Jay Meehan: Gang-ski memories
In the beginning were the words and as time would pass the words would change. Treasure Mountains resort first begat Park City Resort which, in ensuing years, would beget Park City Ski Area and, in turn, Park City Mountain Resort.
And, when the sun headed south, there was snow upon the land and conveyances began to appear. A detachable Gondola and a couple of fixed-grip double chairlifts called Prospector and Thaynes were called upon to serve the faithful.
Then came the late ’60s and early ’70s with free-ranging tribal factions putting up stakes. We came from most everywhere and showed up in droves and VW vans. To many Park City locals we were a plague upon their land and, admittedly, we were a strange lot, certainly an acquired taste. The mountain, however, welcomed all.
My first visit to these hallowed slopes transpired midway through the winter of 1967-68. Having seldom skied during the previous decade following a transplant from northern Idaho to southern California, I joined a select expeditionary quartet and rode the two-lanes from L.A. to Main Street.
We’d only stick around for a few weeks before heading off to Aspen and on to Mexico, but, looking back, all we ever talked about along the way was getting back to our friends in Park City. Through little fault of our own, we’d become one with the mountain.
It mattered little if we were cruisin’ Route 66 or nosin’ around San Blas or Barra de Navidad or Guadalajara, we dreamt of returning to the blue skies and white slopes of the Wasatch.
This was about serenity. Not even our previous summer of catching Hendrix at Monterey, the Dead in the Haight, and Miles Davis at the Orange County Fairgrounds could detract from or even put into perspective the interior and exterior landscapes that embodied the skiing lifestyle of Park City. By late summer of 1970, we’d returned and put up a few stakes of our own. They had us with hello!
For our tribe, the gang-skiing tradition evolved quickly back then. Park City was a party after all! We morphed from getting in as many runs per day as possible to hauling fruit and cheese and guitars and wine and setting up on blankets at the side of Keystone Meadow. Oftentimes a gallon of hard cider from Earl’s Market would show up unannounced to flaunt its singular shtick.
From there we could tramp a short ways through the trees and catch the Ski Patrol rowdies get big air off Keystone Jump or just hang out and compare book notes while passing jugs and smokes and digging the music. With the "folk renaissance" still alive and well, the guitarists could work on their "Travis picking" or just strum as backup to various off-key Dylan ditties.
Smaller groups would head off to hike the West Face trees in Jupiter or maybe hit Mel’s Alley to Hidden Splendor or catch the mogul-rats on Thaynes. The options were plenty and every day it seemed you made new friends. Season passes were only a "C-note" each unless you had a gig at the resort, and then, of course, they were free.
A few other gang-ski phenomena were waiting in the wings during those times to strut their own stuff and, indeed, for those directly involved and onlookers alike, annual St. Patrick’s Day, Clown Day, and "Heberski" celebrations left relatively extravagant footprints.
Clown Day became a very big deal, of course. If memory serves, the late, great impresario Terry "TuTu" Jannot kicked it off back in the Spring of ’74 when he set up a deal with a costume company in Salt Lake for a mass-rental of clown outfits and charged us fellow-buffoons 10-bucks a head to join his flock on April Fools’ Day. Some, like the three gorillas on one pair of custom-made 355-centimeter skis, would take it a bit further, however.
"Heberski" became a way for my son Smokey and myself to gather up friends from Heber who seldom, if ever, took the somewhat pricey plunge for a day-pass and, by rounding-up and then distributing free coupons, collectively have our way with the hill.
But prior to either of those free-form frolics, an annual St. Patrick’s Day gang-ski came into play. The on-slope shenanigans often ended with inverted aerial competitions off the deck of the old Mid-Mountain Lodge. One year it took a good dozen of us a good hour to extract the winner, Stormin’ Norman Hall, from the armpit-deep repose in which his dismount of the deck had left him.
Those days are long gone, of course. But many who made them what they were are still around. You can spot the twinkle in their eye. It’s a mind-set, an attitude, a somewhat-arthritic swagger. Those were the days, my friends, and we thought they’d never end. Actually, they haven’t.
More tales and characters from PCMR’s 50-year run next week.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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