Eulogy for a friend: Dale Scott
Big Sky, Mont.
Dale was a skier, first and foremost with no excuses. He loved to ski powder. He loved to ski bumps. He loved to ski hard pack. He loved to fly down groomers with the wind fluttering in his perfect hair. He loved to share the mountains he loved with the woman he loved. Dale passed from this plane the other night quietly enjoying his slumber as he enjoyed so many other things in this world. He was a warrior, a mentor, and a brother.
Dale Robert Scott was born in Wisconsin in 1955 and grew up in America in a time of hope and wonder for the future. Childhood was average for Dale. He was involved in sports, school, and chores. Then in the winter of 1967 the whole Scott family made the trek to Colorado for the opening of Vail Mountain. The story of driving over Vail Pass on U.S. 6 before I-70, before the Eisenhower tunnel is one that many have heard over the years but remains a far cry from today’s commute to “Vailtown” as Dale was often heard calling it. That trip was all it took for him to be hooked on skiing for a lifetime. Dale attended high school in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. He played football in high school and dated cheerleaders. Skiing in Wisconsin was better than working in Wisconsin, but all that really yielded Dale was a scar on his hand from where a pole went in one side and out the other in a ski racing accident. The occasional Frank Zappa concert was entertaining, but the west was always calling. He tried college briefly, and then delivered pornography in downtown Chicago before finally saving up enough money to buy a 1968 Ford Fairlane from the local church. Loading his 220’s in the trunk he headed for Colorado.
Already a self proclaimed veteran of the Acid Wars, Dale Scott arrived on the Colorado ski scene in 1975. While residing in Leadville and trying to continue his college aspirations at Colorado Mountain College, there was a summer night of long boarding on the yet unfinished four laning of I-70 Vail Pass concrete that ended in a trip to the hospital for one unlucky lady. Unemployment finally ran out and not wanting to take a job at Climax Moly mine Dale took a job at the new ski resort down the road from Leadville. Sometime around here in the story Dale received his long standing nickname. While skiing with some friends in Vail on an incredible powder day he went sailing off a large cliff and definitely did not stick the landing, unless you count the tail of one of his skis sticking him right below the eye. When he regained consciousness in the hospital one of his friends asked him: “Why did you get so much air, Dale?” The moniker stuck. AirDale was a ski lift operator at Copper Mountain Resort circa 1979. Which at the time was little more than a couple of make shift buildings and a couple of ski lifts. He quickly worked his way into a lift foreman position and then summer helper for lift maintenance. Those of you in the industry know this position often times turns into a full-time mechanic spot with a little elbow grease, and it did for Dale as well.
There are many folks out there who have heard Dale’s stories about the early days of lift maintenance; no harnesses, no radios, having to fix a downed lift with a broken crescent wrench and some mechanic’s wire, having to bake their own welding rod. Filling lift tower tubes with sand one 5-gallon bucket at a time in the hopes of reducing vibration. Building new lifts with a broken shovel, hammer, and of course your standard issue lift maintenance rock. Stories of pulling splice rigs with a D8, a molly, and some fist grips gave way to used plate clamps bought (or most likely pulled out of the Dumpster) from Climax mine up the road. In 1983 Copper Mountain got their first new roller bearing, though it was just for looking at as a reference to see what a new bearing should look like, not for actually using. It seems the managers at the time were afraid somebody might “use it too much while it was new.”
Dale whiled away the years at Copper trying to keep “old dead lifts” running with a shoe string budget and little support from his higher ups. There are a myriad of stories from those 23 years of service at “Copper Montanya,” too many to list here. There was one St. Patrick’s Day (not on the clock) that a couple of folks surely remember (you know who you are) involving “grip lizards” and “flaming haul ropes” and a very big man with a very small Irish hat riding a snowmobile singing “Irish Eyes are Smiling” at the top of his lungs. And then on the very same day-off-bluebird-powderday, Dale and cohorts were being chased out of the shop by the boss about some senseless safety oriented paperwork that had not been signed in triplicate. Dale had many friends, pals and cohorts, but in 1997 at a ski race after party, Dale met someone from whom he would not be apart from for the rest of his life. Dale met the love of his life, Carol Weigel.
Meanwhile back in the world of lift maintenance, a new lift was having issues which resulted in a large hose blowing off the gear box soaking everything in the terminal in oil. With no other way to get people offloaded in a timely manner, Dale grabbed the hose, put his back into it, and held it in place while last chair slowly ran up the lift. Super Bee had to be kept on a slow in order for Dale to keep the hose in place, though an accidental speed increase did cause the pressure in the hose to raise flinging him across the terminal and getting a coat of oil for himself in addition to the oil already all over the floor. Except for that minor incident, the lift was safely unloaded and Dale and a few others only had to stay till midnight to clean up and repair. After all that hard work he was compensated by not being paid out for the overtime owed to him. Dale didn’t do lift maintenance for the money, or the glory; neither are prevalent in our industry anyway, but Dale did lift maintenance so he could continue to ride the lifts he loved to be able to access the terrain he loved to ski. A crazy notion in today’s world of safety conscious corporate skiing focused on the bottom line rather than the powder lines. After 23 years of service Dale was let go from Copper Mountain in the fall of 2001.
Though it has always irked me that a dedicated mechanic could just be shuffled out of the rotation, had Dale continued at Copper it may have been someone else writing this eulogy. Dale was down, but not out. He spent a couple of years doing some odd jobs around Summit County and making pilgrimages to the ocean (his other love beyond the mountains) for windsurfing and diving with Caroleeta, and of course skiing as much as possible. Dale often said “Your worst day of skiing is always better than your best day at work.” And he believed it, his best day on the hill wasn’t that latest dump, or that one time five years ago when it used to snow, Dale’s best day of skiing was every day. He thoroughly enjoyed anytime he got to slide down the hill, whether it was hard pack, powder, corn, or wind buff, he even got enjoyment out of trying to navigate some late spring coral reef and surviving, or dodging the masses early season on the white strip of death. Dale was a soul skier.
In the summer of 2003 he was given a second chance in the lift maintenance industry. Which is kind of like getting a second helping of tarantulas with breakfast, but that just made Dale all the more thankful. In fact, when presented with the most daunting of ski lift related tasks Dale was often heard saying “put me in, coach.” Dale was hired to the Keystone lift maintenance crew and assigned to work with a young long hair that was eerily similar to me, wait a minute that was me, a younger dumber me. Through the eight years that I worked with Dale, there were too many hilarious anecdotes to recall. I know that we were reduced to tears of laughter on more than one occasion in the work chair 50 feet up trying to change a couple of 75-pound sheaves just so some folks can enjoy a day of skiing. “Hey Gunter let’s make these red sheaves reeeal heavy and see if these Americans will notice!” we would often say to one another in our best Austrian accents. We were always trying our best to make each other laugh while performing our most strenuous exposed tasks. Another memorable moment was having a close call with a fast-moving summer thunderstorm while traveling up the line in Ruby’s work chair. Flash, Boom. The lift comes to a stop with every imaginable fault. After talking our driver through getting the machine moving again, we finally arrived at the next tower; Dale always said he turned to ask me if we should escape to the ground and I was already fleeing into the woods. As we hunkered down in the forest we had another chuckle about the strange career we had both chosen while the rain beat down around us.
Dale always saw the humor in the lift maintenance industry, maybe that’s why he never really saw eye to eye with his superiors. They were always trying to take it so seriously while Dale always remembered this whole ski “industry” is all about sliding down a snow-covered slope with some sort of contraption strapped to your feet, feeling the wind in your hair, and enjoying the hell out of it all. Dale taught me many things over the years but the one I’m most appreciative of is how to keep calm under fire. Whether it was a ski lift going haywire, a boss having a bad hair day, or a lift operator causing problems, I never saw Dale lose his cool. I’m sure that it has happened, especially “where he used to work,” but from day one at “the rock” Dale was just elated to be a part of the ski industry again. Dale was also always quick with a joke, or a smile trying to get the boys in a good mood in the mornings. I think at Keystone he finally realized that when you work for a ski area even if you don’t agree with all of their policies and politics, it’s still a pretty good gig. When a co-worker would start getting too wrapped up in the “politics of dancing,” Dale would often chuckle and remind them that “it’s better than working in Denver [or substitute any other flat land locale].” The other thing I will always remember about Dale was his absolute gratitude for every day spent on this Earth. If you asked Dale “how’s it going?” on any given day the response almost always was “Better than most, worse than some, Best Day of My Life!” with a big, shit-eating grin on his face.
I always thought we would be talking skiing and ski lifts until we were both old and gray, but he had a great ride while he was here. He was a warrior, a mentor, and a brother. I will always be grateful for every trick of the trade he passed on, and I will miss him. Rest in Peace Dale.
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