Jay Meehan: Long skis and rusty nails
November 26, 2013
With the arrival of Park City Mountain Resort’s 50th-anniversary, my thoughts have turned to my own early days in town and especially those times spent with friends and family in the aura of that legendary mountain.
What a grand assortment of characters, natives and newcomers alike, populated that idyllic space back then. We were a bohemian rhapsody! And what a setting! Being transplants from all over the country that had come to worship at the altars of the counter-rotated turn and cheap wine, the quaint, charming, and rustic mountain mining town we encountered held all the trappings of a ski bum’s nirvana.
The magnet back then, of course, was Treasure Mountains resort, as PCMR was then called. Friends of mine from L.A. (Compton) that had already skied Timp Haven (now Sundance) began spending more and more time in Park City so visits to the Wasatch to discover the attraction began playing out for the rest of the tribe.
As the ’60s, both the decade and lifestyle, lost their luster, antidotes to the age of anxiety, at least for us urbanites, took on a rural sensibility. For street activists, the smell of tear gas in the morning was quickly losing its shelf life. Visions of mountain air, among other intoxicants, began dancing in their heads.
And so dawned one of the more serendipitous moments of my trek through time. Confidence was everything back then. Having arrived in Park City during the late summer of 1970 with a couple of truckloads of household goods (vinyl LPs, books, serapes, etc.) but without habitation to move into, we soon found ourselves in $50-a-month ski-in ski-out golf-in golf-out digs at the base of the resort.
It wasn’t long before a friend got me a bartending gig at the Rusty Nail Lounge up in the base lodge just a short amble across the dirt parking lot. Located behind the old Miner’s Hospital, the foyer to our new pad served as ski storage for many of our peer group. The cinder block-house also became party central for the neighborhood.
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My first skis that winter were previously crashed 210 centimeter wooden Kneissl Red Stars. Although, when coupled with my then-current level of skiing prowess, linking quick turns wasn’t their forte, getting to the bottom of the slopes quickly required little effort. If nothing else, they spoke fluent gravity.
So there you have it. I skied most every day and worked nights tending bar. Following that first season, I added a weekend disc jockey gig in Salt Lake to the mix, but even when that became full-time, I held on to as many shifts as I could at the Rusty Nail. With clientele and workmates to die for, why not?
I mean, that’s where I met the legendary Trapper as he occupied a stool on the other side of the bar awaiting snow-cat shuttle service to his apartment in the top gondola terminal. Trapper, like many resort employees back then, had come out of the mines.
We all loved Trapper dearly! He would go on, years later, to have a street named for him just downhill from the old Alamo Saloon in old town. Before his fame spilled over onto the asphalt however, Trapper served as our Rusty Nail honors program philosophy professor.
The Ski School back then had a program where you could enroll in special classes where the group would remain intact and you’d keep the same instructor all week. On Fridays, the final day of the class lesson period, you would race through gates and thereby receive advanced lessons on trash talking. Awards would then be handed out at a wine and fondue party up in the Rusty Nail. Among us barkeeps, it grew to be our favorite evening of the week.
Did I mention that this marked the beginning of Adolph Imbodden’s short but memorable stint as Food and Beverage director for Treasure Mountains resort? My homeboy, the late Brian Carter, managed the bar for Adolph in those days. Two more-pliable bosses would be hard to find!
One of my favorite memories as a barkeep, was proving to fellow newcomers that they indeed could get drunk on 3.2 percent beer. I’d have the first seven lines to T. S. Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" printed on a card in my wallet (admittedly, there wasn’t much else in there!) and leave it on the bar until they had individually consumed one of our large pitchers in a previously agreed on length of time.
If, after I replaced the card in its moth-ridden haunt, they could recite the lines back to me on their first attempt without error, I would pay for their pitcher of beer. As I recall, I only had to pick up the tab for the late great raconteur Tom Wilson.
We had a lot of fun working at the Rusty Nail in those days and our barkeep and barmaid contingent bonded into a family. I’ve run into the nicest and easily some of the smartest people in ski town watering holes but this group took the cake and wine and fondue! More PCMR memories 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.