Sheltered on three sides by towering mountains, it boasted winter sunshine, dry corn snow, the world’s first chair lift, an enchanting alpine village atmosphere, and some of America’s most spectacular skiing.
As we stepped into the lobby of the big, brawny stone lodge, a welcoming fire was crackling in the massive fireplace. I also vaguely remember the main dining room as a preposterous tiered affair with staircases like a theatre and key lit platforms and a grand piano. It had the improbable look of a Hollywood stage-set from some old Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical.
We soon learned that playing the sophisticated scene at Sun Valley Lodge was far too grandiose and expensive for three twenty-year-olds from Portland’s lower eastside. We ended up renting a narrow, four-bunk room in nearby Challenger Inn, a lively refuge for ski bums and seasonal workers. We felt right at home.
Fritz Uhrl was the name of our rugged Austrian ski instructor, the one with a taut, angular face. He was tough and he was teasing as he helped us unscramble our stiff, icy Mt. Hood style. By the end of our stay, he had turned us into better skiers, I think. At the very least, we were loose, more confident, more relaxed. I could ski the moguls, finally, without making a damn fool of myself.
“Bend zee knees … bend zee knees,” he’d shout over his shoulder as we followed downhill in his wake.
Every morning, the early spring sun would pour down on the slopes of Mt. Baldy. We reveled in it. There were only six or seven of us in the class. It was in that disparate group that I met Mac Stone from St. Charles, Illinois. J. McWilliams Stone. He was a big, balding “Daddy Warbucks” kind of guy in his early sixties, I guessed. He had a bellowing laugh and a beet red face topped by a signature black bowler.
And he was fearless.
When it came his turn to traverse his way downhill, with Fritz Uhrl on the side watching, he would jam the derby down on his head, punch his ski poles in the snow, give out a snort and shove off, hard. Sometimes his hearing aid would pop out, dangling behind over his shoulder as he whooped down the hill.