All Go Anywhere
In December 1973, at the beginning of my second winter teaching skiing, my father gave me a slim picture book from 1936 that he’d rediscovered in his parents’ garage. SKI FEVER by Norman Vaughan. Fifty Cents. Fifty pages. Nipples on wooden ski tips. Pole baskets like personal-size pizzas. An unabashed paean to what was then the new sport of downhill skiing. My dad’s note read, in part, “I remember that my buddy Eugene and I devoured the contents before our first big ski weekend at Big Bear, where reality submerged fantasy.” He would have been 13.
It is a marvelous, barely organized mélange. Part primer on the technique of the day, part alpine journal listing results of the just-completed Winter Olympics in Garmisch (the first Games to include downhill skiing events), part glossary, part drool-worthy travelogue – with sparkling black-and-white images from Davos to Sugar Hill – it was all innocent hyperbole for “this new sport that is taking the country by storm!”
Vaughan himself was a kind of adventurer little seen today. He dropped out of Harvard in 1928 when he learned about Admiral Richard Byrd’s planned expedition to Antarctica. He famously talked his way onto the expedition as a dog musher, despite the fact he had never handled a dog team in his life. Byrd named a mountain for him in Antarctica, and Vaughan climbed it on his 90th birthday. He once drove a snowmobile from Alaska across Canada to his native Massachusetts. He lived to be 100.
One of the many short essay contributions in SKI FEVER is by a Bill Cunningham and is titled “All Go Anywhere.” “Now we go anywhere, up mountains, cross-country, down trails, and have a heap more fun.” In 1936, this meant “instead of sitting by the fire every winter week-end, we can all go on a snow train or jump into the car and join the ski caravan.” Another piece refers to skis as “the winged boards.”
Dad did in fact learn to ski and together with my mother introduced my sibs and me to skiing at Mammoth Mountain in the 1950s. (Whoa. That was closer, way closer, to the era of SKI FEVER than it is to the present day.) He came to visit us in Bend this winter, from his native southern California to our new home in the Pacific Northwest. He drove by himself in his Ford C-Max hybrid. “My first car was a Ford. And my last car is a Ford,” he told me proudly when he bought this new one. He is 91. His wife made him clear the trip with his doctor. He has a pacemaker. He has had at least one stent threaded up an artery to the vicinity of his heart. He ambulates on two artificial hips and at least one artificial knee. (I’ve lost track.) Oh, and he has only one eye. Back in his seventies he suffered a detached retina, which failed to respond, ultimately, to various fixes. That’s when he gave up skiing, to his sadness and mine. The three-dimensional balance just wasn’t there.
I thought of Dad yesterday, my last day of this ski season, as I winged around Mt. Bachelor’s sublime folds, its gullies and cornices masquerading as rogue waves stopped in time. The snow was perfect. The combination of day-and-night melt/freeze cycles, the warm afternoon temps, the angle of the spring sun as it arced from east to west, all worked to marinate the surface just so. I could go anywhere, anywhere imagination and leg strength would take me.
At our table in Bend Dad told stories I’d never heard before about a camping trip his family had taken (DD, Poppy and the three boys) up the Oregon coast in the 1930s. Poppy had built a chuckwagon-style kitchen and lashed it to the trunk of their sedan. And there were stories about an epic drive he had undertaken at age 13, alone with the same Eugene W. Lott (their parents must have been extraordinarily trusting), up and back the length of California in a Model T Ford Dad had bought for $14. They slept in farmers’ fields and drove in reverse up the steepest grades of the Trinity Alps. It must have been near this time, maybe even the following winter, that the two of them tried out their skiing fantasies on the slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains.
When Dad got home this March he sent an enthusiastic email to the family that detailed the particulars of his “sojourn”: 10 days; 2,099 miles; 47 gallons of gas at an average 44 miles per gallon; his observations on the good life in Bend (the trees, the view of Bachelor’s voluptuous curves); his stops in Eugene and Santa Cruz and Modesto. He was thrilled with the cockpit of his C-Max, the cruise control set to 55, the radio playing classical music, the miles sliding blissfully by. He dubbed the whole adventure “Paradise on Wheels.”
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