Vail Daily column: Skiing in his blood | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Skiing in his blood

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

As my eyes got used to the dimly lit hospital room, I could hear Jon Reveal breathing lightly.

Charlie Callander, Laurie's son Colin and I had traveled 150 miles from Big Sky to Billings, Montana, to see Jon after his double bypass heart surgery. He had two 100 percent blocked arteries.

I sat on the edge of his hospital bed as a million experiences of nearly a 60-year friendship passed between us almost instantly. I first filmed Jon many years ago at Bear Valley, California, where he was working for Peter Brinkman, the ski school director.

Before I give you John's background I will tell you my experience with him in the hospital. His face was sunken and as he discussed working as the manager of Sleeping Giant Ski Area near Cody, Wyoming, he had gotten so weak that he could barely climb up a flight of stairs. When he talked with a doctor who took his blood pressure it was 220/180, a very scary number. With those numbers he climbed into his pickup truck and drove the 125 miles to Billings, where they immediately put him in the intensive care unit, cracked open his chest and performed a double bypass heart surgery. This was the first time I'd ever seen wires going everywhere back and forth across someone's chest along with an exterior pacemaker. It was not a pleasant sight. The afternoon before I got to see Jon he had 800 cubic centimeters of fluid taken out of his back. Eight-hundred cubic centimeters is about the equivalent of a bottle of wine — not the right thing to have inside of your rib cage.

As Jon perked up with everyone's conversation, along with his wife Kim interjecting things here and there, we managed to keep him on his toes for almost two hours. In the middle of our visit, Jon did a lap around the hospital corridor. I knew that Jon was too tough to give up just because of two complete blockage of two arteries.

Jon Reveal has appeared in at least 15 of my feature-length ski films skiing at resorts from Bear Valley, California, to Zermatt, Switzerland, and Courchevel, France, plus just about every ski resort in between.

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He appeared in the films together with Emile Allais in Verbier, Switzerland, and several French resorts.

Years ago I talked Bob Maynard, the then-president of Keystone, to hire Jon away from Bear Valley. At Keystone, he eventually became the mountain manager way back when Keystone hardly had a mountain developed. When Maynard bought Arapahoe Basin, Jon was put in charge of the whole resort and eventually tore the lodge down and rebuilt it. He also replaced the ski lifts at Arapahoe Basin that had faulty cable grips. Those faulty grips led to chairs falling off of the cable and eventually all of those chairlifts in Colorado had to be replaced. As Jon climbed up the ladder of success, he replaced all of the lifts at Keystone, including the gondola. He went on to replace all of the defective lifts at Breckenridge, Aspen, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass.

On my first trip to the proposed ski resort called the Yellowstone Club, I invited Jon to go along with Jack Kemp, Tim Blixseth, the owner, and me, and Jon was the best hire Tim made as Jon was able to correct many of the mistakes Tim was making, thinking he understood what it took to build a ski area. He was a visionary but should have left all the practical decisions to people like Jon.

By the time we got through some of these war stories, it was time for lunch. The hospital was so deluxe that Jon could pick up the phone and order lunch for his wife Kim, Charlie, Colin, Jon and me. No green Jell-O, just good old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cream and more ice cream. Between the grilled cheese sandwiches, the ice cream and war stories about Jon and me skiing all over the world, Jon's voice got deeper and more enthusiastic.

Jon started working on a rope tow at the age of 4 that his father had built at a small resort on the western slopes of the central Sierra Nevada that would make him the proud owner of working in the ski industry for 66 years.

In 1999, he accepted the offer of coming to work for the Yellowstone Club when there was no one there. He laid out many of the best runs at the resort, realigned a couple of the chairlifts and set the course for the daily enjoyment of almost 500 members and their families.

The Sleeping Giant ski resort only has enough people within driving distance to be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and he reluctantly raised prices this year on Friday from $24 to $26 and on weekends from $34 to $36. He's shifted so much of their efforts to the young people around Cody, encouraging them into a healthy mountain lifestyle rather than smoking, drinking and drugs.

About this time in our visit the doctor came in with a nurse and the two of them and Jon took a lap walk around the hospital corridor and then he laid back down very carefully with all of that hardware attached to his chest. By now, Jon's wife Kim was nodding toward the door and Charlie, Colin and I knew it was time to start winding down the storytelling, climb back in the car and drive the 150 miles back to Big Sky and the Yellowstone Club.

I really had it soft on the trip because I brought along a big quilt and pillow and managed to sleep all the away from Bozeman to Billings and all the way back from Billings back to our home.

All three of us agreed that the 300-mile round trip was more than worth it to know that Jon was going to return to good health and luckily for the Cody area, to the management of the Sleeping Giant Ski Area. Even though he could not drive his pickup truck for three weeks, his wife, Kim, was going to fill in as the driver and suspend her feature film production business until that open-heart surgery was healed and done with. Everyone was grateful to know that Jon had at least 30 to 40 more years of breathing regularly.

Luckily, Jon's mountain management talents are applied at Sleeping Giant, which isn't too far away, so we get to see him at least once a winter. Luke Stratford, our mountain manager here, was well trained by Jon and comes from a similar background as Jon because Luke's father was a professional ski patrolman at Aspen for about 40 years. It's in Luke's blood just like it's in Jon's. But you all probably agree, skiing, in general, gets into everyone's blood and stays there, right?

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller's stories and stuff, log onto WarrenMiller.net.