Author Archives: tomboyd

Vail Ski Patrolman Chuck Malloy Doing a snow study

Avalanches on Stuff You Should Know

A few Vail Patrolmen check out a big slab in the Back Bowls, circa 1967. Photo by Dick Dennison.

A few Vail Patrolmen check out a big slab in the Back Bowls, circa 1967. Photo by Dick Dennison.

If you’re like me, you listen to podcasts anytime you get a chance. Among my favorites is “Stuff You Should Know,” part of the Discovery Communications podcast network and hosted by a couple very cool guys, Chuck and Josh. They tackle all kinds of topics, and this week they discussed Avalanches on Stuff You Should know with the episode, How Avalanches Work.

During the podcast they mentioned that one of the ways to prevent avalanche danger was to purposefully set one off… sometimes by skiing along the fracture line. They wondered if any of their listeners had any experience with this and so I figured I’d write them. I don’t have much experience with this myself, but I knew ol’ Louie did, so I called him up and we crafted this letter to the Stuff You Should Know guys.

Hi Chuck and Josh,

​In your Avalanche episode you mentioned that you might have a listener who had skied along the potential fracture line of a avalanche zone to try and set one off purposefully. I haven’t done that myself, because it sounds insane, but my dad used to do that all the time as part of Avalanche control when he was a ski patroman in the ’60s and ’70s at Vail and Aspen. Those were pretty wild times and he’s written a book about his experiences, with lots of cool old photos of the guys on patrol, called the Understories ( … It’s important to put the “the” in there … is not us!). There’s even a chapter on avalanches.

Trying to stomp a fracture line isn’t not done much anymore – if ever – at resorts in the U.S., but the idea is that one or two patrolmen ski quickly down to what they deem as the “breakover point” and then do a stomp turn, like a hockey stop, perpendicular to the slope, to try to trigger the avalanche to slab off below them. As you mentioned, it’s pretty dangerous. If it goes, hopefully it goes below you. As dad said, “You might go for a little bit of a ride, but most of the time you were ok.” Other patrolmen would wait up top in case of a need for rescue.

For a long time it was done in certain circumstances, in smaller slide areas or simply because there wasn’t a need (or budget) to blast every spot every time. Some resort officials wanted patrolmen to have “Avy cords” that were parachute cords that had inch and foot markers on them, presumably so you could tell how far away the avalanche victim was, and could follow the rope to where he was buried. Dad refused to wear any safety gear because, as he said, “What’s the point?” Beacons and Avalungs didn’t exist yet, and the patrol didn’t even carry shovels most of the time. Along with dynamite, shovels, and skis, he and his patrolmen kept Vail’s virtually treeless back bowls, and the front side too, safe from avalanches.

They also boot-packed back then… walking up the slopes and stomping the snow down with boots or skis in the autumn to create a secure base layer. They still do this at Aspen Highland’s bowl, because the terrain isn’t conducive to running snowcats and groomers.

You guys did a good job with Avalanches, especially for couple guys living in Georgia. I went to college there and there’s not a lot of snow knowledge down that way ha ha. Anyway Avalanches are taken very seriously in Colorado, and we have more deaths per year than anywhere else in the United States, by some measures the most in the world. Sadly, we have lost too many good people to avalanches, and we hope every year to improve safety and reduce the risk – but the forces of nature are unpredictable and not to be trifled with.

Tom Boyd

You can check out the podcast on Avalanches on Stuff You Should Know here, and you can read more about Avalanches in The Understories, as well as in Dad’s favorite avalanche book: Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches by Jill Fredston.

A view of Vail History: The introduction to The Understories

Editor’s Note: The following rumination on Vail History is also the introduction to The Understories, written by Steve “Louie’ Boyd and friends.

Chair 5 Vail

Steve “Louie” Boyd riding the original Chair 5 at Vail sometime in the early 1960s.

I’ve had so much fun trying to remember these events, and I’ve been truly astounded at what I can actually recall from those days. As the old saying goes, “If you can remember the ‘60s you weren’t really there.”

Well, we were there, and fortunately we CAN remember a few things. Going through that process, and painting a picture of what life was like back then, has truly been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

The second edition here, I have told people, will be much more detailed, and much juicer, than the first edition, which was hastily put together in preparation for the Patrol reunion Sept. 21, 2012, which, by the way, was like an après ski at Donovan’s Copper Bar times ten.

At the time, we were soliciting more stories from veterans of Vail’s early Patrol (or should I say “survivors”?). Thankfully, many different patrolmen have contributed their stories, photographs and memories to this edition, and it’s also true that every Patrolman contributed in his own way simply by being there in those days. I also want everyone to know that, even though my byline is on the greater portion of these stories, in fact many of them come from tales that my old Patrol buddies have told me, and shared with me, and I’ve taken notes on over the years during our Wednesday ski days.

In this second edition, myself and the contributors have humbly tried to paint a picture of a very unique time and place. Remember that the cultural revolution was taking place, even though we weren’t aware of that, as we were in our isolated, sequestered environment. We had no TV, no radio except up at PHQ, and no newspapers really (except for the Vail Trail, of course). We were also in a very unique place, with very unique characters involved.

We describe the characters and circumstances with a great amount of color and innuendo, leaving a lot of it up to personal interpretation. My hope is that no offense is taken.

This also isn’t a historical account of perfectly recorded dates and times. It’s mostly about the episodes, the characters, the spiritual love of the mountains, and the pioneer spirit of creating your own way, your own successes.

In those days we were all fiercely independent, but team players when the situation demanded. Believe it or not, our unwritten mantra, probably coming from Pete Seibert himself, and firmly instilled in all of us, was “We can do this, we can get it done, we can improvise, we can innovate, and by golly we can do it better!”

I would also like to point out that, in spite of our well-deserved reputation as nothing but naughty-boy party animals, almost all of us, after our patrol days, somehow achieved successes that fit within a broad spectrum. Of course, there are many different interpretations of what success means, and I don’t mean the Forbes Magazine, Wall Street, or Hollywood versions. If happiness, contentment, “living the dream,” skiing together on Wednesdays still to this day (that is, the ones with knees and livers left), time spent skiing, hunting, and fishing with the grandkids, are part of being successful, then we have truly arrived.

All of us had made our own degree of contribution to the success of Vail, because if Vail had not succeeded we wouldn’t be here.

Would we do it all over again?

In a New York heartbeat.

Throughout all that time, and still to this day, a personal mantra of mine has been, “Why grow up when all you do is get old?” During this time I’ve also had two long-standing fantasies (besides the girls that is) one of which was building a cabin in the woods, and the other was to do some writing. I have built my cabin/retirement home in Marble, and now, with the creation of this publication, I have humbly accomplished both (you all be the judge).

Not quite a year before Pete Seibert’s untimely demise I was fortunate enough to have a really nice, one-on-one conversation with him at the Shaw Cancer Center, where I myself was going through a serious bout with melanoma.

“You know, Pete,” I remember saying. “I guess I owe you an apology.”

“Oh?” he said.

I explained that we early Vail ski patrolmen truly had the desire to become, and were encouraged to become, the best ski patrol in the nation (if not the whole damn world). We also had the inclination, as a sort of informal competition after clocking out, to be the absolute worst we could possibly be (all in good fun, of course).

Pete smiled that knowing smile, but I surmised it was not necessarily a smile of forgiveness.

Some months after I saw Pete on that day at the Shaw Center, I believe it was at Charlie Gerbach’s wake, I mentioned this same encounter to another old patrolman named “Weed,” one of Vail’s more notorious bad-boy patrolmen.

“You know, Louie,” Weed commented. “I think we accomplished both.”

So that’s what these Understories are all about. Some would say we were nothing but a bunch of hedonistic, irresponsible, irreverent, undisciplined, naughty, very bad boys who were absolutely hell bent on exhibiting all sorts of outrageous, egregious behavior – and they would be mostly right.

Others might say we were just a bunch of good ol’ boys who loved the carefree life, skiing, partying, girls, beer, and a whole assortment of alcoholic beverages. We were completely into the mountain lifestyle, and possessed copious amounts of enthusiasm and exuberance to go along with it, while at the same time we were in total denial of the outside/real world … and people who said that about us would be, “all right.”

The Challenge

As a challenge to the later patrols from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, with our avant garde attitudes, that they would write down their own stories so that we from the ‘60s are assured, without any doubt, that the spirit lives on.

“If you don’t have any stories to tell, you haven’t lived.”

‘The Understories: A Patrolman’s tales of life in the early days of Vail and Aspen’ is a full-color, 162-page book featuring more that 60 vintage photographs of Vail and Aspen from the 1960s and 70s. Written by Steve “Louie” Boyd and a host of other Vail pioneers, the book is available for sale for $29.95 at The Bookworm in Edwards, The Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame, and online at

Very first day on Vail Ski Patrol

By Bob Buckley

Editor’s Note: This nice vignette from Bob Buckley is another one that somehow got lost in the mail and didn’t make it into this edition of The Understories print version. We’ve posted it here for now, and are hoping to get around to another edition so we can get Bob’s stories into print!

On my very first day on the Vail Ski Patrol, I was assigned the job of working with Robby Robinson painting the LPR (lower patrol room). I had just met Robby and other than Joe Macy, the assistant patrol director who had hired me and a friend from our previous days as Loveland patrolmen, I didn’t know a single soul in Vail.  Robby thought it would be a great idea to attend a bachelor party that night for Jim Jacobsgaard , otherwise better known as Jake the Snake, and meet some of the patrol.  What a great idea!  Robby said he would pick me up at my newly rented apartment above Chuck White’s garage down in West Vail and take me home afterwards.

The party for Jake was being held at the “Slope” just across from the LPR. My first party on my first day in Vail was pretty boring as bachelor parties go, way less eventful than mine and Griffy’s  a few years later which featured CC and DD (no relation to DD Haskins). We all stood around drinking and later Buffalo, who was in charge of the projector, was playing a skin flick which the film kept breaking and nobody was watching anyway, I thought!

We all got pretty wasted and pretty much everyone left at once when Louie Pintowski, the manager, shut the place down. I’m thinking I will find Robby outside and file out with everyone else. But soon  I found myself alone and ended up staggering back down to West Vail in the dark and wondering what kind of  person would just blow you off  forcing you to walk home  on your first day in Vail! How could he have forgotten me?

Early next morning I drive in to the LPR to continue painting and a few minutes after arriving Robby shows up still dressed in his party clothes. It turns out Robby was in the front row behind the tall backrest watching the skin flick and passes out and nobody noticed him when the lights were turned off and the “ Slope” was closed and locked up for the night! You have to know Robby! He was mad that nobody thought to wake him up. Nobody saw him!

Robby and Jim Clarke ( JC ) were VA’s  surveyors and the rest of the summer I spent working with them on the survey crew.  JC and Robby were euphemistically known as “Sight and Sound.”  You can guess who the “Sound” was. Yes, Robby!  It had to be one of the best summers I have ever enjoyed hearing Robby and JC  discuss anything and everything which they had opinions on which was just about everything. I learned a lot about surveying and life in Vail and their good humor still makes me laugh today.  Both these patrolmen were great mentors. Except on my birthday.  Later on in September  they made it known to me that it was the ski patrol custom to toss a shot of Peppermint Schnapps down for every year of age at Donovan’s.  I made it to seven before I became crooked with my plumb bob!  The only thing I remember is waking up at Robby’s  having soiled the sheets and my clothes.  I don’t think Kathy thought I was very cool!

Where am I? A fairly fortunate case of cardiac arrest

By Bob Buckley

Editor’s Note: This nice vignette from Bob Buckley somehow got lost in the mail and didn’t make it into this edition of The Understories print version. We’ve posted it here for now, and are hoping to get around to another edition so we can get Bob’s stories into print!

I started on the Vail Ski Patrol in 1970 and my last year was 1984. The thing that really stands out in my mind is the miracle that I made it through the first year! I am forever grateful to Paul Testwuide, Joe Macy, and Bill Brown for hiring me in the first place and keeping me on after some pretty stupid mistakes that first year! I was very fortunate to survive and learn from my mistakes and from the older master patrolmen’s nightly training sessions in Donovans’ Copper Bar. There were supervisor ER’s and there were Buffalo, Sandy, Chupa, Jake, and JC’s ER’s, all of which were humbling, but I listened and learned and eventually I myself became a competent master patrolman. The learned skills awarded me with some of the most fulfilling moments of my life.

One of the moments was when the patrol team that consisted of myself, appointed the accident site commander by dispatch, Walt Olson, Janet Testwuide, Bobby Morris, Bill Bird, JC Clark and the Trail Crew plus a very competent cardiologist who asked if he could help resuscitated a 41-year-old New Jersey husband and father of three young children who fell over with a cardiac arrest in the chair 17 lift maze on St. Patrick’s Day 1983.

The luck of the Irish, he had his heart attack in front of two physicians. Bobby Morris was managing the heart kit (suitcase), Janet was doing the chest compressions, Walt was doing the airway management, JC was recording all the drugs, Bill Bird brought us a second heart kit from Eagles Nest as we were just blowing through the drugs.

The Trail Crew broke down and rebuilt the maze because skiers had been stepping over and on us, and Paul Testwuide was personally helping Claude Wood, the haul cat driver who was at the top chair 14, hook up the cat with a roller. Janet became winded doing the non-stop chest compressions so I relieved her and Walt was managing the airway and compressing the bag. Bobby got the defibrillator up and running and handed the defibrillator paddles to the cardiologist who administered the shock and was looking at the heart monitor which Bobby set up and I was looking at the newly awakened patient at my knees.

I was excitedly trying to get the attention of the doctor who was still looking at the monitor. It was so damn exciting seeing a live patient after so many that didn’t make it. The cardiologist saw the heart beating again on the monitor and wanted to give a lighter shock to bring about a better heart rhythm.

After the second shock the heart returned to a normal rhythm and the man asked:  “Where am I?”

It was truly a classic moment and while we were awaiting the haul cat, the Cardiologist asked “Who are you guys? You have more equipment and drugs than I have at home in my ER!”

I was looking up lower Avanti praying for the haul cat to transport this patient to the hospital when I saw what looked like a white cloud racing down the slope at us. It was a powder day and Claude Wood put the pedal to the metal on the haul cat and was preceded by red coated ski patrolmen leading the charge down Avanti. It was the prettiest sight I ever saw!

This was truly a proud moment for the Vail Ski Patrol, Vail Associates, Inc., Bill Brown who supported his patrol, Paul Testwuide,  Dr. Jack Eck who put our heart kit together, and Jake the Snake who put us all on this path, and St. Patrick! We also beat the ski school for the first time in the history of the St. Patrick ski patrol/ski school softball game on skis. A lot of green beer was consumed that night!

Understories cover image

The Understories big announcement

Winter’s here and we decided now’s the time to really try to spread the word about The Understories. Here’s the press release we issues December 3.


Ski Patrolmen tell (almost) all in new memoir about the wild side of life in Vail and Aspen during the 1960s and 70s

VAIL, Colo., Dec. 3, 2013 — Vail and Aspen are now world-famous ski resorts, but in the 1960s they were unknown towns on the edge of the Rocky Mountain wilderness, where characters of questionable repute rediscovered the Wild West, left their old lives behind, and found a way to dream big and live large.

In photos, limericks, character sketches and long-form storytelling, a new book called “The Understories,” tells tales large and small about the early days of Vail and Aspen from the perspective of the ski patrolmen who helped create world-class skiing by day, and world-class partying by night (Boyd, S., 2013, The Understories. Denver, CO, Flat Earth Media, $29.95,

It was the height of America’s social revolution. Hippies, beatniks, and protestors were grabbing headlines throughout the United States, but a different breed of rebels was seeking to form a new kind of society in the faraway Mountain West. Virtually cut off from the rest of the world, the ski patrolmen of Vail and Aspen strove to re-invent themselves and create a new way of life – free from the constraints of established custom.

With plenty of well-stocked bars, and lots of wide-open ski terrain, the patrolmen of Vail and Aspen’s early days carved a legendary path that still informs ski and snowboard culture to this day. The book explores the serious side of issues like avalanche protection and medical care, and also dives into the late-night pranks and shenanigans that kept ski patrolmen in hot water with management.

Most of the book’s stories are told by author Steve “Louie” Boyd, a ski patrolman at Aspen Highlands in the late 1950s who moved to Vail and joined ski patrol in the resort’s second season, 1963.

“We lived in a unique time, and in a unique place,” Boyd said. “The cultural revolution was under way, but we weren’t necessarily aware of that. We had no TV, no radio except up at patrol headquarters, and no newspapers, except the Vail Trail. Yet somehow we were wholeheartedly taking part in it, shedding every aspect of our former lives, and breaking every rule.”
Beyond Boyd’s stories, the book includes more than 60 vintage, color and black-and-white photographs of Vail, Aspen, and the surrounding wilderness, plus additional stories and photos from Jim Himmes, Mike Ewing, Dick Dennison, Mike Woods, Davey Floyd, Dave Stanish, Sandy Hinmon, Dan Cady, Jeff Supinger, Larry Benway, Chuck Malloy, Claire Beck, and Jeanne Nedrelow.

It is available at select bookstores, the Colorado Ski Museum and Hall of Fame, and online at