I lived in the Sun Valley parking lot in a 4-by-8-foot trailer during the winters of 1946-47 and 1947-48. In 1947, I painted cartoon murals on the employee cafeteria walls in exchange for a season ski pass. The general manager, Pappy Rogers, let me eat my meals in the employee cafeteria as long as I was working on the murals, which took me the entire winter to finish.
That was when ski lift tickets were $4 a day and a season’s pass was $150. Wages were $125 a month plus room and board. In 1948-49 I taught kick turns at the bottom of Dollar Mountain for Otto Lang and then taught the next winter at Squaw Valley, where I produced my first feature-length ski film.
In November 1950, while living in my panel delivery truck, I drove from Seattle to Sun Valley to show that first film in the Opera House. I agreed to pay my own expenses and split the gross income 60/40 with no guarantee. I thought all my old friends would show up and pay $1 to see my first cinematic effort. The Opera House was almost empty with only 13 people in the audience. Later that night I split the take and my 40 percent of $13 was $5.20.
With this background, you can imagine my shock when a friend called to tell me that he couldn’t take his children to see the latest ski movie because it was $18 for a ticket. This is certainly not why I produced the feature-length films for over 50 years and for almost 40 of those years made an annual trip to the Opera House to introduce and narrate the film in person. For 36 of those early years, Sun Valley was also featured in my annual movie. Obviously low prices are no longer the case and I want to set the record straight with my many longtime friends in the Wood River Valley. I sold my film company many years ago to my son Kurt, who ran it for 10 years, and since then it has changed hands two more times. One of the subsequent owners asked me to continue to write and narrate the films and take a 75 percent pay cut. I declined and for the last six years or so have had absolutely nothing to do with the films or the various companies that have bought and sold my name. For many years the different owners have taken previously recorded sentences out of my old ski movies and inserted them in their latest film to try and convince the $18-per-ticket customers that I had something to do with their film.
My only involvement with the ski industry today is writing a weekly newspaper column for half a dozen newspapers and skiing almost every day all winter as honorary director of skiing at the Yellowstone Club in Montana.
Since 1947 I have always told anyone who will listen to me, “Baldy is the best developed ski mountain in the world.” I also add, “Unfortunately, there are too many lifts to the top of it so you have to ski early in the morning if you want to get the good snow.”
I still pause for a moment every time I drive through the Sun Valley Lodge parking lot and think about how living there for two winters changed my life forever. For over 50 years I changed people’s lives with my many films. In 2000, I switched careers completely and began publishing my experiences in weekly syndicated newspaper columns.
Stay tuned because it snowed 3 feet in South Dakota on Nov. 6. It came with 80 mph winds, 30-foot-deep snowdrifts and with Al Gore’s latest global warming alert.