My voyage around the world had been thwarted. Had I reacted in time, I would have been able to avoid being inoculated with a needle that had just been removed from the arm of a person carrying serum hepatitis!
Now, I was back in the United States, and recovering from said serum hepatitis. My folks and I went down to Saks Fifth Avenue (department store), where they bought me a pair of beautiful red Fischer skis, with my name engraved on them, to boot. I had secured a winter job as a ski patrolman at Sugar Bowl, in California. In the Classifieds, I found a “drive-away” – a used taxi cab that I would deliver to Salt Lake City, and then continue to the ski area, located on top of Donner Pass.
A short horizontal tramway carried skiers from the parking lot over the railroad tracks to the base of the area, where I and other employees were housed. Donner Pass was noted for huge snowfalls (recall the famous Donner Party that had gotten marooned there in the winter of 1846-7). This winter was no different – huge snowfalls, up to 5 feet at a time. These prodigious snowfalls had been cause for the train tracks to be placed within wooden tunnels – the so-called “snow sheds”. We ski area employees would go for walks in the snow sheds, and one destination down the line, at Norden, was “The Chinaman’s”, a Chinese restaurant that was housed in the snow sheds, for the use of railway employees stationed there. From there, a long wooden stairway returned you to daylight.
The head of the Ski School was Junior Bounous, who was amongst the first skiers in the West to jump off of cliffs. Also in the Ski School was Royal Robbins, a climber friend who went on to fame and fortune as a climber and outdoor clothing manufacturer. Over at the Sierra Club Claire Tappaan Lodge was Roger Paris, who directed the ski school there. He and wife Jackie became long-time friends.
The Ski Patrol was kept very busy setting off avalanches with charges of dynamite. These were either individual hand-thrown charges, or a series of charges connected by primer cord. “Fire in the hole!” The storms would usually last for two or more days, and we would sometimes have to blow the same avalanche chute two days in a row. In one such chute, we blew out a slide that left a scarp or “crown” (where the slide separated from the snow above) that was head high. It snowed and blowed again that night, and the next day we went back and blew out the same amount of snow as the day before.
I also got in a lot of powder skiing. On one occasion, after setting off charges on Mt. Disney, we skied off the extremely steep nose of the peak. I was then using a pair of Jean Vuarnet fiberglass skis, a material new to the market. They were 207 cm in length, and called “cheaters” by my colleagues, because they were thought to be overly short. Suffice it to say, I went over the tips of my “short” skis and, with considerable force, plunged headfirst into the bottomless snow. According to those on the scene, all that was visible of me were the bases of my skis, and it took 20 minutes or more to dig me out. The digging operation created a crater about 15 feet across. I could not have extricated myself, since my arms were held behind my back by my poles.
I was having a good time at Sugar Bowl, when my friend John Stirling showed up and dragged me off to Aspen. Once there, I began teaching skiing. At the end of the season, I attended a certification exam at Arapahoe Basin, where I was awarded an “Associate” certification. This certification preceded the amalgamation of certifying bodies as the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). This one was issued by the Certified Ski Instructors Association of Southern Rocky Mountain Ski Association of the National Ski Association of America. The Director of the Ski School at Aspen, Curt Chase, was a founder of the PSIA.
Come the end of the ski season, it was time to climb! All of my climbing trips of 1964 will be seen in the next chapter.
Footnote: Our Ski Patrol leader at Sugar Bowl, Bernie Kingery, was later killed while inside a building, from a slide that leveled parts of the base area at Alpine Meadows Ski Area, CA.