Mountain Malfunctions – Telluride 2005

In Colorado, a breathless mile and a half above sea level, is a ski town called Telluride. It’s a little bleak, lovely in a “Deadwood” sort of way, with middle-class gunslingers toting Blackberries while calling in billable attorney hours from the base of chairlift number eight. 

The main street is “Main Street” – prairie wide, allowing views of painfully beautiful sunsets and Trainee Trophy-Wives.

Our flight over was complicated but uneventful, the most notable sight being George’s hand-luggage, which consisted solely of a bottle of 140-proof black rum. One flight was delayed and we were entertained by Charlie N., a special Olympian who was patiently asking the gate agent to send someone to show him to his connection. He didn’t need a wheelchair, he told her, he just has a little trouble understanding signs and departure times – something I can definitely identify with. He showed us pictures of his niece and described life on his Dad’s farm. He must have repeated the agent request a dozen times, so when an agent finally showed up pushing a wheelchair, we all called “He doesn’t need a wheelchair!” in unison.

Ten of us had driven up from Montrose airport in a minibus with our luggage and skis strapped to the roof, Beverly Hillbillies-style. We had an extensive supply of duty-free liquor but the drive to Telluride was a long two hours, so we had the driver stop at a liquor store for more essential vitamin “A”. To add to the fun, local laws dictated that we had to hide the grog every time we passed through a town or saw a Sheriff. To pass the time, we called Bucky to taunt him, since he’s skipped skiing for the rather inadequate reason of marriage preparations. However, he’d anticipated this and turned his cell phone off. Text messages and emails bought the automated response “Neil is too bummed about not skiing to respond to your email right now!”

I was staying in a condo with Janis, Charles, Jackie and Craig. The condo was called “Riverview”, bordered around the back by a half-frozen beaver pond and on the front by a paddock restraining a boundingly terrifying enormous dog. Inside the condo, there were some nice touches. A dangling candelabrum of rustic iron pots was suspended high above the third-floor kitchen area by a chain decorated with cast-iron beavers. There were majestically tasteless barstools with legs made of horseshoes welded together. The ground floor was garage space; I was staying on the third, while the married types took the en-suites on the second. I noticed that my bathroom locked with a key from the outside, a decidedly odd arrangement. Perhaps it’s just a way to capture and store extra-smelly ski socks before they escape.

The other five snow-hounds were staying across the street in what is actually a converted nineteenth-century whorehouse, complete with an exterior red light. This bordello looked a little dilapidated and run-down from the outside – a wooden shack held together by cheap blue paint and last year’s Christmas lights. However, inside it was a fairy grotto of antique beds, furniture carved from animal horns, hand-painted champagne glasses and ancient books of account in glass cases.

I was very nervous on the first day of skiing. The source of my apprehension was not the mountain, but my beloved ten-year-old ski suit. Upon packing, I’d discovered that it had begun to split along the inseam. I’d made hurried repairs, sewing up the crotch area, but I was now very concerned about the possibility of a catastrophic on-mountain Jacksonian Wardrobe Malfunction.

There was also the question of altitude. To explain, that morning we’d awoken to a house with no hot water. Craig, a marine systems engineer by profession, found a broken pipe and a pump that was close to melting. It was going to take a while to get repairs, so I’d taken an ice cold shower. A combination of the cold and the general lack of oxygen at that height caused me to pass out. If I can’t even wash my hairy ears without a loss of consciousness, how was I going to ski?

Despite the lack of hot water, we put our glasses and dishes in the washer – a cold wash being better than no wash at all.

Aunt Jackie was also nervous – last year she’d torn a tendon in her knee. Now she was powering down the hill, supported by a knee missing a tendon, a six hundred dollar brace and her indomitable sense of humor. Suddenly, her foot felt unaccountably chilly. Looking down, she saw that her ski-boot had begun to disintegrate and pieces were flying off it! Her ski flew off, and blissfully unaware that it was now unoccupied, it executed several perfect turns without the aid of its owner before disappearing into the woods. Craig ordered a search party, quizzing passers-by about the ski, most of who looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. Meanwhile, the emergency services showed up with a snowmobile and gave Jackie a ride to the “Boot Doctor” – a repair shop. The Doctor was examining Jackie’s other boot when it, too began to fall apart. At this point, the best thing that could be done with it was to exhibit it on the wall as a tourist attraction, and there it hangs still, autographed by Jackie. Jackie bought some new boots, Craig decided to upgrade his own, and never one to be left out of a shopping opportunity, Janis jumped in with both credit cards and bought a pair too. Janis discovered that the reason she’d broken her ankle the previous year was that she’d been wearing her boots two sizes too large.

Back at Riverview, we emptied the dishwasher to find that the plastic champagne glasses had melted. It turns out that the silly machine hadn’t substituted cold water for hot – it had merely air-baked the dirt onto the plates and melted everything with a fusion point below 5,000 degrees.

Five a.m. the next morning and I found that there’s a big disadvantage to having a lock on the outside of the bathroom – I was locked out! This was most unfortunate, given the urgency of my situation. I did remember a spare key by the front door of the condo and tried that in the lock – it worked. At breakfast the next day, Craig told me that I was a “Muppet” and Jackie told me that the blueberry cereal that I was eating looked like “Rabbit Poo”.

Chris last skied ten years ago and has never used a snowboard. The boarders in the group managed to persuade him to take a lesson. Soaring by on the ski lift, we saw him under instruction – and doing exceptionally well too. Everyone shouted encouragement at once and he looked up – too far up – falling with all the grace of a drunken Falkland Islands penguin. He spent the rest of the week with his wrist in a brace and on skis, which are somewhat less prone to making you prone.

I spent a fine morning skiing with the expert boarders – George, Charles and Rob. The person issuing the lift tickets must have been smoking a stronger mix than usual, because he issued George with an invalid ski-pass. Every time we boarded a lift, he was subject to a barrage of questions. For my part, I managed to get myself lost in the forest, no doubt due to poor signage.

The next morning I passed out from the altitude again, this time while sitting on what’s best described as the “Throne” (hence the Royal “We”). I related this incident to the gang over breakfast, requesting that should they hear a “thud” in my bathroom the next morning, someone should come in and pull my pants up and flush. I made the mistake of taking a mouthful of cereal just as Jackie stated that that was all very well, but I could “Wipe your own a—se”. At this point a mouthful of “Rabbit Poo” cereal got lost in my guffaws and flew down my nose at high-velocity. There really is nothing quite like blueberries in your nasal passages for clarity of thought.

I was skiing with “Martini” Martine, a fellow tree and bump-hunter (although to be fair, she collides with tree-trunks less often than I do) who always has a couple of miniatures of “Grey Goose” sequestered in her ski-jacket. We tried skiing with the eponymous Piggy too, but his penchant for having us stop every twenty yards to drink from the mini-bar that he wears around his waist was beginning to make us feel woozy. After a week of crashing trees, bumps, rocks, slower skiers and assorted debris, we were walking in line for a lift when my ski binding gave up and simply fell off, the ski lazily wandering away, leaving me hopping awkwardly. I was horrified, and like Jackie, had the ignomious experience of riding the rescue snowmobile down the hill to the repair shop.

I decided that if I’m an awful cook, I’m at least going to be a productive one, so I was frying a mournfully tasteless heap of cheap sausages in one of the charmingly rustic pots. I was cooking that well known gourmet specialty, sausage, bagel and peanut butter sandwiches (the peanut butter was at Jackie’s request since it gums up my talking ability – she’s not a morning person and my cheery chatter was giving her ”Hulse-itude sickness”). I was talking to Janis and reached for the pan behind me. I let out an almighty scream (an unkind person would have said I squealed like a girl, but this is MY story, so it was, in fact, a manly roar) and threw then pan, sausages and all, into the air. It turns out that the charming rustics who designed the cookware don’t believe in handle insulation, despite it having been invented seventy-odd years ago. I stuck my hand under the cold water. Charles took his ice-pack off his knee and handed it to me and then good-naturedly began to pick up the food (ten second rule was stretched a little) and clean up the mess.

Back on the mountain, we were looking for a narrow run off the right of the main drag called “The Drain”. Piggy and Martini warned me not to ski past the entrance, so, of course, I did. Clearly, the signposts on this mountain have room for significant improvement. Rather than walk back uphill, I decided to cut through the woods. Not wanting me to get utterly lost, those pessimists Piggy and Martini skied down to join me and we set off on the expedition together. After a while, we stopped for a drink from Piggy’s minibar and decided that this section of woods was actually better than the “Drain”. I proposed that since we were by now effectively above the drain, we should call the woods “The Toilet”.

The “Ho’s” of the Whorehouse were going to cook dinner for us. To be more accurate, Rob was doing most of the cooking while everyone else tried not to mess it up. There we eleven of us, because we’d found a skinny twenty-three year old barmaid in “Smugglers” who was in dire need of nourishment. I pointed out that I had socks older than she was, which is not apparently the best way to win someone over. She told us that her name was “Jilldo”. Janis had cooked a “Seven Layer” dip in a bowl of such proportions that it continued to provide sustenance for the rest of the week. There were also, to my reckoning, only 6.5 layers. We had “accidentally” forgotten that the duty-free rum was 140-proof, and Craig crashed into Chris, caused Chris to crash into the table, shattering a rose-colored glass with his uninjured hand, sending red wine everywhere. I helped by covering the mess with expensive whorehouse napkins, which on reflection, probably doubled the cost of the damage. At midnight, I went to bed exhausted, while the rest of the team went on a rum-fueled pub crawl around town, staying out until four in the morning. There were some truly horrible sights on the mountain the next day.

The worst of these sights was Charles in his underwear. Charles had bought himself some boxers imprinted with the appropriate (or inappropriate) part of the male lower torso. When we gathered for lunch to watch a blues band from the on-mountain dining patio, he dropped his pants to show them off – causing a significant number of double takes and an elderly lady to accelerate her medication.

At the end of the week, at four in the morning, I found myself locked out of my bathroom again. This time, for reasons best blamed on alcohol, I realized that I’d locked the key inside this smallest of rooms. At that time of the night, there are very few options, the obvious one involving the balcony overlooking the beaver pond.

It was a beautiful night, the sky full of brilliant stars, the rising moon faintly illuminating the snowy mountain peaks. In the distance, I could hear dogs barking and nearby, the river trickling cheerfully. Trickle, trickle, trickle. Which reminded me of why I was there. The basic flaw in my plan was that the fence around the balcony was a conservative five feet high. But I was lucky – there was some garden furniture there. It was one of life’s sublime moments, climbing onto a plastic lawn chair in bare feet (and everything else) in the middle of all of that gigantic geological grandeur, and then peeing on it.


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