Friday, March 4, 2011

Keep Your Tips Up

Frigid days, trashy trees and untracked powder


     In January I was cooking breakfast on a bright, cold and sunny day—the temperature outside 32 below zero. The crew of workers building our garage was noticeably absent. If you’re a carpenter, 32 below is an ideal temperature to call your boss and take a day off. If you’re a skier, it’s a good day to hunker down, rest your sore muscles and tune up your skis. Later that day during lunch in the lodge, someone asked me if it ever got that cold back in 1947 when I was living in the Sun Valley parking lot in our 8-foot teardrop trailer.

     The answer was yes.

     I remembered a bright, cold and sunny day—with 3 and a half feet of new snow accumulation in the Sun Valley parking lot. Those in charge had chosen this perfect ski day to plow out the entire parking lot. Ward Baker and I had just finished cooking our bowls of oatmeal when we were politely asked by the house detective to move our car and trailer so they could plow out our parking place as well. We didn’t think about the trash.

     When we had arrived in Sun Valley we had only planned on staying for about a week. So we had been burying our trash in the snow bank beside the trailer. Little did we know that morning that the trash would soon become the way we identified where the trailer was to our guests.

     First we had to move the trailer.

     There was no chance our car would start without warming it up. So we got out our empty one-pound coffee can with the half a dozen medium size holes about an inch up each side. We filled it up to the overflow holes with gasoline, lit it and shoved it under the engine. It contained just enough burning gasoline to warm up the oil in the engine but not big enough flames to catch the engine on fire. As the flames went out Ward stepped on the starter and the engine came to life. It coughed and wheezed and then struggled to barely run.

     We towed the trailer from its own snow bank so the rotary snowplow could carve a clean path through our part of the parking lot. We forgot about the trash that we had been burying for three weeks in the snow bank behind our kitchen. The giant rotary plowed through the trash and deposited it into the air. With a schmoosh it landed in the trees above our parking spot. Now hanging from the trees were milk cartons, polka-dot Wonder Bread wrappers, old cans of corned beef hash and the carcasses of five rabbits we’d shot in Shoshone on the way to Sun Valley.

     From that moment forward for the rest of the winter it was easy to tell people where we were living—under the tree with the milk cartons, pink napkins and bread wrappers.

     It was a cold winter. We had no quilted parkas. They had not been invented yet. No one knew anything about layering. Our soft leather boot were just that—soft leather, very cold boots and sometimes very wet. But in retrospect, I didn’t know I was supposed to be cold. It was a question of skiing every day all winter. And that was the answer, too.

     We never had frostbite; we never complained about the cold because there was no one to complain to. And besides, what could anyone do about it except tell us to go back to California and go surfing and quit complaining?

     The coldest it ever got was 38 below zero and as I write these words I find them hard to believe. The Weather Bureau records prove it. We did learn to wear long underwear with a sweater over it, then a nylon windbreaker and then another sweater. The second sweater kept the nylon parka close to the first sweater and more of your body heat in our body and somehow it worked.

     You could always go into the Roundhouse and warm up. You had to be careful, however, if you got too close to the fireplace because you might spend the entire day by the fireplace as people sometimes did. I thought it kind of dumb to ride clear up to Sun Valley from Los Angeles on the train and spend the day by the fireplace. But it really was great in Sun Valley then because the chairlift only hauled 426 people an hour and you could ski in untracked powder snow from one storm to the next whether you were cold or not.

     As far as I can remember, I was never cold—chilly perhaps, but never cold. My wife says I lie a lot.

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