Shelton:Nineteen Sixty-Four | View to the West
by Peter Shelton
Sep 17, 2007 | 505 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print

This happens sometimes. We’ve finished dinner and we’re too tired to read. The mail lady did not leave a red-and-white Netflix envelope in the mailbox. And so, I rummage through the drawer of DVDs and old VHS tapes. This night I picked the 1964 classic The Pink Panther.

Who knows what guided my hand. Certainly, it was the prospect of Peter Sellers as the hilariously inept Inspector Clouseau: Clouseau singeing his hand on the ski lodge fireplace then getting it stuck in a beer stein; Clouseau bowing a screeching violin to “soothe” his skittish wife in bed; Clouseau so clueless he never catches on to the fact that his wife is sleeping with the jewel thief he is after.

Then, too, I’m sure I was looking forward to watching the voluptuous Claudia Cardinale as the Princess Dala and the gifted comedienne Capucine as Madame Clouseau. “It’s so Sixties!” Ellen said of everything from the modish animated credits to the bouffant hairdos to the tight sweaters and tighter stretch pants.

Naturally, I wanted to see again the skiing sequences in Cortina d’Ampezzo, one of the Alps’ most fashionable addresses then. It probably still is. Back then people used horse-drawn sleighs to get around, the few cars in sight were Fiats the size of bread boxes, and nobody wanted to, or had the ability to plow the streets free of snow.

The slopes that the Princess and the thief (David Niven) and his ne’er-do-well nephew (Robert Wagner) ski are groomed only by skier traffic – long-ski traffic. Their stand-ins maneuver their toothpick 210s with tiny, in-the-boot ankles clamped in leather. Compared to today’s baggy, big-foot skiers, they look like stick insects, very erect on their little feet, with super-long poles for antennae.

I’m impressed with how well they do, feet glued together, and remember that in 1964 I tried very hard to ski like that. That winter, when I was almost 15, my parents let me go to Sun Valley for spring break. The idea originated with friends who were sending their 15-year-old son and didn’t quite trust him to go alone; they wanted a companion to go with. My folks agreed and supplied the rented Head Masters, the Henke Speedfits, and the train ticket from Los Angeles.

Ted and I were in over our heads on the overnight train. The girls in our car all seemed to be college age. They had big hair held back with hair bands, pale glossed lips and dark eyeliner above their lashes. The Beatles had just appeared on Ed Sullivan. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was number one in the land, and we had no clue how to respond to female attention. At least I didn’t. I fell asleep in Nevada somewhere and woke up at dawn as Idaho potato fields went clicking by, furrows and fence posts so bright with new snow they were hard to look at.

All Sun Valley instructors then were Austrians. Ours was named Leo, and he was the most beautiful skier I had ever seen. I suspected him of bedding several of the girls in our class. They, at any rate, made it abundantly clear they wanted him. Gradually, over the course of the week, the class shrank, until at the end it was just Ted and me. Where was everybody else? In my innocence, I really couldn’t imagine. What could possibly be more thrilling than following Leo down Warm Springs: reverse-shoulder traverse (arms wide, one knee tucked in behind the other), check-Hup! and around?

By chance, the week Ellen and I watched The Pink Panther, a friend brought over some old SKIING magazines his father had kept. Just for the fun of looking at them and looking back. One was from 1964. A pretty blonde with heavy eye makeup graces the cover. Inside (which is entirely black-and-white) are stories about the just-finished Innsbruck Olympics, about the new resort at Vail, and from Austrian downhiller Toni Matt: “I dared the Headwall” at Tuckerman Ravine. There are ads for boot trees and Bongo Boards and the amazing new Yamaha Epoxi ski.

Prices, to the modern eye, are shocking. You can order the 45 rpm “Anyone Can Yodel!” record for $1.05 from Bucher’s Yodeling School in Denver. The Reiker Kanone ski boot will set you back $39.95. The Swiss Autolux Ski Carrier (special for your Carmen Ghia): $13.50.

For decades now I have told people that my entire Sun Valley week cost my father $100. The number seems so ridiculous now, I begin to doubt my memory. (Have Aspen or Vail topped $100 for the daily lift ticket yet? They must be close.) But there in SKIING magazine is the proof in a half-page ad. “Sun Valley Learn to Ski Weeks … You get six nights accommodations … all meals … six days ski lessons … all ski lift rides … outdoor, warm-water swimming … dancing, music and evening entertainment … all for the one low price of … $110.”

There it was. Even if I was not yet ready to take advantage of the “evening entertainment,” 1964 was a very good year.

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