Retrofitted: Peter Dunn’s bionic limbs and Marker ‘blowout’ bindings
Call Peter Dunn the Bionic Man.
Over the past two decades or so, the longtime Frisco local and former Montezuma resident has been pieced back together, bit by synthetic bit, after 63 years of a life well lived. Oddly enough, only one of his orthopedic fixer uppers — a rebuilt shoulder from 2005 — was the side effect of skiing too hard on closing day at Loveland, one of his local favorites. There’s the right hip replacement from 1998 (ladder fall), a reconstructed ankle from 2003 (another ladder fall) and then a fracture in his left hip, that one the lesser of two injuries from landing in a pile of boulders at Loveland. He let the fracture heal and opted for surgery on the shoulder instead. Oh, he also had knee surgery in 2014 when an MRI showed the joint in his left leg was crunching, bone on bone, but he waited until May (as in the end of the ski season) to get that one taken care of, and then he was back on his Volkl Mantras just five months later for opening weekend.
“I’ve been rebuilt by this point,” Dunn told me on a warm yet overcast day in mid-April, one of those spring mornings when something akin to summer thunderclouds hung heavy over Mount Royal and Frisco far below. He’s lived with his wife, Alicia, in the same home for nearly 35 years, found just outside of town on unincorporated land within eyeshot of Interstate 70. For more than 20 years, Alicia worked as a nurse at Vail Valley Medical Center — home to renowned surgeons with The Steadman Clinic and Vail-Summit Orthopaedics — and so he had a direct line to the best bone docs in the country. World, even.
“I’m an orthopedic nightmare: hips, knees, everything,” Dunn says, although he hardly walks any different than he did in 1977, when he first moved from Los Angeles to a one-room cabin in Montezuma with a pair of Hexcel Super Comp honeycomb skis and little else. He might be a little slower now, just a touch, but there’s nothing like a noticeable limp or hitch or wobble.
The Bionic Man’s collection of orthopedic hardware is impressive, but it’s not quite as impressive as the collection of skiing hardware stored in the attic above his electrical shop next to the house. It’s where he keeps the Hexcels, circa 1976, with Marker M4-15 spring-loaded bindings, what he dubs “Marker blowouts.” Why? Because the burly release mechanism would literally pop on hard impact, propelling the ski from the skier in the most dynamic (aka violent) way possible. At least they come with a din setting — a luxury in the late ’70s.
The M4-15 blowouts are the same model found on one of his favorite pairs of vintage skis, the bee-yellow Volkl Renn Tigers from 1979. He got the skis in the U.S. shortly before flitting off to Europe, where he roamed the Alps as a ski bum between shifts as a bartender at a NATO joint in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a Bavarian resort area home to Dutch, Austrian and German alpine military units.
The blowouts on the Renn Tigers hold a special place in the Bionic Man’s heart (not yet bionic, at least that I know of). While working and living in Bavaria, he met the founder and owner of Marker bindings, Hannes Marker, who supplied the local military outfits with equipment. The steel bindings with red springs and black plastic accents came “straight from Mr. Marker himself,” Dunn says. They even work still: A few seasons back, he stepped into them with his modern boots and the setup worked just fine, boots and bindings and all.
Inside, spread across a kitchen table beneath vaulted ceilings, Dunn shows me a box of faded ski maps and photos from his pre-bionic days: Arapahoe Basin in the late ’70s, just a season before Pallavicini Chair was installed; Austria’s Lech Zürs am Arlberg, also from the late ’70s, a massive, sprawling map with a guide to the peak-to-peak gondola system; his cabin in Montezuma, found smack in the middle of town near the old firehouse; scenes of naked hot-tubbing with friends from the NATO bar, with the skin to prove it.
As we walk and talk back outside for photos, the Bionic Man starts rattling off a list of the other old-timers living on his street and elsewhere nearby. He’s been skiing in Summit most of his life, and he still gets 70 to 80 days every season, bionic limbs be damned. Telemarking is hard these days — the reconstructed ankle doesn’t mix well with his black-leather Asolo Sport Extreme boots — and there’s no way in hell he’d deal with Jet Stix again, the early-’70s boot attachments made to provide more calf support in a time when most boots stopped just above the ankle.
“Powder is powder and I love that,” Dunn says before also saying he’ll probably go skiing later that afternoon, in the spring slush beneath spring thunderclouds. “Being rebuilt you have your limits, but I get out and ski it all.”
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