Published December 30, 2011
Ward Baker is the only person I know as dumb as I am. We slept in the parking lots of almost every ski resort in the West that had a chairlift, in a small trailer with no heat. Most of our two winters together were spent in the Sun Valley parking lot. Today Ward lives on Maui in Hawaii and spends his life raising exotic fruit trees and skin diving for his dinners. At 87, Ward is still healthy and physically fit. He blames his good health on never smoking a cigarette or even having a beer. That has really worked for him and the same abstinence has worked for my health all my life. I won’t go spear fishing with him but I sure like it when he cooks the fish that he catches.
We grew up surfing in Southern California when a crowded day was the second car showing up at the beach with a surfboard on the roof. We instinctively knew the importance of our freedom. In spite of the 100-pound, 11-foot-long surfboards and no such thing as a wetsuit, we still did it and enjoyed every wave we ever rode.
When we returned from our two winters of parking lot living in Sun Valley, Ward did not go skiing again for 27 years. Then when he went again, for one weekend, it had gotten so crowded that he never went again. Both of us are asked questions about those parking lot days and the rest of the world just can’t understand how we did it. Mainly he is asked why we did it. I do know that as a result of my travels with Ward Baker, a lot of laws about things that were legal then got changed because of stuff we did.
In 1947, Sun Valley was operating three chairlifts on Baldy, one on Dollar and one occasionally on Rudd Mountain. At the time there were only two chairlifts in Colorado, at Aspen. California had one on Mount Waterman and one at the Sugar Bowl. Utah had three, one at Snowbasin and two at Alta, which had three for a while until one of them was wiped out when an avalanche tore out every tower of the lift.
Our two parking lot winters in Sun Valley represented some of the best parts of our expedition. Ward brought along a hand-cranked ice cream freezer. One day he made two quarts of ice cream at a ski jumping tournament. It was 10 below zero. There has never been any discussion between us about whether we were cold or not because we didn’t know the difference. Later we drove down to Ketchum and traded the two quarts of vanilla ice cream for four hamburgers with fries for our dates and ourselves. We never found out who won the jumping tournament on Rudd Mountain.
The rotary snowplow was both the best thing and the worst thing that happened to us when we camped in the parking lot. One day we had to move our trailer so they could plow out the Sun Valley lot. Keep in mind that we had originally planned on staying only a week—so we had been burying our garbage in the snow bank behind the trailer. When the rotary snowplow hit that pile of buried garbage it sprayed the nearby trees with milk cartons, paper napkins and a lot of rabbit skins. From then on we told people they could find us under the rabbit skins in the trees and just to the right of the three milk cartons and seven napkins.
And what did we eat? Ward answers those questions all the time. “Rabbits” is the answer. “How did you get them?” He says, “We shot them.” “And how did you shoot them?” He replies, “With an over-and-under .410 shotgun and .22-caliber rifle with a bent barrel.” We cleaned them in the warm water of the wash basins in the nearby Skiers Chalet bathrooms.
We also remember our time down at Alta. Driving down the canyon road, the trip started off with a near disaster. That was when the left wheel just fell off the trailer. I was driving down the canyon in the dark when I felt a lurch and watched a tire pass me and roll up over the snow bank and disappear into the darkness of the creek in the canyon below. Since I was driving it was my fault and I had to wade down into deep powder snow and follow the tire track until it ended. Fortunately the snow was almost waist deep so it slowed the tire down before it got to what was a considerable-sized river. It is very hard to climb up a steep snow bank in several feet of powder snow while wrestling with a tire and a wheel hoping that no one would hit our trailer in the middle of the road.
When we got the wheel back onto the trailer I was so frozen that Ward had to drive the Buick convertible down to Salt Lake City. There we found a deserted street in a new subdivision and parked under a street light to cook dinner. We had already eaten all of the goat meat chops that Ward had brought along for the trip. He had shot the goats on Catalina from the deck of his fishing boat. So we ate sauerkraut and wieners under a streetlight in Utah. The smell of the boiling sauerkraut on our Coleman stove attracted the attention of the people who lived in a nearby house. They called the police. We all learned there was no ordinance in the Salt Lake City law books about cooking dinner in a public street unless you are in the middle of it. At least there was no law against it then.