Over the holiday season in December of 1976, a handful of us ventured off from the winter drudgery of the midwest to the snowy peaks of Colorado’s Summit County to tackle the slopes.
There were five of us making the trip in two cars. Al Sutton and Arnold High were together in one vehicle – Brad Johnson, Greg Sutton and I in the other. After a fairly grueling 18 hour drive (the best rock and roll radio stations were in the Kansas City area), we finally wound our way up a dirt mountain road on the north side of I70 leading us to our cabin which looked west into the valley – Lake Dillon and the town of Dillon off to the south. We showered at the foot of the road in a large hotel. There was also a general store nearby where we picked up a few food items and other necessary odds and ends. Our A-frame cabin belonged to Brad’s folks (Brad being a Coloradan) and we had to dig through a few feet of snow to get to the sliding-glass front door. Then, we had to chop up some snow and ice covered logs to get the fireplace going – it was our only source of heat. There was no electricity and the water pipes were frozen solid.
The next morning we arose early and packed for the first skiing expedition at Keystone Resort. I got fitted for boots and a set of K2 175 cm skis at the lodge. It was very awkward at first and took a while to get used to getting around with the boots on and later maneuvering with the skis attached. We then bought our lift-tickets and ventured out. Being my first time, I started out using the old “snow plow” approach on the bunny slopes but quickly got bored and frustrated, so I went full-abandon, seized upon the experience and started bouncing my body weight, keeping the skis together and putting the pressure on the inside of the downhill ski. By an hour or two, I was being told to “slow down” by the personnel on the course. I learned pretty quickly that too many layers of clothing are detrimental because you work up a heavy sweat which saturates your clothes and by the time you get to the top of the mountain, it is much colder and windier causing extreme discomfort on the way down. I also quickly learned that a great way to meet chics was to stand in the lift line and yell “single!” Plus, I had my goatskin wine bag under my ski jacket to provide added fortification. By the end of my first day, I was beyond the “green” slopes and gaining confidence on the “blue” slopes, however; the “black” slopes looked awfully daunting.
By the time we arrived back that night, I was thoroughly exhausted and feeling very “puny” so I went up to the top level of the cabin and climbed into my sleeping bag, covering up with a few extra blankets. As the night progressed, I was hit with a wave of nausea and began to get the chills with a fever. After losing my supper a couple of times, I fetched a large pot to keep near just in case of another bout, but it finally subsided. The next day, I waved on the rest of the guys and just sacked out while they went out for their second day of skiing. When they returned that evening, I was feeling better and had dinner prepared for them, but Arnold got hit with the same “bug” I had and actually had to be taken to a local hospital. Arnold was so delirious from fever that when asked for payment of his medical services he responded “put it on my Blue Cross/Blue Card Shield”. It hit Arnold pretty hard, but he was good to go within another 24 hours.
The next day, we drove around some of the towns in the area looking for certain stores, taking photographs and doing some sight seeing and as I was driving through the town of Silverthorn, Idaho Springs or Frisco (I don’t remember which) I got pulled over by a Colorado trooper and issued a citation for speeding. We had to go into the town and pay before we could go on. This incident proved to foreshadow events years down the road for me, but that’s another story. We stopped and had lunch at a pretty cool place and generally had a good time. Al and Arnold were a little older than Brad, Greg and me and we pretty much started going separate ways and doing our own things.
My second ski excursion was at the nearby resort of Breckinridge. Summit County is a true skier’s paradise with Keystone, Arapaho Basin (the fastest in the lower 48 United States at the time), Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, all in the region. By the time we were suited up to go that morning, I was feeling pretty confident and decided to tackle a “black diamond” slope. I was a little tentative at the top while looking down, but finally gathered myself and went for it. I did pretty well until I got to a mogul that had a hole on the other side with its marker flag blown down. I ended up going head first into a pit of about 15 feet of snow. I had to fish around for my skis (I had brakes instead of straps) and sunglasses in the powder but was soon underway once again. After getting through the “Black” course, I had to take a leak and decided to step out of my skis at the edge of the course and walk into some trees but sank into powder way over my head. At about that time, a stranger skied up, looked at my skis perfectly aligned at the edge of the course, then at me covered with snow from head to foot and cried “how the hell did you do that?” He thought I had flown out of my skis into the drift.
Another detriment of skiing is taking a time out at the lodge. It allows you to rest, eat and have a cocktail or two but allows the snow and ice to melt and further saturate your garments, making for a tough readjustment when you return to the slopes. I think that it is wise to make a decision early in the day to either ski all day or long stay in the lodge – at least for me anyway.
That night we got cleaned up and went into the town of Breckenridge but it was extremely quiet and there were very few others at the restaurant/club we visited. I’ll never forget the sepia colored photograph on the wall by our table was of some well dressed 1920’s gentlemen around a Pearce-Arrow automobile of the era – one of the men in the picture looked exactly like an old photo of my Grampa Omar.
It was around Christmas Eve day when we decided to take I70 west about thirty-five miles to Vail. We bought half-day lift tickets and spent the remainder of our time there in Vail Village. Though certain parts were still under construction, it was like being in a small Swiss mountain village – absolutely beautiful. When we ventured into the club where all the action seemed to be, I had trouble getting in because of my age (I was the youngest of the group and my fake ID was laughable) so the guy in line next to me told the attendant that I was with him and his group. The man was Jack Ford, son of President Gerald Ford, not too long before making the news for possession of marijuana. We all had a great time dancing with the babes and by the time we began our trek back to Dillon, I was the only one able to drive. Driving east on I70 that night, the snow became so intense that visibility was not more the 20 or 30 feet at times and many curves in those mountains had no guard railing, however, the Colorado highway department was out in full force, sanding the roads and making conditions passable.
By the last morning we had been roughing it for about a week and feeling pretty scroungy. As we were loading up the vehicles we found out that one of the neighbors 2 large dogs, which were very friendly but barked a lot, had been shot by a high-powered rifle from somewhere up the mountainside. None of us had heard anything through the night but it gave us all the heebie-jeebies and hastened us in our departure.
As we were now on our way home and I had a little extra cash on me since I lost one full day due to the flu and scrimped on a couple of others, I bought a Pioneer, AM/FM Stereo receiver that I found on sale at an electronics store in a mall outside of Denver. While in Denver, we stopped at a little Mexican Restaurant for lunch and a couple of frias cervezas. When I went to release my rented fluid, the Male and Female banos had fingers underneath the labels pointing to the opposite door. Well I knew something was not quite right when I walked into the wrong bathroom and noticed Bert Reynolds foldouts pasted on the walls and no stand-up urinals. In fact, a lady walked in on me as I was walking out, but didn’t say a word or pay it any mind. Things were a great deal more liberal there than in the Hoosier state, especially in the 1970s.
The trip back seemed to go quicker than the reciprocal and I remember seeing the purple line of the Rockies on the distant horizon about the time we made it to Limon in the eastern plains of the state. Before long we were jamming to our now familiar KC rock station and then St. Louis. I had the wheel from that point and about the time we were nearing the Indiana line, I saw those red-flashing lights behind me which was getting to be all too familiar. I got nailed for speeding again in Marshall, Illinois, and had to once again follow the officer into town to pay the fine. By the way, neither one of my two tickets ever showed up on my drivers record. I now had zero cash and had to borrow from Greg in order to pay the fine which brought his cash reserves down to near zero. He was not extremely pleased about this, especially since he had tried to talk me out of buying the Pioneer AM/FM Stereo Receiver a few short hours prior, but he did get over it and I payed him back as promptly as I could. Fortunately, I had a steady job of two years to replenish the funds with, this being the second vacation I had taken from that job since summer of 1975.
By the time I got back home to Muncie, I hadn’t shaved for days, lost about 20 pounds due to the flu bug and was physically, mentally and financially drained. No one was home when I arrived and I couldn’t locate the “hidden” key, so I sat on the step in front of the door inside the garage. When Mom finally returned and the garage door went up, she didn’t even recognize me at first. She said I looked like a terrible version of Jeremiah Johnson.
At one point along I70 near Loveland Pass, we stopped and had our picture taken as a group standing around a huge boulder which had fallen from the cliff on the other side of the road. A few months later, Greg had the photo enlarged to the point that it practically covered his entire wall and people that saw it, claimed that we looked like a rock and roll band.
Me, Brad, Greg and others made the trip to Colorado the next year and the next, never staying in that A-frame cottage again but at the Johnson’s home in Boulder. I’ll write about those trips later.
Images by Creative Commons – Free to share and use.Steve D.