Betty Diaries: What’s in the tree, bra?

Kate Sonnick

Back at my hometown ski resort some seasons ago, I was riding the chairlift with my friend’s then-9-year-old son as we drifted alongside the Bristol Mountain bra tree. It was a majestic hardwood — a sugar maple, maybe — just to the left of the chair, and it was hung with every make and model of intimate apparel. Black lace bralettes, yellow push-ups, red demi-cups. It was a veritable Victoria’s Secret up in there.

My lift-mate silently regarded the tree as we continued up the mountain. Moments later, we passed over a tiny, wooden storage hut tucked into the side of the hill. “See that?” Andre pointed down at the shack. His voice was muffled by his neck buff as his brown eyes grew big and wide. “I heard it’s filled with ladies’ panties.”

That sugar maple may be the stuff of grom fantasies in Canandaigua, New York, but the legend of the bra tree started long before the first Maidenform was flung into the branches of that liftside arbor.

Some say it started in Aspen in the ’70s. Legend has it the OG slaydies of Bell Mountain would toss their skivvies into the quaking aspens for a naked last-bell rip. Another source insists the practice originated in the swingin’ ’60s as a symbol of rebellion — and a conquest the night before. Yet another asserts that it came from a disgruntled ski patroller who was irked that female patrollers were taking jobs away from the guys; he apparently staged his rebellion by way of an oversized nursing bra.

I am for equality in all things, including underwear shrubbery. And so, it delighted me and my fellow betties when, on a girl’s trip to Montana, we spied a slope-side cedar hung with an XXXL pair of tighty whities. On our way up the mountain each day they were a landmark we couldn’t unsee. To this day, a mere mention of the “Baby Hueys,” as they became known, is enough to make us snort Sauvignon Blanc out our noses.

On the way up Payday lift at Park City Mountain last week, I noticed a “My Little Pony” tree, a colorful plastic dinosaur tree and a boot tree. My best guess is that this is reflective of the overall vibe that Vail Resorts wishes to create in Park City. All woody plants of a specified height shall be rated G for general audiences, all ages admitted. The views shall contain no nudity, sex or double Ds. Apparently, you’ll have to hike into the backcountry or show up for last call at No Name if you wanna see some commando action.

As silly as most of these ski-resort-tree traditions are, one origin of the boot tree actually makes me cry into my goggles. The story goes that, during the Great Depression, people would leave their shoes on trees for neighbors in need. After that, soldiers returning home from WWII, and later, Korea and Vietnam, would fling their worn boots into trees and onto power lines, as if to say, “To hell with that. Time to move on.”

If no one knows exactly how or why any of this stuff got started, maybe what really matters is that it builds rapport and connection. It’s only human to want to leave your mark on the world. Consider the Paris love locks. Or, closer to home, Banksy’s iconic image of a videographer focusing on a flower on the side of Main Street’s Java Cow. Or the petroglyphs all over Moab. Each is a beautiful reminder that Kilroy was 100% here.

That brings me back to Bristol Mountain and an old friend who passed away about 10 years ago. Hansi was a native Austrian and a lifelong skier. He stood well over six feet and could chop through black ice with his bare hands. With a shock of white hair, The Big Guy, as he was known, never wore a hat, let alone a helmet. He laughed easily and often. On a trip to Jackson Hole, the younger riders peered nervously into Corbet’s Couloir while Hansi — at least 30 years everyone’s senior — charged over the edge without hesitation.

After Hansi died, a group of friends hiked up the mountain after the resort had closed for the season. It was early May, but there were still enough patches of white stuff among the spring grasses to connect a few turns.

At the top of the hill, they each took out paper and pen and scribbled some remembrances which they placed inside a yellow Tupperware bowl and buried under the thawing ground. One of the friends had brought a ladder and he propped it against a towering sweet birch, deep in the woods. He climbed up and secured The Big Guy’s well-worn, Stroltz custom-fit ski boots as high as he could go. As high as Hansi could fly — the true measure of a life well lived. Anyone riding the lift can look into the distance, into the woods, and perhaps notice boots hanging in a tree and wonder how they got there.

Maybe that’s all we need to know.


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