder with almost no other people on the runs. We usually managed to get untracked powder snow runs until we were so tired we had to coast back to our house and take a nap long about at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Just one of the many secrets Laurie and I have shared with a few closed mouth friends who we phoned to rendezvous in our driveway but hurry because it is already 8:15 and the lift opens at 9. Unfortunately for all of us, the Vail Ski School got to cut up the snow for an hour before we could get a whack at it but they couldn’t wreck it all because we had a secret monopoly on a lot of stashes.
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After all, it is about searching for freedom. I was lucky I had it that first winter Vail was open and some days when we were the only people making tracks in the Back Bowls, myself, my camera and my skiers. I know Vail went out on a limb a couple of times for me and said there was too much avalanche danger in the Back Bowls, so we really had it to ourselves.
Somewhere buried in a film vault unlabeled are all of the great shots of Pete Seibert, Christie Hill, Dick Hauserman, Pepi Gramshammer, Dave Gorsuch and Bob Smith. Bob invented the ski goggles that let us all ski regardless of the weather.
Now good weather or bad when the Pisten Bullies roll out of the Vail garage for another eight hour shift of grooming ski runs there are almost forty of them that cost over $300,000 each to buy and cost about a hundred dollars an hour to operate so that you folks who complain about the cost of a chair lift ticket can have yet another day of total freedom. Try and educate people to spend their discretionary time later in the spring instead of early in the fall. Corn snow is still one of my favorites!
Some of the California resorts have closed even though there is still 30 feet of snow on their hills and it is superb. An inch of corn snow on top of that 29-feet, 11-inch snow pack. What is not to like about that?
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 http://www.warrenmiller.net.