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Steamboat Magazine

Back in the Day

12/08/2012 04:44PM ● By Christina Freeman

Park Smalley and the Marlboro Ski Team in Tehran/Courtesy Park Smalley

The real Steamboat story is best told through the eyes of those who lived it. Historians, writers and PR pros may get their facts straight, but if you really want to know what it’s like to ski Steamboat’s legendary untracked powder, to lift off from the 90-meter jump for the first-ever time – and land it successfully, by the way, to sell cattle to make payroll or to land an aerial maneuver in a hay bale, it’s best to get the story straight from the source.

Six Steamboat skiers, from teenager to lifetime devotee, dug out their scrapbooks and put their best memories into words. Fly high off the Large Hill, discover an under-reported powder day, leave your skis safely in a snow bank overnight, run over the ski area’s corporate records, coach the Three Stooges and get busted by Mom for tucking Headwall.

These are true Steamboat stories from… back in the day.

Park Smalley: Great Western Freestyle Camp

Park Smalley, a member of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, is a former U.S. Olympic Team and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach. A pro mogul skier, he has been dubbed “the father of freestyle skiing.” The Park Smalley Freestyle Complex at the Steamboat Ski Area is named in his honor.

Courtesy Park Smalley

Ironically, the story of my arrival in Steamboat begins with the Shah of Iran.

When I was a member of the Marlboro Ski Team, one of the more exotic stops on our tour was Tehran. We arrived at 4 a.m. and were picked up by our 5’2” driver, who took us to the Tehran Hilton, where — by the way — we spent Christmas.

The ski area was not far outside of Tehran and actually had some pretty good skiing. They built a jump for us, and we did a demonstration for the Shah. He watched it, got back in his helicopter and was gone.

The money I earned on that trip funded my move to Steamboat Springs. I came here from Killington, Vt., with Mike Williams and Rusty Taylor. Mike was raised here and thought it might be a good place to start a camp for young “hot doggers.”

We used wobbly scaffolding to build an artificial ramp at Howelsen Hill, and we had 200 bales of hay to use for a landing. We’d fluffed about 150 of them when Mike said he wanted to test the jump. A couple things went wrong: 1) we really did need all 200 bales and 2) we didn’t place them quite right — Mike landed on the far side of the hay.

Next we tried water. Our plan was to build a pond, and John Fetcher, who was probably quite amused by our “creativity,” drove an old tractor down to the site. He asked me if I wanted a ride in the cab, and I climbed in. He quickly showed me how the controls worked, then said he had other things to do, wished us luck and left.

We dug the pond and filled it with water. Not being on an engineering par with John, we failed to realize that the water would seep into the earth quite so fast. Then we had the idea of lining the pond with big sheets of plastic and having our friends stand around the edge and hang on to the liner.

That was the beginning of the Great Western Freestyle Camp. We only had five or six students that summer, but look who they were: Fuzz Feddersen, 12 years old with a mouthful of braces; Cooper Shell; and Nelson Carmichael, who was the third stooge. Maria Quintana was there too. Four out of five of those kids went on to break barriers in the sport.

Fuzz, Maria and Nelson competed in the 1988 Olympic Games, and I was their coach. It was the first time freestyle was recognized as an Olympic sport — it was an exhibition event that year. Nothing touches that Olympics when it comes to my memories. From out-jumping our haybale landing at Howelsen to the Olympics. It was just incredible.

Jim Mader: Die-hard Skier

Jim Mader is the epitome of a die-hard skier. Powder or hard-pack, he’s at the gondola almost every day. He surmises that some people may have logged more days than he has at the ski area, but he doubts there are many, other than employees. His two daughters, Caterina and Jessie, grew up with him on the mountain and went on to become competitive freestyle skiers. He recalls a favorite powder day, one of those unexpected treats, when the snow started falling just before dawn, so the ski report didn’t reflect the freshies that awaited him.

Courtesy Jim Mader

5:30 a.m. Time to call the ski report. One new? Or was it 3 new in the last 24 hours? It didn’t matter, I was going skiing, just like every other day.

7:30 a.m. I get to the glass. I am the only one here, and it’s dumping. It should be really good up top.

8:15 a.m. A few more people show up and the doors open.

8:40 a.m. I get to the top of the gondola, put on my skis and head to White Out. I look down Rudi’s, and it seems like there’s more than an inch here. I pass Norther, then through the trees to B.C. liftline. Wow! There is a lot of snow.

8:45 a.m. I get to White Out, and I’m the only one here. The snow is above my boots, almost to my knees. Unbelievable! I am ecstatic.

One day among so many. Was that unexpected powder day my favorite, or was it another line through the trees or maybe every turn I made through the bumps? Maybe it was skiing with my daughters on my back, when they were little, or watching them do helis and back flips on Voo Doo.

To me, each day, every turn of every run I have made, is my favorite memory of skiing. Thank you, Mount Werner, for a lifetime of memories.

Mix Beauvais: In the Early Days

Mix Beauvais, now a local Realtor, was the first marketing director at the Steamboat Ski Area. His portfolio includes the iconic poster of the Steamboat barn, with two horseback riders trudging through the snow in the foreground, skis resting across their saddles.

Verne & Nancy Lundquist with Mix & Karen Beauvais/Courtesy Mix Beauvais

In the early days, John Fetcher and I were always in a money crisis. The only assets we had were John's cows, so we would drive to Denver in John's cattle truck to see the bankers. We had to tell the bank ahead of time so they could clear the way for us to get the truck into their parking lot. We’d mortgage the cows at one bank and pay off a loan at another, with just enough cash from the transactions to keep the company going.

Back then, I was not only the sales and marketing guy but also the comptroller.

I had an office in Denver as well as Steamboat. When I traveled back and forth, I’d take the accounting records with me in case I needed to work on the books. One day when I was getting ready to return to Denver, I took the records outside and put them on the back of the car. I forgot something and went back into the old octagon building. Without thinking, I jumped into the car and backed right over the accounting records. Fortunately I always carried them in a metal trunk and even though it was smashed flat, nothing got ruined.

During the 1970 ski season, I got a call from Cal Beaver, the sales rep for Braniff Airlines. He told me one of the best sports guys in Dallas wanted to come to Steamboat, ski and send some footage back to his station. So, I picked up Verne Lundquist at Stapleton Airport in Denver and headed to Steamboat, only to find we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the car in a blizzard on Rabbit Ears Pass. We made it.

The second day of Verne's stay, he wanted to shoot on the mountain. We started down Central Park (now Rudi's Run) to set up the shot, the camera guy and I coaching Verne on where to stand. We had him move backward a couple of times, and the last time, he stepped off the trail and almost out of sight in the soft snow. This was Verne's introduction to Champagne Powder.

Some years later Verne and Nancy made Steamboat their home. He is a great friend
and continues to be a great ambassador for Steamboat.

Marion Tolles: From the Roots

The upcoming 50th anniversary of the Steamboat Ski Area brings back memories of my own early days of skiing in Steamboat Springs.

When my husband, George, and I first arrived here in the late ‘50s, we skied at Howelsen Hill, then Steamboat’s only ski area. Having attended the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, we were excited to be skiing on the hill where so many Olympians had trained. But how I hated that treacherous T-bar. I fell off several times before it was mercifully replaced by a chairlift some years later.

Courtesy Marion Tolles

One day in 1958, while we were working and living at Whiteman School, Olympians Buddy and Skeeter Werner came out to talk to the students and faculty. They told us about Jim Temple’s dream of building a ski area on Storm Mountain, and predicted it would become a world-class resort someday.

When we returned to Steamboat for good in fall 1964, Temple’s dream had become a reality. The fledgling ski area was in operation, and we couldn’t wait to try it. We weren’t disappointed. There were only three lifts – Christie I (originally called Bear Claw), Thunderhead and the Headwall Poma — but there was no shortage of champagne powder.

Base area facilities consisted of an A-frame building by the Christie lift. Upstairs Ralph Selch sold pizza, hot dogs and beer. The lower level housed the ski patrol, Skeet Werner’s Storm Hut Ski Shop and ski school. On sunny days, the A-frame deck was a favorite après-ski gathering place.

The ticket office in an adjacent hut was a one-person operation, and that person was Charlie Swinehart. She ran the whole show and was the ski area secretary besides. That winter an all-day ticket cost $3.75. A season pass went for $75, which seemed like a lot of money in those days. Forgot your pass? No problem. Charlie knew everyone and just checked your name off her list. I dare say she would also have kept an eye on our kids if we had asked. She was that kind of person.

On-mountain facilities consisted of a couple of picnic tables at Thunderhead. Occasionally George would teach his college German classes up there, then everyone skied down.

There were never any crowds or lift lines. I once skied Vagabond from top to bottom on a perfect powder day without seeing another person. When we finished skiing for the day, we just stuck our skis in a snow bank by the A-frame and left them there for next time.

I felt well-outfitted in black stretch Bogner ski pants, double-laced Austrian leather boots and laminated-wood Fischer skis with offset steel edges and bear trap bindings. When I later upgraded to early-model safety bindings with cumbersome safety straps, I never felt quite as secure as I did in those bear traps.

A 1965 brochure advertised 7-day ski packages for $43.35, including lodging, lift tickets and roundtrip train transportation from Denver on the Yampa Valley Vista Dome. The train didn’t have a dining car but usually someone came on board in Bond selling sandwiches. In downtown Steamboat, you had your choice of several motels and two hotels. No lodging had yet been built at the mountain.

A transplanted New Yorker, Stuart Robinson, opened Steamboat’s first gourmet restaurant, The Gallery, in the old Smith ranch house, located in what is now the Torian Plaza area. I remembered Lowell Whiteman taking me there to have tea with the elderly Mrs. Smith, before Temple bought the ranch property.

After a hiatus to have her fourth child and to keep books at Yampa Valley College, Charlie Swinehart returned to the ski corporation in 1973 and saw the ticket office into the modern age. That’s where I began my 25-year career with the ski corporation, Charlie having hired me in the checkout line at Safeway.

Thinking back on those early years, it’s amazing to realize the changes time has wrought. Steamboat truly has become a world-class resort. But sometimes I feel nostalgia for the days when you could ski down Vagabond without seeing another person, then leave your skis in a snow bank for the next time.

Jasper Good: Five Seconds of Flying — Again and Again

Jasper Good, 16, is a Nordic combined skier who is currently skiing with the National Training Group and is starting to have opportunities to train with the U.S. Ski Team. Born and raised in Steamboat Springs, Good says his hometown has offered him many remarkable ski experiences, from deep powder days at the Steamboat Ski Area to jumping at Howelsen Hill. Here, he recounts his most memorable one.

Courtesy Jasper Good

My first time to jump the Large Hill at Howelsen Hill Ski Area is in the evening, which means that the entire mountain is pulsing with athletes training in multiple disciplines. Parents and coaches are watching from the bottom.

I’ve been waiting for this all throughout my school day and now the moment has finally come. As I start my warm-up, I become more and more excited. After watching videos from the previous day, I start to get dressed. This involves putting on Under Armour and the right thickness of socks. I then pull on my jumpsuit and tie my boots. I grab my helmet, goggles, gloves and pass.

With all my equipment, I grab my skis and head for the Poma lift. I ride up to the top stop, instead of getting off at a mid-station. I’m starting to get really excited because I’ve never gone all the way to this stop with jump skis. I’ve finally made it to the top stop of ski jumping in Steamboat Springs.

My mind is filled, going over what I’ve been working on, while I walk over to the jump. When I arrive there, I get butterflies. Right before putting on my skis, I look down the jump at the view of Old Town as the light begins to fade. I’m able to see all across town from here.

I follow my normal routine putting my skis on and then I slide out onto the start bar, which is where I will launch. I straighten my back and become focused; the moment has come and I signal to my coach that I’m ready. He checks the hill, and then with a downward sweeping motion of his hand, he signals that I am good to go.

I take a big deep breath and let go of the bar, starting my descent. The in-run is faster than any I‘ve ever been on. I near the end of the takeoff with my mind completely focused, and I nail the timing of my jump and lift off into the air. I feel like I just keep going up and out; my mind is telling me to stop getting more on top (the idea being to lay belly down over your skis, which are in a V formation for optimal flying position), but I overrule that instinct and stay with the jump. I feel as if I’m extremely high in the air, which is one of the coolest feelings ever because I really feel like I’m flying.

My jump ends, and I’m very excited as I arrive at the base of the Poma lift. The jump is replaying in my head, and I just want to get back to the top. I make my way through the crowd as fast as possible so that I can have the experience of flying for five seconds again and again.

Scott Wither: Learning Lessons

When I was in kindergarten, both of my parents worked at the ski area. Back then, only half-day kindergarten was offered so it created a dilemma for my parents: what to do with me after school? Because we lived in a small town, they were able to convince the school that it was OK for me to take the school bus that went closest to the base of the ski area each day after lunch. I was dropped off with several other employees’ children each day, and we made our way to the ski area’s family daycare service. Several times a week, the daycare class would gear up and go skiing.

Courtesy Scott Wither

Some of my fondest memories are of those afternoon ski sessions, learning to load the lifts without help, skiing with poles for the first time and skiing with buddies on the crazy trails through the trees that kids tend to find on all ski areas. Those of us who skied a lot knew the routine, where to come out on the run at the bottom and where the trails were in the trees.

The instructors all knew my parents because my mom, Barbi, was a ski school supervisor and my dad, Pete, was a supervisor on ski patrol. Often the instructors would let some of us ski through their legs and go ahead of the class. I loved skiing under Headwall lift because the people on the lift would yell and cheer for our jumps near the lift towers. We thought we were pretty hot stuff. So I decided to really show off and bombed down Headwall in my 5-year-old tuck, loving the cheers. As I came to a stop with a huge smile on my face, ready to do it again and talk about it with my friends, up skied my mom, who had seen the entire episode from the lift. Needless to say, she didn’t think it was nearly as cool as I did and promptly took by pass away for the rest of the week.

Through a 20-plus year career in ski racing, which included five years on the U.S. Ski team, that was the only time I lost my lift ticket for skiing too fast, lesson learned; Thanks Mom…

The real Steamboat story is best told through the eyes of those who lived it. Historians, writers and PR pros may get their facts straight, but if you really want to know what it’s like to ski Steamboat’s legendary untracked powder, to lift off from the 90-meter jump for the first-ever time – and land it successfully, by the way, to sell cattle to make payroll or to land an aerial maneuver in a hay bale, it’s best to get the story straight from the source.

Six Steamboat skiers, from teenager to lifetime devotee, dug out their scrapbooks and put their best memories into words. Fly high off the Large Hill, discover an under-reported powder day, leave your skis safely in a snow bank overnight, run over the ski area’s corporate records, coach the Three Stooges and get busted by Mom for tucking Headwall.

These are true Steamboat stories from… back in the day.