Making a second stab at getting a college education, I enrolled at the University of California – Berkeley, for the fall semester of 1959. Also enrolled was Deanna Forbes, who I had met that summer, when we were both employed at the Manzanita Lake Lodge, in Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had come down from Lassen to Berkeley together. Midway through that semester, Deanna announced that she had secured a ski-bum job, in Winter Park, CO. I couldn’t resist and said I would accompany her to Colorado. She had been hired at Beavers, a ski lodge, but when we arrived together they were not interested in hiring me. The Beavers – Preston and Hortense – were a very odd couple. They professed to be religious, and ran an alcohol-free establishment. Deanna and I tangled with them (“Pres”and “Tensie”, as they were known), when I tried to visit her at the lodge, and they ran us off, calling in the local sheriff, for good measure. As Deanna recalls, we slept that night behind the bar of the local watering hole in town. We were then hired by Ozzie LaRue, of the funky little Winter Park Lodge. After a spell, I decided to give Aspen a try, and found a job there at Trader Ed’s, a local Polynesian restaurant, where I washed pots and pans. I was housed in a drafty old Victorian, at the base of the mountain, called “Ed’s Beds”. The windows were missing panes of glass. I returned to Winter Park, and got employment at the mountain as a groomer. I don’t recall where Deanna ended up.
In those days, grooming was VERY primitive. The manager of Winter Park, Steve Bradley, had invented a non-motorized grooming device, which relied on its weight and gravity to demolish moguls. At the rear was a slatted cylindrical roller, with a blade set in front of it. The metal superstructure of the device extended forward, to where the skier/operator was positioned. The operator had, to his side, a hand cranked winch that raised/lowered the blade. The blade was the brake.
A line of these machines would tear-ass down the slope, with big pieces of sheared-off snow hitting you (the operator) in the back. We had to maintain our speed as we approached the bottom, so as to be able to ski the machine into place at the T-bar loading spot (Winter Park had only T-bars then). The lift operator would pass us the T-bar, which we would engage with a big steel hook that was attached to the machine with a sling, and away we would go. At the upper end we would disengage and ski the machine to a stop at the top of the run. And then do it again.
I found the following photo on line. It’s not me, since I don’t recall wearing a helmet.
I also operated a grooming snocat. It was called a Kristi cat, and had, on either side, a bulldozer-like track that consisted of a continuous rubber belt that provided motive power and grip. With hydraulic controls, either belt could be made taller in height (and correspondingly shorter in length), for the purpose of leveling the machine as it crossed the slope, at right angles to the fall-line. Grooming, therefore, was done in passes across the run, instead of up and down the run. Here is how the Wikipedia site describes it: “… the KRISTI had a unique ability to raise or lower its tracks individually which had the effect of raising one side of the vehicle to keep the vehicle level while crossing side slopes. Further, the front or rear of both tracks could be raised or lowered so the snowcat‘s cabin could remain level while climbing or descending slopes.” The particular slope I used this device on was called Cranmer. It was a beginner run interrupted here and there by short steeper pitches, and a kind of rut developed on those steeper pitches that I have seen no where else. Every skier, apparently, would follow the very same traversing line across the slope, creating a single deep trench from the high to low side of the pitch. Grooming these trenches out of existence each night was my job.
The model of Kristi cat that I operated was open to the weather. Here is a photo of what must have been a later model, which I found online.
I was housed in the ski patrol bunkhouse at the base of the mountain. The ski patrol was made up of guys from Wyoming, who were a great group of people. It snowed night after night, and my skiing improved day by day. Using a “how-to” book by Ernie McCullough, I taught myself to ski parallel by doing hop turns.
I became acquainted with a group of skiers from Denver, who, each weekend, camped out in front of the base lodge. They cooked their meals over little stoves, on the deck. They carried their stuff in backpacks, and wore puffy down jackets. They positioned bottles of wine at spots around the mountain, and seemed to have a better time than other skiers. And their group even included a woman!! This was all new to me, and I needed to know more. “What are you guys?”, I asked. They told me that they were mountain climbers, all former members of the Dartmouth College climbing club. “Where do I learn?”, I asked. “The Tetons”, they replied. Coincidentally, I was treated to a slide show in the bunkhouse of a climb of Gannett Peak by some of the Ski Patrol. Gannett Peak is the highest in Wyoming (13,809′), and is draped by glaciers (Kathy and I climbed it, in 1977). I was ready to go!
On one of the last days of the season, some of the staff were “schussing” (straight-running) one of the lower slopes, to get enough speed up to ski across a meltwater pond, located at the foot of the run. I fell on one of my runs, and dug a trench with my face through the partially-refrozen slush. When I picked my head up, it was streaming blood from a myriad little cuts.
My summer’s employment would be at Jackson Lake Lodge, in Grand Teton National Park. This would provide me with the opportunity to attend the Exum Guide School and become a mountain climber!! And that is exactly what happened. The summer of 1960 is described in this post: