Show business and snow business rarely mix, but when they do, it becomes serious fun business
The trunk of my 77 Impala was full to the brim with machettes, bowling pins, and rubber chickens. Below that were various plastic toys, two tuxedoes, a spare tire, and one chain saw. Dozens of rubber balls took up the small spaces. These were the tools of my trade, the work stuff.
In my hand I held the real toys for the trip, a much different set of tools; I looked down at my plastic ski boots, smiled, and threw them in the trunk with the rest of the pile of colorful plastic and dangerous implements. The rear-entry black Solomon ski boots seemed to fit right in with the crowd.
I was going to drive to Utah and do a juggling act for a week at Snowbird Ski Resort with my raging, long-haired hippy, metal head partner, Russ. Life was about to be very good!
Loading up the car this time and driving west was not the usual chore. Engagements like this were the rewards of years of working in smoky bars, waiting all night to do 3 minutes at the local open-mic clubs. Then you get to drive back and forth across the country to perform in little clubs. My partner and I considered our job description as “driving around the country to pick up checks,” the shows were the easy part. Some weeks were better than others.
This one was always a dream gig; I had a week at a ski lodge with free demo-rentals and a free lift pass waiting for me. All I had to do was a 30 minute set at the comedy club each night, and they would spring for a three star hotel ski vacation AND give me a big check at the end to take home!
The club owner had set up a comedy club right in the lodge. Snowbird’s Comedy Circuit was a spin-off from his regular comedy club down the hill in Midvale. He was previously a Las Vegas show producer and he knew how to treat the “talent”. Everything was first class and all the comics loved working both venues. He would have my partner and I work for both clubs two or three times a year. Jugglers were a rare treat in a stand-up club, especially edgy potty-mouth guys like the two of us.
Once he even rented us a Cadillac for our drive. He said he would’ve sent a limo but we politely declined as that was a little too ostentatious, even for us. This time the impala was working fine, and off we drove.
By the time we arrived at the lodge we were exhausted. After 9 hours of assorted mountain driving including the cruel gauntlet of snow packed curves called Cottonwood Canyon we were more than ready to arrive. As the consummate professional drivers that we were, we arrived there fine without ever having to consult the map. Per the routine we checked in at the desk, dumped our stuff in the rooms, and took our trunk full of props down to the show room. It was still early in the afternoon, and they would just be setting up the bar for the night. We set the stage for our show, as the staff set the bar. We all made our re-acquaintances, and chatted with old friends. As soon as we were done in the showroom I grabbed my boots and headed for the rental shop before they closed. Time to pick up my sticks for the week!
The guys at the shop knew the score. Every week a new set of comics arrived, and they were all different from the last. Most comics won’t ski at all, like my buddy Russ. Many will try skiing for their first time there, and learn more as they come back each time. I was just one of a handful that had any previous experience on the slopes, and the guys in the shop were ready for me. They had the top of the line demo-skis tuned, waxed and waiting. We talked conditions, where to go, what to ski. The guys had been to my show and were fans, so I got the primo set-up. They enjoyed showing off their own particular "kung-fu skills" with ski tuning.
Equipment in hand I ascended the elevator and then went to my room where I collapsed on the bed for an hour or two before show time. At about 7:00 that night Russ and I meandered back down to the club. It was buzzing with people, busy cocktail waitresses, and bartenders shaking drinks as fast as they could. The empty stage was lit with a dim wash of color and the house was lit just enough to seat the crowd as they arrived. It was a typical ski crowd; raccoon tans, ponytails, sweaters, and knit hats. They looked like people at any chair lift maze, except in this lift line - everyone could sit down at little cocktail tables.
We sat in the very back and ordered coffee while we blew up a dozen animal balloons and smoked cigarettes – careful not to confuse the two. Then it was on to the green room to get ready for the “big entrance”.
The owner of the club loved gadgets in his shows. He built a working little chairlift that circumnavigated the club’s entire ceiling, complete with little Barbie-dolls in ski clothes. The Barbie and Ken dolls occupied the several dozen chairs flying around the club, posed in little conversations. One Barbie even had a cast on her leg. The waitresses would pin the drink orders to the revolving carousel of dangling blondes to be delivered to the bartenders. The stage entrance was even wilder yet. To get out on-stage from the back you entered through the doors of an actual Snowbird tram car. The tram adorned the back of the stage and opened up with a big puff of stage smoke. The owner bragged how he acquired the tram, then cut it in half lengthways just for the stage.
I stood in the dark gondola as it filled with a whoosh from the smoke machine. They played the opening music and then our “intro” music. I went right into autopilot, or as they like to say now; “I phoned in the act. “ My mind wasn’t on the show at all, because as I was getting ready to go on…I had noticed that it had started snowing outside.
As wonderful as this gig was it had one drawback: the crowd. I knew exactly what we were in for. Skier audiences are the worst audiences EVER. Nothing to do with them personally, but after a long day of skiing, with a big supper and drinks, they are completely exhausted and barely awake at this point. It’s all a comic can do to keep their attention, much less get the big laughs. I knew it was going to be hard work going in to it each and every time. But really, how bad could it be? It only lasted 30 minutes and I was done!
So I entered the stage by exiting from a smoky tram (which seemed somehow fitting and familiar.) My partner and I tied up obscene animal balloons and juggled machetes, I rode the six-foot unicycle, we spun plates and passed clubs. We cussed, sweated and bled all for a smattering of response. The crowd was beyond “dead.” I swear at one point I could see tumble weeds roll by and heard crickets, like in some old west ghost town. After the show, I figured the audience’s next destination was the DNA identification lab to be properly toe-tagged. But thirty minutes later we were done. Time to let the next poor comic come out and baby-sit.
We went outside for our complimentary and traditional after-show “cigarette” provided by a bright young member of the staff. We stood in the snow out back as big fluffy flakes descended en masse joining our safety meeting. Each flake was a valued little member of one big snow party. Every few moments we had to brush off the snow from our shoulders and hair, and soon our fingers became wet putting an early end to the break. We hung around inside until after the show, put away our toys, and then, as per routine, had to hit on all the waitresses.
That night I didn’t sleep, but I drooled none-the-less. It continued to snow big flakes all night. The next morning I bounded out to the first lifts with shiny new demo skis, and a foot or more of brand new fun waiting to be had. The skis were some new, top of the line, straight, Solomon 210’s with the new funny shaped tips. Those funny tips must really worked. I found they carried me through that powder like an angel in a hammock. The ski shop guys’ kung fu was good. Every turn was smooth and perfect and more fun than the last one. “So this is why people ski,” I remember thinking. I had skied in powder before but this stuff transcended beyond “powder-snow.” It was more like the treasured, diamond, champagne pow that the Immortals and Gods must’ve skied. Each frozen crystal a precious jewel…the spoils of a war fought in the thunderhead snow clouds above.
I skied to exhaustion that day. I went all over the mountain and could do no wrong. I was still getting my ski-legs back and was just tentevely getting into the super steep terrain. Everywhere I went I found the runs perfect and thick with snow. I had all week to ski, and it was still snowing with no sign of letting up. I retired for a nap after the lift’s closed. Later I went back downstairs for another night of performing for skiers equally as tired as I. My quads screamed as I rode the unicycle around, and all I really wanted to do was go lie down in a field of poppies and sleep…sleep…sleeeep.
The next morning the sky was clear, after having snowed again all night. Another foot or more of heaven fell and landed on our playground. The road up from Salt Lake was closed due to avalanche control work. The booms of explosives echoed up from below. I was walking across the deck with a cup of real coffee from a shop (and not the weak stuff provided in the room) when – boom! I heard them blasting the avalanches, seemingly, right above us. I looked across the steep valley, in a high bowl way up above tree line. I saw the snow fracture and a previously thick, pillowey, blanket of snow just fall away like someone’s towel in a porn flick. A huge powder blast of snow erupted into the sky, obscuring the bowl from sight. Then I saw the coolest thing! The bowl emptied into a narrow culvert below itself. The bottom lip was the only exit for the wave of avalanche debris, and the snow cascaded through the funnel into the trees below. The snow fell like a literal snow-waterfall down the steep wall and exploded into more powder clouds at the bottom. The waterfall poured on for minutes until it finally slowed down and stopped, I wanted to applaud!
After coffee I headed right for the tram and rode up with the few people lucky enough to already be at the resort. The rest of Utah was still down the road waiting for the blasting to finish. I had the mountain almost exclusively to myself under a warm lazy Wasatch sun. Every line that day was a soft caress of sensuous curves through fresh powder on top of more fresh powder. I rode the tram all morning. Each run spent in fresh tracks trying to race the car back down, as was the Snowbird custom. I rode with the same sweaty, grinning raccoons each time up, some of which recognized me from the show and peppered me with the usual questions. Every time I exited the tram I half expected a puff of smoke along with my pre-recorded intro music.
I went to the steepest slopes I could find - and just plain tore the mountain a new one. Ego powder, Batman KA-POWder , This was the stuff that dreams dream about, and the best part was; I was getting paid to be there! “This is my job,” I would secretly mutter to myself and smile as I porpoised in and out of the silky waves of living white sex.
This went on for another 2 days, snow at night, sunny nirvana at first light. On Friday afternoon I turned the skis in to the shop, grinning all the way in, and flipped the boys a Jackson. I was done with the mountain. I had more than my fill. No man should be allowed to have that much fun, and when he is – that man should be me!
On Friday and Saturday nights we would have to do two shows. It made for a much longer night and took some stamina so I had to take it a little easier. On the weekends I didn’t want to deal with the crowds on the slopes much anyway, so I rested up from four days of dream skiing and finished out the weekend of shows that Saturday night.
Tomorrow it was down the hill to Midvale to do the show again for the other club. The lodge manager gave us each nice checks after the last show. Then we gave the waitresses another go, only to go back to our rooms alone, again.
Oh well ...I guess a perfect week couldn’t be totally perfect.