Letters to the editor
It has come to my attention that your columnist Alan Braunholtz, who doubles as my son, has been spreading untrue and possibly libelous information about me in your otherwise excellent newspaper.
I demand the right to respond. In the first place, I am not an old man. I am 74 and in good health and have several of my own teeth. I also have more hair than Alan, if you count my beard.
I may be a bit asthmatic but that did not stop me from climbing the Matterhorn on my 65th birthday, as Alan knows perfectly well (he was carrying most of my stuff), nor will it stop me climbing Mont Blanc on my 75th.
I will admit to being a senior citizen, but that is all. I also admit to being absent-minded, but I have always been called that since I came down to breakfast without my trousers on at the age of 10. So that’s in your genes too, Alan. Personally I consider absent-mindedness as a sign of superior powers of concentration.
In the second place, all this guff about yodeling, stilton cheese, and suchlike is pure journalistic invention. It is true that some of my ski gear, particularly the balaclava helmet I inherited from MY father, is a trifle dated, but none the worse for that.
It is also unfortunately true that the ski jacket I had intended to wear no longer fit my expanded waistline, and I was grateful to Alan for lending me some of his stuff, even if it was a bit scruffy.
In the third place, Alan accuses me of Arlberg-era skiing. Well, it is true that I skied a lot in Austria in the “60s, and in those days you HAD to unweight to get your skis to turn. I readily admit that the short shaped skis Alan rented for me make turning – especially on your fantastically light Colorado snow – so easy that unweighting hardly seems necessary anymore, as my excellent ski instructors Allen and Dave pointed out. The nicely shaped turns that result from mere shifting of the weight were very flattering to my ego!
In the fourth place, Alan accuses me of following the wrong class. Well, that is true. But when there are four or five instructors on the same trail, all dressed in identical flashy blue suits and yellow boots, how could I know from a distance which one I was supposed to be following, especially when trying to catch up after a mishap?
Why can’t the ski school do what the football teams do and put numbers on their instructors? Anyway, I only lost my instructor permanently once (on the last afternoon)! Sorry, Dave. You’ll get your tip next holiday!
As for being “sweet,” I totally deny it and shall prove it by revealing some of Alan’s embarrassing past. Alan has always been a troublesome child, but perhaps that’s not surprising considering he was conceived in a beach shack on Cape Cod during a power cut caused by a passing hurricane. We attribute his square head to the forceps used to deliver him nine months later in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a dual citizen of the USA and UK.
Alan was a very attractive baby, with very blonde hair and contrasting dark brown eyes, and for two years he was a very sweet toddler. After that his love-hate relationship with his younger sister caused endless trouble, though we only learned about the time he shot her with an air gun after they had both grown up.
He loved the family pets, but – as with all things he loves – could not resist testing the strength of the love. Notably by dropping Buster upside down from different heights to see if he could right himself in time. Fortunately Buster survived and lived to a ripe old age.
I was a bit worried how he would test ME this last holiday, but as he was on crutches, he couldn’t do too much!
But Alan is right about two things in his article. (1) We do love him and always shall, in spite of everything. (2) If he moves to Detroit, I shall never visit him again! Not in winter, anyway.
A Red Coat’s day
Saturday, 8:10 a.m.: More than 20 of us are stuffed into a small locker room, seemingly airless and hot secreted away in an underground labyrinth of Lionshead. We make mental notes to a briefing of news and facts for the many events on the mountain today as we prepare to serve as volunteers for the Vail Mountain Community Guest Service Program, otherwise known as “Guest Service Red Coats.”
We hear it’s only 5 degrees outside with a high expected of 17, two inches of fresh powder and a wind of 13 mph from the northeast. So as we listen to the last of Paul’s announcements, we layer on our extra warm weather gear and strap on radios that begin to crackle with reports from the ski patrol.
Boot buckles, snap and pop as Paul, our weekend supervisor, wraps up the meeting. I zip up my Red Jacket with the big “I,” front and back. Time to go.
That’s about how my day begins every Saturday. It’s my first year in the program, a newbie to many of the veterans who’ve been at it for almost a decade. The mission – to provide a great experience for anyone who chooses to ski and ride at Vail.
We’re trained to react as first responders to accidents or guests with questions. We assist the ski patrol in getting to the location of any accident scene we come upon. We also help with something as simple as getting a gentleman with frost bite to shelter. We’re even mountain guides, taking groups on the complimentary Mountain Welcome Tours.
Last week I had the privilege of leading seven Russians over the peaks and valleys and back again, a three-hour journey of jokes and ribbing from them as I explain the mountain. Some of the many friends I make each week.
So, my duty begins today. I’m on the chair by 8:20, grabbing grooming reports, mentally noting where the cleanest runs will be today, adjusting my headgear and listening to the ski patrol chatter on the radio, transmitting mountain conditions, gate openings, rig (sleds) locations and giving an updated weather report.
As I exit the chair I see it’s 3 degrees, but thankfully sunny. Today I will cruise mid-mountain, up and down, across and back with a keen eye for helping anyone with anything.
After a lap around the Avanti lift, my first visitor engagement is with two kids from Michigan, newlyweds who have never been to Vail before. I ski up on them as they study a map all alone in the middle of Berries run. It’s intimidating, the size of the mountain and the number of runs.
After an explanation of the peaks and a suggestion where they should ski, they’re eternally grateful and I’m off to the top of chairs 4 and 11 to man an “info hour” under the big map boards and offer navigation assistance.
From 12:30 to 1:30, it’s non-stop action pointing out directions to Two Elk, Mid Vail, Blue Sky, what’s the easiest way down, how to get to the back bowls, and where the groomers are.
And for a trio of sunburned Brits, I insist they find sunscreen. We kid each other. They invite me to ski with them. I have to decline.
The temperature has rocketed to what feels like 40 and I’m burning up in my extra warm weather gear. After a 15-minute break for a sandwich, it’s off to turn laps, seek out the lost, the confused and the tired. I stop on nearly every run, rendering some kind of assistance, like the young lady carrying her skis, walking down the mountain,
glaring at her boyfriend. They’re not speaking, domestic dispute 101. After a bit of encouragement from me, I get her to download and suggest that the boyfriend join her. The last I see they’re laughing as they disappear down the hill.
More laps, a runaway ski, lost sunglasses. From the middle of Northwoods, I detail a “how-to” route for an Indiana group, wanting to meet their friends at Lionshead.
It’s now 2:45 and the light is turning flat. I’m back up the chair, headed for egress duty. Egress, that’s the term for efficiently getting everyone off the hill safely, the time when all Red Coats locate at strategic spots to direct traffic. I’m stationed at emergency phone 2019, an intersection where greens and blues collide and traffic is heavy, heading left and right as the sun drops lower.
Shadows lengthen, temperatures fall, snowboarders are carving their way down, snow plowers inching their way down. The extremes are clear and often a challenge to keep separated. “Lionshead that way. Vail Village that way. Easiest way this way. Take it easy there.”
Egress is one of the most gratifying events of my day. So many of the guests appreciate the help when all they want is to get down safely to the right base area. We’re not enforcement; that’s where the Yellow Jackets and the safety team come to bear for speed control and authority in making the hill safe and fun for everyone.
Good Red Coats master the art of giving directions. Good Red Coats wear a smile, even in the most testy of circumstances. It’s not hard to smile in this job.
It’s now 3:50 and I’m headed to base camp at Lionshead, stopping for some skiers with unfolded maps. Farther along on a catwalk is a boy with a sore knee who can’t continue. I call in the location to the ski patrol and within two minutes there’s a patroller on the scene with a comforting word and assurance that everything will be fine. I’m continually impressed with how good and dedicated the men and women of the Vail Ski Patrol are.
I’m back at the locker room by 4:10. A long day. The crowded little room is busy again – everyone checking in their radios, peeling off their gear and chatting about their day. We listen and laugh as the stories unfold.
Bottom line, no two days are alike. I sit and reflect as my fellow Red Coats change into their civilian clothes, emptying out, going back to being regular people: lab techs, doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, husbands and wives, many retired and some just barely out of school.
It’s 4:22. There’s Paul in the nearly empty locker room now, waiting for the last of his volunteers to straggle in. We hear on the radio that there’s a lost child issue and the missing Red Coat is in the middle of it. Paul won’t be able to call it a day until that last radio is in.
He sits patiently with that same sunburned smile he had at 8 this morning. It’s long days and tired legs. I’m bushed. At the duty board, I check on my assignment for next week – a Blue Sky Basin tour. Can’t wait.