Have you ever been skiing? How about on Beech Mountain or Sugar Mountain near Banner Elk, N.C.? I’ve been telling a lot of stories lately, the time to tell them is when you think about them.
1969 was the end of an era, though I didn’t know it then. If I could think of it, I did it. Being 17, I was always looking for adventure, my little brother Gary and I got to talking about snow skiing and wanted to give it a shot.
Dad had rented some trailers to some folks that worked for Kraft Paper Mill that had been closed down for about 20 years, they were from Maggie Valley and had came down to Jacksonville from North Carolina to reopen the mill. Some of the guys had told us stories about how much fun is to ski near their home in Boone and Banner Elk, North Carolina and all of the beautiful college girls that liked to ski. We wanted to see it for ourselves. We had seen some “snow bunnies” on skis on TV commercials advertising for the Winter Olympics and decided that was the place to be.
Our Dad let us use his van for the weekend. It was on old Chevy Corvair van with a rear engine. We figured that would help with getting good traction in the snow and ice and give us a place to sleep. We had seen snow before when we lived in Virginia, but not that much snow, just inches not feet. We stuck a mattress in the back of the van, that we got out of one of Dad’s rental trailers, took two sets of clothes and a portable 8 track tape deck.
I had my collection of 8 track tapes to prove I was cool. My portfolio included Johnny Rivers, The Beatles, BB King, Rare Earth, Grand Funk, Credence Clearwater, Fats Domino, Carole King, James Taylor and a few others.
I cashed in my Savings Bonds to make sure we had plenty of money about $300 dollars worth if I remember right. I had some Christmas money I had been saving to buy gifts, not much I know, but altogether we had almost $400 bucks. Gary was only 15 but we were brothers, we shared and shared alike.
Seems like it took us about 7 hours to drive up Hwy 301, there wasn’t many expressways in those days (A folk singer that I met told me that they call ’em Freeways in California). The first night we were there, we slept in the van. It got colder than a witches t…, well let’s just say it was cold. We had snuck some of Momma’s Bacardi and would take a couple of snorts every 30 minutes or so, to kill the cold.
When we woke up the next morning, there were icicles hanging from the roof, inside the van. The condensation from our breath had collected on the metal roof and was frozen like stalactites staring down at us. We got out of the van and when nature called we spelled our names in the snow with urine. I may have had a little trouble dotting the “I”.
We were surrounded by a beautiful blanket of pretty white snow as far as the eye could see. The snow was about 2 foot deep and the windshield was a frozen block of ice. We lucked out though, we had gotten directions the night before when we had a long line of cars behind us honking the horn, ’cause we were driving so slow. The people driving behind us were flashing their lights, honking their horns and were hollering at us because we were flat landers. We pulled over at a wide spot on side of the mountain where a guy was selling Christmas trees, Fraizer firs, to let every one go around us. He pointed us in the right direction, clear the other side of the mountain. Once we got there, we pulled into an empty parking lot at a restaurant that was closed for the day. It had a large sign painted on the window that said “Blueberry Flap Jacks, all you can eat $2.25.” We waited for them to open up the next morning and with our bellies full, we followed the snow plow up Beech Mountain.
The resort was already packed when we got there; we found a spot to park near some trees (in case we decided to camp out). We were “green peas” when it came to everything including skiing, we wanted to check it out, but mostly we wanted to check out the gals.
Beautiful college age girls were everywhere, all wearing bright colored ski suits, thin, but because they were filled with goose down, kept them warm. We had already put on both sets of clothes to stay warm and we were still cold, freezing. I used my extra pair of socks for mittens. The admittance and a lift pass for the day was about $14.00 each. We went to the equipment rental and bought two pair of goggles, then we rented our boots, skis and poles, altogether cost us about $35 dollars apiece.
We watched to see what every one else was doing and tried to mimic them, trying our best to fit in. We slipped and fell all the way to the lodge near where the ski trails started. I saw a beginner’s slope with lots of little kids having a ball. Everything was so white, it was blinding, that’s where the goggles come into play, oh yeah, they helped a lot. The “beginner’s slope” consisted of a long cable, strung across two pulleys on an almost flat surface. The cable was constantly moving in one direction and the idea was to grab a hold of the cable with one hand and let it pull you along, while you tried to maintain your balance. There was an instructor telling me to point my toes together if I wanted to slow down or stop and to lean one way or the other and to try to dig in with the edge of my skis, depending on which way I wanted to go. Most of what he tried to tell me went in one ear and out the other. Maybe if the instructor had of been a she, I might have listened.
Gary met me at the end of the cable, some little kids had told him what to do, then showed him how to do it. He pulled a “Christy” on me. That’s when if you want to stop, you hop up in the air and land sideways with the edge of your skis digging in the snow.
So after two futile efforts of trying to learn gracefully, young men being impatient to learn, we decided to give the slopes a shot. Not that we thought that we were ready but we had come to meet some girls. We headed for the ski lift; the line was long, long, long. When we got closer to the head of the line, girls would show up out of nowhere asking if we were “single?”
“Hell yeah we was “single”, whatchoo talking about? That’s why we’re here.” No, they meant were we going up on the lift as singles, because the chair was designed for two people. Sounded like a good deal to me, just about that time, there was the chair, no time for excuses, it’s either get on or get left behind. Just as soon as your bottom hits the cold seat, the lift rises quickly. No time to change your mind. It was about a half a mile to the top. The lift would break down and grind to a halt for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, cold with the wind blowing snow in your face, it left us swaying in the breeze. Oh it was cold. Even wearing two pair of jeans, a flannel shirt and a sweatshirt, it was cold. I let Gary wear my jacket, because I wanted to show off my blue Florida Gator sweatshirt to make it look like I was a college student.
The girl sitting next to me (I believe her name was Bridgette) must have took a shine to me, she was a foreign exchange student from Ireland. Bridgette asked me with a thick brogue if I “wanted a bit of toddy,” confusing me for a second, then she produced a goatskin bag. She told me that it contained warm goat’s milk and rum, to keep you warm. Well it sure did the trick. The lift stopped so often in the bitter cold that I think we killed most of it on that first run up the mountain.
When we got to the exiting spot I hesitated, she got off, but I was buzzing from the wine and a little apprehensive, so I hesitated. The lift waits for no man and it just kept going up the mountain. I kept seeing empty lift chairs pass by me on the way down, while I was still going up. Every once in a while you could see some poor sucker that had decided that being embarrassed was better than being hospitalized, instead of getting off of the lift, had chosen the humiliating ride back down the mountain while everyone stared at you, pointing fingers.. I decided that wasn’t going to be me and when the lift came close to the ground, I leaned over to see just what was what. It seemed perilous, I could place myself in the other guy’s shoes, maybe riding back down the mountain on the lift wasn’t such a bad idea.
The lift started with a jerk to spin around to head back downhill. I decided it was “either now or never” and jumped into oblivion. Where I landed was steep and there was a snow machine right in front of it, blowing man made snow right in my face, blinding me so that I skied right into it. I hit it hard. So hard that I laid on the frozen ground stunned. I was so cold that I couldn’t tell if I was hurt or not but I was aware that if I didn’t rise up the snow coming out of that machine would have me covered up in no time. They probably wouldn’t find me until spring.
I later learned the name for this slope was “Tom Terrific,” it was the bad boy, I guess because it was terrifying. I found out why, the hard way. It was so steep that just as soon as I tried to stand up on my skis, before I could get my balance, I went downhill like a shot out of cannon. If I hit a bald spot with no snow just ice, I got airborne, when I landed I crashed. Just as soon as I tried to stand up, it was off to the races again. Every 50 feet I would find some reason to crash, and not gracefully either, it was head over heels, sometimes cart wheeling, all the way down the slope. I actually felt sorry for the other skiers that I was scaring the daylights out of.
Somewhere, about halfway down the mountain I started to get the hang of it. Lean to the left and avoid that balled spot or point my skis together with my toes so that I could slow down (some). At least I got to the point where if it looked like I was going to crash and burn, it wasn’t at full speed anymore. I was pumped up with the thought that I was getting the hang of it. I didn’t see my brother at the foot of the slope, I figured that he was alright, I decided that I would give it another try.
This time my riding partner on the lift, had a snotty nose, when she asked me if I wanted a toddy, I politely declined. She told me that most all of the kids on the slope went to a school nearby. I prayed that the lift wouldn’t break down so much this time. This trip, I managed to get off the lift on the intermediate slope. Much more better for sure, the second time, kind of like gliding in and out, to the left as far as you can go, point your toes together to slow down and then lean to the right, go as far as you can, not so much straight down hill but at an angle, far as you can, slow down then lean back the other way. Alright it was getting better. I still fell here and there but not so much.
When I got to the bottom again I saw Gary with a pretty gal standing next to my Irish snow bunny. As I got close to them, I attempted a “Christy” and you know what? I pulled it off. First try. Then as I tried to take a couple of walking steps with the skis, I busted my can. After that, we decide it was time for some hot chocolate, we went into the lodge and sat down in front of a roaring fire.
The lodge was a huge A frame facing the slope, the place was packed. We found ourselves sitting on the floor in front of the fire place. There were snow bunnies every where we looked, wearing their high dollar ski suits, fancy gloves and accessories. They weren’t there to ski, not wearing all that make up. They would bump into you “accidentally” on purpose and say “Escussee moi monsieur, sou ve plais” or “Pardon, merci beau coup”. I think I can still smell some of that perfume. I just knew that stuff had to be French.
The front of the A framed lodge was all glass. I noticed that everyone was staring up the mountain, what a beautiful spectacle, every one was zig zagging from side to side, making their way down the slope. I just couldn’t figure out what were all of those blue spots were that dotted the slope. They were every where, dozens and dozens of blue spots. I thought about the blueberry pancakes I had for breakfast. I couldn’t figure for the life of me just what they were. The girls asked if we had someplace where we could go, kind of private. I seems like they wanted to go smoke some reefers. Gary and I hadn’t been around been around any pot before and these girls were a little older than we were, we wanted to check them out, so we all went to our van parked near the trees. First thing I did was plug Fats Domino into the tape deck and when he started singing “Bluberry Hill,” it dawned on me. Looking out of the windshield at all of those blue spots on the mountainside is where I crashed. I hit the snow so hard, that the impact left blue stains from the dye in my blue jeans and sweatshirt.
That night the girls invited us back to their campus. Appalachian State Teachers College, way back before it went co-ed. It seems like there was going to be a concert in the gym that night and the girl that was singing was a “country/folk singer named Linda Ronstadt and her band from California. Appalachian State was an all girl’s college at the time. We had to sneak past the dorm mother to take a shower.
The gym was kind of small, I think the capacity was about 1,500 people. The acoustics was pretty good and she rocked the house down. Linda was in the Nashville area trying to promote her first record deal. She had just left her previous group, the “Stoned Poneys.” The members of her band included Glen Frye and Don Henley. She sang “Desperado” a song she said her band had wrote for her, (this was years before she was famous and recorded it). She also sang several songs that had been recorded by other people but she made them sound so much better and songs from her new album “Hand Sown, Hand Grown.”. During the breaks she would walk through the crowd and mingle, trying to promote her record sales. She tried to talk to or touch hands with everybody there. She was so pretty and very well liked. After the concert, she sat in a chair in the middle of the gym floor, smiling, signing autographs, laughing, telling jokes, just trying to relate to the college students and sell a few copies of her new album.
That night we went back to the girl’s dorm after curfew and drank some beer and wine and ate cheese sticks. Gary played the guitar and for a moment, we were almost hippies.
The next morning I was sitting on the toilet to pee, (kinda sneaky like to keep from being noticed by the dorm mother) with the door closed, in the dorm bathroom. I noticed that the girl in the stall next to me was standing with her toes pointed towards the toilet while she was peeing. I could hear the splash of the water, but her feet were pointed towards the commode, which I found confusing. I wasn’t sure about this; I waited until she left before I went back to the room and told everyone what I saw. Everybody had a good laugh and told me she was nicknamed “Sasquatch.” She was a gal from Banner Elk that was some kind of “backwoodsy.” She chewed tobacco and dipped snuff. She was bigger than any one else, so no one made fun of her.
I don’t think we ever did tell those girls how young we were. We didn’t want to leave but if we didn’t, we’d have to listen to a different kind of music when we got home. That red headed gal Bridgette called me for six months wanting to know when I was coming back, but I never did. “Save a nickel, save a dime, going back to happier times, I’m going back some day, come what may”.
Going home, I had a new addition to my tape collection.