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Vail Valley Voices: The saga of the panty tree

Elizabeth Eber
Vail Valley Voices
Vail, CO Colorado

Once upon a time, some artistic, visionary powderhounds realized that one thing, and one thing only, could add to the legendary natural splendor of Vail’s Back Bowls: a pair of lace panties.

And so that winter, many years ago, on a starkly beautiful tree where all Back Bowl skiers could see, they quietly hung a pretty pair.

Others soon followed suit, and before long, the Vail Panty Tree was born. And winter after winter, that one lucky tree, naked of its aspen leaves, was perennially replete with lace panties.



Rumor has it that this special decor was donated courtesy of triumphs of the nights before. Others swear it was the serendipitous generosity of ski partners who just couldn’t wait. The fact is, the Back Bowls can get pretty cold. But then they also can get pretty hot.

Which may be why, as the years went by, the Panty Tree sprouted various other lacy garments, leading many to refer to it as the Lingerie Tree.



Not to be outdone by Vail, one ski season some Beaver Creek aficionados christened their own Panty Tree. However, lacking the subtle history of Vail’s Back Bowls, they grew it rather blatantly, in full view of the Centennial Lift, which serves as access to all.

The family outcry was swift and loud. Vail Resorts immediately sent staff up the lift to pluck all the panties.

The next day, lo and behold, more grew. The next evening, lo and behold, staff plucked. And so it went until one evening staff almost fell off the lift trying to pluck a problematic pair.



The next day, the tree was cut down and the warning was issued: Vail Resorts would keep cutting down trees until the panty frenzy stopped.

It stopped. At Beaver Creek, that is.

For the remainder of that ski season, Vail’s Lingerie Tree nervously flourished. Until the Cruel Summer of ’97. Apparently a disgruntled backcountry hiker – perhaps a lynx? -took offense and cut down the Vail Lingerie Tree.

When the next ski season began, there was not a panty to be found in the Back Bowls (on a tree).

But nature is hardy, and even in the face of mass destruction, has the will to renew. Soon, ever so slowly and near the site of the original, a new Panty Tree grew. And this Panty Tree, being of later, scantier vintage, was even more beautiful than any of yore.

But human nature is fickle, and fickle does not always breed finer. So it was with the reincarnated Panty Tree, which slowly devolved into a disheveled bullet-proof brassier bower. In every size, and in the dullest of snow-laden colors, they weighted down the branches of many an aspen unlucky enough to catch this unsightly blight.

And for years, nobody seemed to notice. Or care.

Until an antidote was proffered, in the name of Grand Marnier. Thanks to an inspiring advertisement strategically placed in magazines that skiers are known to peruse, “You just recognized a pair of panties in the Sun Down Bowl tree … the conversation is waiting”‘ became a mantra to visitors from far and near.

And so to the Back Bowls they came, in droves, with contributions divine. In one short season it happened: the Panty Tree once again came alive. And multiplied in beauty, until it became no fewer than five.

But in Vail, five was becoming an endangered number – as in Chair 5 is too old; Chair 5 is too slow. The tourists cried “faster, better,” the locals cried “no, keep it retro,” while the panty trees blissfully blossomed, oblivious to the row.

Until that fateful day, when the corporate proclamation was issued: Chair 5 would be replaced.

The 2010 season started uncannily with foot after foot of early snow. The skiers salivated mightily for the Back Bowls to drop their ropes. As they soon did, one after one. Except for Sun Down; Chair 5 was still under construction. Damn the new. But damn the old, too.

Finally, on a wonderful December day, all giddy with glee, every powder hound was wowed by the new Chair 5. As they were whisked up the mountain, skiers barely had time to snuggle into their plush seats and lower -what? On Chair 5? A footrest?

But something was missing. Something was afoul. Yes, the new lift, with four seats across, had cut too a wide swath. In the name of progress, sweet and nice, the panty trees – all five of them – had been sacrificed.

But we know that nature is hardy, and even in the face of mass destruction, has the will to survive. And so it is that at this very moment, a new panty tree starts to thrive.

This new tree is quite young and its blossoms quite delicate, with one in pretty hot pink and one in passionate purple. So get thee to Vail’s Back Bowls to join the new spree. And be warned that now your timing must be impeccable, if panty is ever again to meet tree.

And then all will live happily ever after. Including the legendary Vail Panty Tree.

Elizabeth Eber is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Vail.


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