Belly laughing, verging on tears, punctuated the standing-room-only meeting space at The Community Library in Ketchum on Wednesday as some of the icons of skiing shared remembrances of Sun Valley. The party was organized by the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the International Skiing History Association as part of Ski Heritage Week.
The evening, emceed by Professional Ski Instructors Association co-founder and longtime skiing trade editor Doug Pfeiffer, was a celebration of the "movers and shakers" of skiing. Present were freestyle icons Suzy Chaffee and Glen Plake. Ski industry people included David Ingemie, president of SnowSports Industries America, and Richard Allen, dressed in skiing relics from head to toe, who runs VintageSkiWorld.com.
The party, orchestrated by Hall of Fame President Bernie Weichsel, opened with a viewing of Otto Lang's 1947 film "Skifully Yours," featuring historic footage of Sun Valley skiing. A jovial mood was already palpable as the crowd of skiing's notables assembled.
"I'm here to party and ski and support my friend Bernie," said David Ferber, a 1970s Stowe, Vt., ski bum turned attorney, who traveled from New York City with his wife, Dorothy Jordon, to join the heritage week festivities. Jordon is a longtime travel writer who published a newsletter, Family Travel Times, and wrote the book "Skiing With Children."
"Dorothy had a professional responsibility to schlep her long-suffering husband and children to many ski areas with programs for children where our kids were guinea pigs," Ferber said.
Blaine County heritage steward Ralph Harris, who wrote skiing tips for trade magazines for 20 years, was in the front row with the first guest speaker of the evening, Nelson Bennett, 96, originally from Lancaster, N.H. Bennett regaled the audience with his stories of early skiing years in Sun Valley, which began for him after sleeping off a 500-mile road trip away from his rained-out job as a young forester in Northern California in 1940. Bennett said that after pulling over in a "wide spot in the road" to catch a few winks, he woke up in the Ketchum dump. He said he secured a position on the ski patrol after his friend, Harris' uncle Eusebio "Seb" Arriaga, 91, one of Sun Valley's first ski instructors, was hired by 1938 Austrian émigré Friedl Pfeifer. Harris said Arriaga now lives in Boise after a post-Sun Valley career as a Navy pilot that started during World War II, included service during the Korean War and concluded with three tours in Vietnam.
As a founding ski patroller on Baldy, Bennett spoke with pride about brainstorming a way to make rescue sleds more safe by adding angle iron fins, material scavenged from retired bed frames back at the Ketchum dump where he arrived. Taking questions from the audience, including one about his experience fighting in Europe with the 10th Mountain Division, Bennett said his experience being on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol made it "damn easy for me to be a platoon sergeant rather quickly."
Bennett went on to tell of his brushes with fame in Sun Valley, including an expedition early one December, long before there was snowmaking at Sun Valley, to find snow for the Shah of Iran in Boulder City. The backcountry scramble to old mining shacks there turned out to be a success, he said, adding that the Shah enjoyed his trip so much that he returned a following winter and threw one of the biggest parties ever hosted at the Roundhouse. Bennett said the festivities ended with the Shah's entourage descending Canyon and Lower River Run under the light of flares provided by Bennett and his fellow patrollers.
Other sparks of the evening came when Plake's father roasted his son with tales of the extreme skier's early efforts to break into the ski film industry.
"What I'm going to talk about is more appropriate in a bar in Nevada," the senior Plake said, adding that bars in his home state stay open all night. With that, the freestyle maverick's father launched into a lengthy tale focused on the mid-1980s, when Plake battled to get his start with filmmaker Greg Stump, including the 1988 classic "Blizzard of Aahhhs," which includes a cut from Chamonix, France, where Plake makes his home. The father's story included tales of multiple run-ins with the law that have added to his son's legend, and described the origins of Plake's signature Mohawk haircut, which his father described as part of his son's unorthodox career preparation.
When the senior Plake said his son's only skiing injury was a broken leg in the 1980s at Kirkwood in California, Plake corrected his father.
"I broke my femur when I was 5," Plake said, visibly humbled by his father's words.
"I'm following in your tracks," Plake said to Pfeiffer when the emcee finally coaxed the new ski Hall of Fame inductee to the podium. Plake expressed the honor of being in the same room with such esteemed skiing company.
"I do love my skiing. I've put my life on the line a lot of times for my skiing, literally and figuratively."
As the rousing evening came to a close, Pfeiffer expressed the "mutual passion" of the sport for skiing's assembled movers and shakers and buried the hatchet with his former skiing co-commentator Chaffee, who said that she and Pfeiffer were "kind of adversaries" when women were trying to gain equal billing in the sport.
"It was not the most liberated era, but we were working on it," she said.