The social media can be a wild ride. One of the twits I follow, @chamonixfirst, an airport shuttle service, recently put out a picture of a snowdrift outside the back door customised to serve as a drinks fridge. This fine green initiative works best if the door opens inwards.
The background to @chamonixfirst’s twitter page is a shiny 4×4 on the road to the Col des Montets, and in the background to that, the snowfields of Les Grands Montets beckon. The message of the fridge picture, I assume, is that snow has arrived in serious quantity and we should come on down to Cham sans retenir les chevaux.
It sent me in a different direction: back to the first time I came across this style of drinks cabinet, in the home of a genial Canadian resort manager called Skat, who had a yellow school bus in his garden, a malodorous dog in his house – its great age matched only by its incontinence – and a stash of beer in a hollowed-out snow cave outside the back door.
Eric Skat Peterson, to give Skat his birthright, was an owner-manager at Red Mountain, cult ski resort to end all cults, deep in the BC interior. Outside his house in Red Mountain’s local town, Rossland, the snow lay so deep, it was all Skat could do to clear a narrow path from his front door to the road, just wide enough to walk along in single file. By late February, when I visited after a hard day’s skiing at Red, the snow banks on either side of this walkway reached shoulder height. “Mind your step,” said Skat. “The dog …. you know.”
I did not know, but walked cautiously through the darkness and was glad to reach Skat’s front door without having kicked or squashed his best friend. The hazard, however, was not the dog but its … er, scat, which carpeted the path wall to wall. Where else could the poor old thing go? Luckily most of it was frozen. “Might be an idea to leave your boots outside,” said Skat.
He was a large man, not conspicuously coordinated or domestically well organised, and not at all healthy-looking. But on skis Skat was a dancer. I remember him skipping nimbly through a field of icy bumps covered by a treacherous veil of powder. I heard later that his health continued to deteriorate, and that he had sold his share and left. Whether he is still with us, I am not sure.
Thinking about Skat made me want to find out more, so I googled ‘Eric Skat Peterson Red Mountain’, and the first thing that came up was the article I wrote after the trip, more than fifteen years ago. I had not kept the cutting and the computer on which it was written was long gone, so I was glad of the chance to reread it and relive the visit to this out-of-the-way pilgrimage for skiers with a steep forest powder habit.
The article is no masterpiece and has no thumbs-up sign, no likes or shares, and no comments. Could this be a record? But I have read it, cut and pasted it back on to my current computer no doubt illegally, and am grateful to Telegraph Online for the reminder of Red Mountain’s skiing and its spirit of place. Both may have changed in fifteen years – I am saddened to discover that the Swiss Alps Inn, of the authentic rösti breakfast, has become the Rossland Thriftlodge – but probably not as much as they have stayed the same.
Rossland’s setting is unusual for a ski town, overlooking the industrial town of Trail, where the world’s biggest lead-smelting plant belches smoke day and night. In view of what happened, Skat’s remarks as quoted in the article have a certain resonance:
“They keep telling us that the air here is full of lead and poisonous,” says Red Mountain’s manager, Eric Skat Peterson, “but the guys around here keep on going, skiing in their 80s and 90s.”
In the bar of the Uplander, Rossland’s best hotel and busiest pub, Skat, as he is universally known, introduced me to Denis Dudley: 50 or so, built like a prop forward and materials manager of a power-station in Trail. Denis is a leading light of a Red Mountain ski gang called the Old Bastards. What do they do? “Just ski like hell,” said Denis.
What happened to Denis Dudley, I wondered. So I googled the Old Bastards and they turned up a website called Dirtbaggin, which gave me this:
“The Old Bastards Powder ski team – a group of retirees who now spend their winters on the slopes of Red Mountain. Started with Dave Tweed Jr (1929-2004), born in Rossland who helped build the original ski lift on Red Mountain (1949). He skied all his life, and skied almost every day, all winter once he retired in the 1980s. Passed away December 26, 2004 on the face of Red during a powder run. The Old Bastards powder team is missing their Captain, but continues on in his memory.”
To pass away during a powder run on the face of Red seems a fine way for an Old Bastard to go. Dirtbaggin also mentions the 15 centimetre law, which I have come across before. In Bozeman, Montana, it is known as the 6 inch rule.
“Living in Rossland has its perks. If it snows 15cm or more, people are allowed to skip work to go powder skiing. This leads to the Employed Ski Bum Phenomenon. They have a job, yet are still dedicated to the shred. These people are the backbone to Rossland as they are permanent residents who support the town and the ski hill.”
Trail’s lead-smelting lawsuits rumble on, but the owning company, Teck, claims to have spent $1.5bn cleaning up the emissions. So the Employed Ski Bums and Old Bastards can enjoy their steep forest powder without worrying about toxic acid face shots.
Long live the Employed Ski Bum Phenomenon. And thanks, @chamonixfirst, for the ride.