Skihad BCE: The Last Stop, But Who Knew?

In addition to his skills at serializing novels, Charles Dickens is well known for ghostly visitations. Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t invite Jacob Marley or the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future to come and visit him, but the results were salutary.

Charles, here is your first ever visitation invitation for a lesson on serializing stories. Is Zoom available where you are?

This is the fifth episode of Skihad BCE. The first is here; the second is here; the third is here; the fourth is here; and another related story, written well before our lives took a sharp turn into lockdown, is here.

Skihad is now only days away from the March 15, 2020 divider between CE (Coronavirus Era) and BCE (Before the Coronavirus Era).

Leaving old friends after a few days doing something fun together is always wistful. Even in the best of times, people in their 70s are given to wonder if a week like the one in Big Sky will happen again.

Worse, though I have tried to reflect the prevailing unawareness of the gravity of the Coronavirus at the time, anxiety was building.

The Mighty Ford Escape and I set off for Sun Valley just 10 podcasts to the southwest. There is a great stop along the way at Craters of the Moon National Park. For some reason, it was the site of a volcanic eruption but there is no volcano.

The park is a vast field of lava that looks extremely inhospitable. The critters that contribute to the nastiness seem to take the winter off, so the attraction is the rugged terrain itself. Perfidious snow that had chosen not to fall on ski trails created a double whammy by obscuring the cragginess under a fluffy white cover. That did seem a bit excessive.

In Sun Valley, I spent a couple of days in a magnificent house that I won’t show you because it ain’t mine to show, then a few more days at an Airbnb that serves as a reminder about the importance of observing market signals conveyed by Airbnb pricing. If it looks like too much of a bargain, there might be a reason.

Sun Valley is one of America’s oldest ski resorts and, historically, one of our most glamorous. It was created by the Union Pacific Railroad as a destination for its passengers in the 1930s. Perhaps it is not entirely surprising that I have more friends in Sun Valley than in any other ski place.

I have had the misfortune never to have seen great snow there, but it remains one of my favorites, mostly because of the number of fun people. One afternoon we had seven skiers whose total age was more than 500 years. If we laid all those years end-to-end, Henry VIII would still be married to Catherine of Aragon. Dinners for eight are de rigueur but the shredded kid cheese of the fussy restaurant in Big Sky is appropriately reserved for grandchildren.

Sun Valley has two mountains: Bald and Dollar. Unless you are in your first week of lifetime skiing, you can forget about Dollar.  Bald Mountain has two peaks, Seattle Ridge and the other one. Most skiing seems to happen on the other one as Seattle Ridge is a bit mellow for local skill levels.

Each has a restaurant at the top. Fans of such things will not be surprised to learn that Sun Valley veterans always eat at one of them and would never be caught dead at the other. Extreme social distancing might follow a mistaken lunch at Seattle Ridge.

I also connected with a hockey teammate from Washington who had recently moved to Hailey, Idaho, a few miles to the south of Sun Valley. We had a day of skiing together and watching her 10-year-old daughter race.

The kids were given an impossibly icy course, which didn’t seem to faze them at all. The parent spectators, gathered halfway down, were discussing the usual sports parent things: cost; time commitment; excessive emphasis; safety; and, of course, cheating. Sun Valley, being as “sportif” as it is, every one of the racers was also engaged in youth travel hockey and the cheating conversation was only related only to that.

Amanda, my hockey teammate, had a unique move that I later learned was called finning. The snowmaking nozzles create a ridge that can be about 2 feet high. It extends down the trail making one long narrow mogul. You can do a series of short tight turns on either side of the fin and it looks great. I tried it a few times, but I don’t think I will be ready for prime time until next year. Will there be a next year?

She invited me for dinner and to watch her and her husband play hockey. If I had had my gear, I’d have asked to play too. Another next year opportunity?

On March 6, there were more than 100 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States. On March 11, there were more than 1000 because, as my techy son observed, “that’s how exponents work.”

The European travel ban was announced on March 11 and extended to all foreign visitors on March 14.

By now, there was increasing discussion of the coronavirus, especially because of the direct flights from Seattle, both an early hotbed of the outbreak and a city that provides many visitors to Sun Valley. Still, no social distancing and not a mask to be seen.

The Dow Jones industrial average reached 21,200, down 18% from the closing price on the day I arrived. Whatever I was noticing about the epidemic, the market was noticing more, and it was getting closer to home.

According to Michael Ames, writing in The New Yorker,

Why an Idaho Ski Destination Has One of the Highest COVID-19 Infection Rates in the Nation

“On Friday, March 6th, DJ Jazzy Jeff was spinning records for a packed house at Whiskey Jacques bar, in Ketchum, Idaho. The party capped a week of festivities in Ketchum and the neighboring Sun Valley for the annual Black Summit of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (N.B.S.), the largest African-American ski and snowboard association in the world. Nearly seven hundred Brotherhood members had made the journey from their homes across the United States, or in some cases from London, for their forty-seventh annual mountain meet-up. The mayor of Sun Valley welcomed the Brotherhood with pomp and ceremony, including keys to the city and a proclamation of March 6th as National Brotherhood of Skiers Day.

By the following week, upward of a hundred and twenty-six members of the Brotherhood had come down with symptoms of the coronavirus. Twenty tested positive for covid-19, and eight were hospitalized, including three in intensive-care units. On March 30th, DJ Jazzy Jeff announced that he was suffering from pneumonia and associated coronavirus symptoms. In the days since, two longtime N.B.S. members, Nathaniel Jackson, of Pasadena, and Charles Jackson, of Los Angeles, who shared a room while in Sun Valley, have died of the illness.”

“Blaine County, Idaho, for example, which is roughly the size of Delaware, has just three hundred and ninety-nine confirmed cases and two deaths. But, with approximately twenty-two thousand full-time residents, the county’s infection rate is now the highest in the nation—greater even than those of New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties, and possibly on par with earlier pandemic epicenters in northern Italy and Wuhan, China.”

His article appeared on April 3, nearly three weeks C.E.

On to Squaw Valley. Or not.


6 Responses to “Skihad BCE: The Last Stop, But Who Knew?”

Peter W. Bragdon, May 18, 2020 at 3:22 pm said:

Haven! Glad you packed in so much before our nation was clobbered. I wonder when you will be able to return? In the autumn Dottie, Jane Piatelli and I are meant to return to Kent School for a delayed celebration — delayed from this June — of the 1980 Kent School Men’s Hockey Team — an entrance into the Kent Hall of Fame — but I wonder whether we can gather without being threatened by C-19? I wonder when you can renew your ventures to those exotic western locations?
The reality is this will be a final opportunity for all of us to be with each other — three of the five Prefects of the Class of ’80 were on this team — a great bunch of competitors who remind me of you and SPS’s David Martin — not the most loaded of my Kent teams but this group won the close ones — graduates of the ’80 team played for UNH, Harvard, Vermont, RPI and Brown.
Back to skiing: did you know that Cooney would not allow his players to ski during the season? Even fringe players like me? This was the result of a Belmont Hill graduate on one of his teams suffering a broken ankle during a January ski on some Sunday.


Haven Pell, May 18, 2020 at 3:45 pm said:

Pete, the final two episodes of Skihad BCE will deal with the unwind of this year and whether there will be a next year. Makes me understand your feelings about the reunion with your 1980 players.


Sellers, May 18, 2020 at 3:26 pm said:

As I am sure you have noticed, your divider between BCE and CE is “The Ides of March:” still portentous after all these years…


Haven Pell, May 18, 2020 at 3:40 pm said:

I had not thought of that at all. I definitely should have. One of the challenges of serializing is that you can’t go back and make an improvement like that.


Terry Vogt, May 18, 2020 at 4:54 pm said:

Or maybe you can go back and rearrange things, just hoping that your dear readers don’t catch you! Haven, remember that there was a moment that you and I were ventilating the possibility of me catching up with you in either Big Sky or Sun Valley. Discretion, better part of valor, etc., prevailed.


Haven Pell, May 18, 2020 at 6:40 pm said:

You’d have liked Sun Valley and it was pretty much the last of the season. How about next year?


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