Old (Ski) School
Listen up, snowboarders: Louie would like you to show the Senior Snow Pigs some respect, OK?
In particular, he’s talking to—actually yelling at—the twentysomething rider who was screaming down Poppyfields in the Back Bowls at noon on a recent Wednesday and cut off the Sandman, a fellow seventysomething former Vail ski patroller, who dove onto his arthritic shoulder to avoid colliding with the knucklehead. After helping the Sandman back onto his skis, Louie tears down the run with fluid aplomb, upper body erect, quiet legs tracing wide arcs through the snow, trailing a string of choice invectives. He intends to give this kid a talking-to but arrives at the Orient Express lift shack a moment too late; his quarry’s already airborne, so Louie yells after the disappearing chair, quoting verbatim from Article Two of Colorado Revised Statutes 33-44-109:
“Each skier has the duty to maintain control of his speed and course at all times when skiing and to maintain a proper lookout so as to be able to avoid other skiers and objects. However, the primary duty shall be on the person skiing downhill to avoid collision with any person or objects below him!”
Once a ski patroller, always a ski patroller.
That’s especially true for the Senior Snow Pigs, a creaky-kneed band of trailblazers, hell-raisers, and daredevils (a vintage photo shows the Sandman patrolling the Back Bowls while dangling from a hang glider) who served together as Vail Mountain’s first patrollers at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Every Wednesday during ski season for the last decade, the Pigs have staged a weekly reunion on Vail Mountain, meeting at ski patrol headquarters at the top of Lift Four at 10 a.m. before touring the mountain, following the best snow, until the lifts stop running—with a leisurely break at Henry’s Hut for sustenance and storytelling. The Pigs’ ringleader is 77-year-old Steve “Louie” Boyd, who this season is celebrating not only the golden anniversary of his 1963 defection from Aspen’s ski patrol to Vail’s, but also the release of The Understories: A Patrolman’s Tales of Life in the Early Days of Vail, a 161-page self-published memoir (available for purchase at theunderstories.com) that pays homage to a cast of colorful characters with nicknames like Buffalo, Jake the Snake, Chupa, Mother, Sarge, Dozer, and Weed.
At lunchtime on this particular Wednesday, a dozen of these septuagenarian ski bums have gathered around the picnic tables inside the yurt at Henry’s: in addition to Buff and the Sandman, there’s Jimmes, Big Daddy, Chilly Willy, Hatsy, and Scooby. As Louie grills brats outside, a latecomer with a snow-white goatee, wearing a vintage one-piece ski suit, shuffles onto the deck and in a hoarse whisper identifies himself as Jungle.
“Jungle had a little heart issue this last summer,” explains Louie.
“If you don’t have some sort of handicap, you can’t come on Wednesday,” Jungle croaks, grinning, before joining the crew in the yurt.
A raucous group of twentysomethings crowds onto the deck, adding kebabs to the overflowing grill. When Louie looks at them, he sees himself and his friends.
“Like I used to say, we were burning the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle,” he says, poking at a brat. “We were so wild and crazy. For some reason we all survived, and we still love to ski together.”
He’s laughing, but for a few seconds he’s also crying, then turns serious.
“There’s a deeper meaning than all of the fun we had,” he adds.
He answers with a wry smile—and a question, the Senior Snow Pigs credo:
“Why grow up when all you do is get old?”