During my freshman year, two friends from my dormitory, Jack Barr and Bruce Cole, took me under their wings. Jack showed me how to be part of the ski scene. “Jeans are cool and that’s what the good skiers wear. If ya don’t fall, ya don’t need stretch pants.” His argument convinced me and, after all, when in Colorado do as the Coloradians do. He advised me to get a Gerry parka, nothing else would do. Fortunately, he took me to the factory outlet store where the slightly defective parkas sold for half the regular price. And I never used the fancy after-ski boots I’d brought from home. Army mukluks were the only thing to wear and, of course, were in short supply. Since I couldn’t find any, Jack gave me his. Neither Jack nor Bruce cut any corners in making sure I was properly outfitted and coached in what was really important in the life of a ski bum — even a part-time ski bum.
Jack also had a knack for finding rides and low-cost places to stay at the ski areas. He opened my eyes to all the jobs
available to earn ski tickets and food. I washed dishes, cooked pizza, tended bar, waited tables, packed snow and watched slalom race gates (gate keeping). As a result of his teaching, I learned how to ski for very little money.
Bruce contributed to my ski bum apprenticeship by teaching me how to live on pennies a day, thus leaving more money for skiing, as well as for our growing interest in photography. We saved money during the week by eating Bruce’s famous meatless spaghetti or, on special occasions, McDonald’s eighteen-cent hamburgers. Powdered milk, instant mashed potatoes, rice, French toast, and ground chuck were our economic mainstays. We took our extra food allowance and bought season passes at a nearby ski area, Lake Eldora, for twenty dollars each. The money we saved by packing lunches and buying used ski equipment was spent on cameras and film. We skied at Eldora after classes, but on weekends traveled around the state to the other major ski areas.
For spring break, most students went south to any place warm, but I still hadn’t got enough skiing.
On that first Saturday of spring vacation, Dan Wunsch, an upperclassman, came over to see what Bruce, Jack and I were up to.
Bruce could hardly hold back his enthusiasm when he answered, “We’re waiting for Henry, a friend of mine who’s driving in from Maine. He should be here anytime. We’re going skiing.”
Dan asked, “Where are you going?”
Bruce answered, “Aspen.”
I jokingly added, “Alta.”
Not to be out done, Bruce came back with “Steamboat.”
At this point I had no idea where Bruce was headed and decided to throw a couple more big names out. “Jackson Hole, Sun Valley”.
Dan didn’t know we’re putting him on and asked with a somewhat puzzled expression, “You don’t mean…all of them?”
Bruce and I were grinning and couldn’t possibly answer without cracking up, so I just gave Dan a nod.
“All right! Count me in!” declared Dan.
I decided to let Bruce be the first to burst Dan’s bubble, but Bruce let it slide for awhile.
Henry Hudson arrived shortly after that, exhausted from a long night’s drive and in dire need of rest. After the introductions and greetings, Henry asked, “Where are we going skiing?”
This time Dan proudly listed the classics of western skiing. We anxiously awaited Henry’s response, expecting him to be skeptical that such an ambitious trip was possible in one week. Instead, his obviously low-energy, but interested response was, “How’s the night life?”
Realizing that Henry needed a little inspiration,
Dan started with, “Haven’t you ever heard of Aspen? …It’s famous.”
I continued, “There’re more women in Aspen than men. Some really sophisticated ladies, if you know what I mean.”
Henry started to come alive and Bruce made the inference crystal clear with, “It’s been said that no one has ever left Aspen a virgin.”
That was the spark that Henry needed to get motivated. “What are we waiting for? …Let’s get going!”
With new life, Henry led the way out the door. Bruce and I glanced at each other with a look of disbelief. I packed my gear into Dan’s Chevy II and got into the cramped front seat. The make-believe trip was now a reality. It was hard for me fathom not having any plans for spring vacation one minute, being on my way to four major ski areas the next. Bruce and Henry headed out in their VW and we were right behind them. With two cars, each of us had his own seat to sleep on.
Somebody yelled, “Last one to Aspen is a sleaze bag!” and the race began. Dan and I were leading through Boulder until Bruce and Henry ran a red light to take the lead. I tried to get Dan to follow through, but no dice. We passed them on the grade up Clear Creek, but they regained their former position when we stopped for gas in Idaho Springs.
Dan began to take the race seriously and became upset over the competition’s road tactics: “Those SOB’s won’t let us by!”
The little VW shifted lanes on the two-lane highway each time we attempted to pass. Racing down the steep windy west side of Loveland Pass felt more like a runaway roller coaster. After a short time, their VW vanished around the curves ahead.
“They’re getting too far ahead.” I had gotten just as involved in the race as Dan, and had been urging him to pick up the pace a little.
“We haven’t lost yet. Watch this,” smirked Dan as he pushed down on the gas pedal, speeding up dramatically. But the instant our Chevy flew past Henry, Dan stopped smiling. “Oh no, a cop!” Dan cried as if waking up from a bad dream. Unfortunately the trooper spotted us coming from the opposite direction. Soon a flashing red light confirmed our greatest fears.
After being pulled over for thirty minutes, the officer continued to lecture. “You’re lucky I didn’t clock you guys. You’re getting off easy — all I’m going to do is give you a ticket for crossing a double yellow line.
We drove in silence for some time after that and soon were on the last stretch to Aspen along the Roaring Fork River. “There they are!” I announced excitedly, and, after many attempts to pass, we finally took the lead. It was time to take our revenge and their tailgating made it easy. I poured lemonade out the window, spraying the VW’s windshield with a sticky mist that attracted dirt like a magnet. Since their windshield wipers couldn’t clean it, Bruce and Henry were at our mercy. When they attempted to pass, we blocked their lane and waved the lemonade carton out the window. They retreated immediately, and we led the way into Aspen in triumph.
The town impressed all of us. We parked the cars and took off on foot to explore the main streets. Towards evening, the aromas from Aspen’s famous cuisine restaurants filling the air began distracting us.
“I’m hungry!” Dan stated firmly, testing the group’s mood and pressing for a quick consensus.
“You’re always hungry,” I responded, just to disagree.
“Who can eat at a time like this? We need to find some women,” Henry declared, somewhat disturbed over the change in goals. Bruce stepped in and negotiated an agreement. We would eat first and then later set out to enjoy Aspen’s night life.
After shopping at the local grocery store, I prepared one of my favorite dishes, peanut butter mixed with honey in a graham cracker sandwich. This sweet, sticky substance was neutralized with a bottle of carbonated grapefruit drink. The others had their favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We’d gotten enough to last the rest of the trip, but after a few days of eating the same thing for every meal, we dreamed of the variety of ‘dormitory dinners.’ However, the reality was, as Bruce so often reminded us, “You can’t beat the price.” We learned early in our ski bum apprenticeship that the best priced meals at ski area were always from the grocery store.
Once dinner ended, we focused on the night life that Henry was anticipating so eagerly. Colorado law strictly forbids anyone under twenty-one to enter any establishment serving alcoholic beverages and we were all about nineteen. But, being under the legal drinking age wasn’t going to dampen our plans for this evening. After cruising by the Red Onion a couple of times we decided to “go for the gusto.” We put on that serious look which makes one look a couple of years older and strolled right on in. We immediately saw an arm swing across a distant opening into someone on the other side. The fist rammed a large beer mug full of beer into the face of its victim. The glass exploded on impact.
“It’s time for us to leave!” Dan said. We turned quickly and headed back out the door. Sirens screamed as the police arrived. We got out just in time. The cold air outside persuaded us that a warm place to stay took precedence over the night life.
Bruce suggested “Lets go over to Pinocchio’s. I’ve heard its a cool place.” Here, we made two cokes last for ninety minutes while we decided what to do next.
Henry was very definite, “It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and I’m not staying in that car.”
Bruce and Henry found a reasonably priced place, the Aspen Out, which rented single beds in a dorm. Dan and I had heard stories of people sleeping in the laundromat so we decided to give it a try. However, it was late and we couldn’t get in. We parked in front of the dorm and settled into our sleeping bags. Dan took the back seat and I the front. But the bags weren’t much protection against the bitter winter night, and it wasn’t long before Dan said, “The hell with saving $l.75, I’m going in with Bruce and Henry.” I was right behind him.
The next morning, we discovered that nature had been
busy while we slept. “Wake up Bruce, two feet of powder fell last night.” Henry desperately tried to get everyone up and over to the ski area. We hurried to Aspen Highlands and signed up to pack the slopes. For packing til noon we could ski free for the rest of that day and were promised a ticket for the next day.
The ski patrolman responsible for the packing crew was substantially overdue. Finally he showed up. “Sorry I’m late, but I just got out of jail. Go ahead and get on the lift.”
There were twenty to thirty packers and it took forty five minutes to reach the top of Cloud Nine. While packing deep powder we heard the lead patrolman talking. We got closer to overhear the story, “Then I unload on this guy…”
“Wait a minute. What happened?” Dan interrupted.
“Oh I was just telling why I was late. A friend bailed me out of jail this morning. Boy, did I tie one on last light.”
“They put you in jail for drinking?”
“I got in a fight at the `Onion’ last night…you should have seen me `cool’ this guy with one punch.”
The four of us looked at each other and began laughing.
“So you’re the one we saw last night!”
We skied the rest of that day and the next in incredible powder. Bruce especially cherished these moments since his doctors had told him nine months earlier he wouldn’t ski again. Just before trying out for the CU racing team a car hit him while he was riding a motorcycle. His leg broke and the protruding sharp bone drove through the car’s radiator. Bruce always kidded about the driver getting out and saying, “Look what you’ve done to my car!” Later that year he talked the doctors into getting him out of his cast early. Soon he was snaking his way down the Colorado mogul fields. Steep runs and high moguls were his playground. Combining his abilities as an excellent racer and jumper, Bruce spent most of the time sailing off into the air. Watching the expressions of others and hearing their cheers added to Bruce’s incentive to get a little more height or distance on each successive jump.
A labyrinth of moguls turned the slopes into a playground. They were high and round…the way I like them. The turns felt natural and fit my rhythm. Run after run skied better than the previous one. I was aware only of the swish of the snow beneath my skis and the rhythmic motion of my body. The problems I faced at school and the fear of running out of money far from home faded away, temporarily far less important than the chance to ski my heart out.
While riding back up chair two with Bruce, I saw a skier coming straight down from the very top of Cloud Nine without turning or slowing. He “pre-jumped” the cat-walk in order to stay on the snow, and kept coming. Soon the silver haired man sped below the chairlift. I turned and watched him continue on down. He’d skied nearly 1,000 vertical feet without checking his speed. “I don’t believe the way that guy skis!” I gasped, but nothing could adequately describe his skill and lack of fear.
Bruce chuckled and said, “How do you know he can ski…did you see him turn?” We both laughed. Later someone told us the silver haired skier was Andreas Molterer, a renowned world-class racer. When boarding the Loge’s Peak lift a prominent sign read, “Experts only-Those with acrophobic tendencies do not ride this lift!” Whoever pays attention to signs, anyway? Just after passing six grouped towers the lift started down. The mountain curved away to the left as the chair crossed over a drop off. All that could be seen to the right was the valley floor 3,300 feet below. I’ve never hung onto a chairlift so tightly in my life! However, I’ve heard that the shock reduces somewhat after a few rides!
Lodges Peak offered some really unique terrain. A ski run, only one track wide, began on top of a narrow, perilous, knife edged ridge. Avalanche signs warned of the potential danger on both sides. The only way down required all skiers to schuss the knife edge, since the far end was uphill. If someone fell in front of another skier, there would be no way to stop or go around. Luckily, we all made it.
That night, on the way to Alta, Utah, Dan and I reconstructed the great powder runs and good times we had at Aspen. We dined on the road with the usual peanut butter and jelly, then topped the meal off with chocolate chip cookies. The night grew long and I fell asleep somewhere en route to Utah.
By the time the week was over, we’d skied Alta, Sun Valley and Steamboat Springs, before heading back to Boulder, exhausted and very tired of peanut butter!
It was one of the most memorable trips of my life, and proved conclusively that skiing doesn’t have to be expensive. My share of the whole trip was only about $30!