NO BRAKES,
NO AIR BAGS,
NO SPEED LIMIT

My Life On Skis

by  Michael "IKE" Levy

When I was a kid in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we played in the snow outside during the winter.  If you've ever been a parent, you would know how much you want the kids to get out of the house in the winter, especially on weekends.   Somewhere, we got a pair of skis with "bear trap" cable bindings and metal edges screwed on. That's the way skis were made in those days.  We didn't have proper ski boots, so we just stepped into them with our rubber snow boots.  We used to go sledding down at Snake Hill, so named because it had a lovely "S" curve in it. When we got the skis, we built a ski jump on the steep slope.  When you would take air off the ski jump, more often than not, the skis would fall off of your rubber boots and drop away.  This left one flying through the air - with the greatest of ease. There were quite a few bone-crunching landings.  Miraculously, I don't remember anyone getting seriously injured. Nevertheless, I developed a love of both skiing and flying..........

Pay It Forward - My parents took me on my (and their) first ski trip when I was 16 years old - to Crystal Mountain, in Michigan.  This was the first and last time my parents ever skied.  My mother broke both thigh bones in her left leg on the last hour of the last day, simply by sitting down when she was over-terrained on a steeper slope and fearful of another fast moving skier not actually near her. I know, I was right behind her.  Nevertheless, I was hooked immediately.  From that very first weekend I was inspired by my first ski instructor - an older man. Somehow the light bulb went off, and I had the thought that it would be really neat to be a ski instructor someday when I became an elder myself.

At college I joined the ski club and trained to be on the ski patrol.  I served on the ski patrol at Boyne Mountain, Michigan's primary ski resort, so I could ski for free.  I started teaching beginner's for the ski club.  Another season, I ski-bummed, entertaining with my guitar, vocals, and harmonica in the bar at Nub's Knob Ski resort in Michigan.  I kept my skis and guitar in a storeroom at the lodge, and hitchiked 250 miles after my Friday morning class to arrive and entertain in the bar. I skied all weekend, and hitchhiked 250 miles back to college on Sunday evening. I never had to pay for lodging, I just went home with someone I would meet in the bar!

A friend and I drove out to ski bum for spring skiing at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado after college was out for the summer, in 1968 at age 23. I worked at night until 11 PM as a dishwasher and short order cook at the only cafe in Frisco, Colorado (now a mega-resort). I remember the waitress sent me out to clear the dishes at table number 6, so I coild view the first hippie I had ever seen.  After work I would stagger out to the parking lot, fall over the tailgate of the station wagon and be asleep by the time I touched down in my sleeping bag.  As soon as the sun rose the next morning, I would buckle on my boots, ski all day in shorts and a t-shirt, go to work that night, and get up the next day and do it all over again.

I drove further west to experience Taos Ski Valley (TSV).  It was already a legend. At that time, the downtown plaza in Taos was dirt, the streets had not yet been paved. The road to get up to the mountain thru Arroyo Seco (where I now live) was mud also.  The one day I skied there it was a full-on blizzard.  I rode to the top on the lifts and skied down the mountain.  It took me 3 hours to get down traversing through the forest.  I never saw another skier or even found a trail, it was snowing so hard the visibility was only about 10 feet.  But I experienced enough to know I wanted to come back.  

I saw Ernie Blake, the founder of TSV, a skiing legend, skiing at 74 years old, about three weeks before I attended his funeral in 1989. When asked once by an interviewer if he believed in reincarnation, he replied, ""I pray there is no such thing as reincarnation. Nothing could equal the journey I’ve had. And everything else would be a boring encore."  That's me, brother. I also had the good fortune to ski a run with Pete Totemoff, the Aluetian Indian that hiked to the top and skied the first run ever at TSV with Ernie. Reportedly, Pete looked down at the super steep slopes and told Ernie he was crazy to try to build a ski area there.  But Ernie had a vision.

I had always dreamed about being a ski instructor.  After my design & build company in Las Cruces went bankrupt, we moved to Santa Fe and my wife mentioned seeing an ad in the paper for ski instructor tryouts.  I was so excited thinking about it I couldn't sleep that night. I was 45 years old and my dream was about to come true!   I went to the tryouts, surrounded by young adults 25 years old, made the cut, and became a full-time ski instructor at Santa Fe Ski Basin. The next year I moved on to Taos to be closer to the good skiing.  

My son, Samsunshine, skied with me as soon as he was able to walk.  He used to hold onto my knees and ride down the slopes between my legs, once even taking an unexpected boulder jump that way.  My daughter, Alanna Nevada, skied with me before she could walk.  She used to ride in a backpack like a papoose down the expert slopes.  Usually, she fell asleep from the rhythm of the the swaying turns.  The insurance companies would never allow that today.  When she was 12 years old she hiked with me, with her brother carrying her skis, to the top of Kachina peak (12,481 ft.), and jumped the cornice, free-falling 20 feet to ski the piste below.

I moved to Taos with my 19 year old son, Samsunshine, after the divorce, and together we ran a gourmet meal delivery service to TSV for one season. We skied every morning in Chef's jackets and floppy hats, stenciled with "GOURMET EXPRESS" and our logo on the back, and cooked all afternoon.  We used to schuss up to tourists on the slopes and hand them a business card that said, "Free Dessert With Entree". Sam was the Chef and my boss.  I was the prep cook, dishwasher and delivery boy.  He had his 'powder enlightenment' skiing behind me that season.  The last time we raced the NASTAR course against each other was in 2001.  He beat me by 0.3 second. Nowadays, I am having a great time teaching my 9 year old Grandson, Adensunset, how to beat me and enjoy skiing the powder and trees!

I had always wanted to experience heli-skiing.  It seemed like the last frontier.  My Australian second family went on a ski trip to New Zealand in the year 2000.  I booked a heli-ski excursion for myself.  After thinking about it for a month, I knew I would enjoy the experience by myself, yet it seemed it would be four times as good if I had someone to remember it with.  One morning I woke up and knew who I wanted that person to be.  I called my son in the USA and sent him an airline ticket to meet us in Queenstown.

After returning in 2006 from Australia to Taos, it was time to take up serious Mountain skiing again.  In 2008, at the age of 63, I applied, and was again accepted as an instructor in the Taos Ski School. This time, I got smart, and elected to teach children in the Junior Elite II program. I find children easier to teach, and a heck of a lot more fun to be with than the all too serious adults.

I love the high country, the views, the unsurpassed beauty, the exhiliration, the largest Aspen trees in the world, the multi-hued Snowgum bark, and the untarnished pure mountain air.  I love finding my own limitations in the alpine wilderness.   I really know I'm alive when it's steep and deep through the trees, or down a chute, hopefully on a powder day.  I guess that childhood ski jump made me love no brakes, no speed limit, and no air bags!

 

TAOS SKI VALLEY
remains one of the few family owned and operated ski resorts in North America.  To this day it is still run by the founders' children and grandchildren.  Because of this long tradition of family, no other ski resort can make you feel as welcome.  TSV Resort offers alpine skiing in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico.  The Taos ski resort features a top ranked ski school, uncrowded ski slopes, abundant snow and endless sunny days to create a memorable skiing vacation. Snowboarding began being allowed at TSV in 2008.

The simple facts about Taos remain unchanged.  The terrain is varied and often challenging, the sunny weather is a kick, and there probably isn’t a better place in the country to learn to ski.  Although it’s harder to get to than many other Rocky Mountain venues, Taos Ski Valley is consistently rated the best downhill ski resort in New Mexico, and one of the best in the entire United States.  The slopes receive an average of 320 inches of white stuff each winter (plus artificial snow), and there is something for skiers of every ability.

Taos Ski Valley stands apart from other resorts in substance and character.  Its unique ambiance is a mingling of its Swiss/French/Austrian founders' roots with the traditions and customs of the local Hispanic and Pueblo Indian cultures.  As for the mountain, it was here that extreme skiing in the U.S was first officially encouraged, prompted by the tough terrain as well as the mindset of founder Ernie Blake who championed the concept of challenging skiers.

But, it is not just a resort for experts, having heaps of beginner and intermediate runs, and the nation's number 1 rated ski school.  It also has an excellent children's daycare and ski facility, some superb lodges, and beautiful scenery.   Its hike-to terrain is world-famous, but don't come to party all night - most people are too tired after a day on the slopes to rock 'n' roll after sunset, though the venerable charms of the Hotel St. Bernard's bar always await.

THE
SASQUATCH SQUAD

In 2008, I started The Sasquatch Squad, a fun club for my repeating ski school students. After skiing with me for 3+ days, and learning to feel comfortable off the packed slopes and able to handle skiing thru trees, we journey together deep into The Enchanted Forest (location secret). In a ceremony celebrating their accomplishments, each student is inducted by me and their fellows into "The Loyal Order of Sasquatch". They have to accept that they are now a "Sasquatch" forever!

The symbolism of the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, is that they should not think small, they should always leave a big footprint in life.  Or, to quote Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do."  In teaching children, I strive to impart my love of skiing (and life) to them.

SKI INCIDENT
MARCH 3, 2008
With 10" of new snow, I headed straight for the steep and deep.  Not stupid enough to ski extreme tree slopes alone, I waited for 10 minutes at the entrance to Lorelei Trees  for someone to show up whom I could ski with - to no avail.  I Took the lift back up and decided to head for Upper Pollux, which is hidden in the trees, but since it is not too far from the lift, I considered it safe enough to ski solo.

About in the middle of the hidden tree section, I did an off balance, uphill turn to a stop above a tree, lost my balance in the deep snow, and fell downhill backwards on the 45 degree slope.  As I fell backward into the deep snow, the back half of my ski got totally stuck vertically buried and the tip of my left ski got caught on the 8" diameter tree trunk. I found myself trapped - suspended upside down solely by my left leg!  I attempted to pull loose or release the binding 2 or 3 times to no avail. I was caught like a fly in a spider's web, hanging upside down, like a Bat!  I was definately stuck.

I panicked, breathing hard and flailing my poles, trying to push up, to relieve the pressure on my thigh.  No one was in sight, nor hearing distance.  I was alone.  I tried to collect myself, got my breath back for a minute, assessed the situation and gathered my strength.  I wondered how long I could hold out before I passed out from the blood rushing to my head.  I looked upside down backward at the slope below me.  Directly down the fall line, 35' below me, were two trees.  If I did get loose, I was going to avalanche straight for them, head first.

I gathered my strength and focus.  There was no way I could physically pull my entire weight uphill with one leg to reach the ski with my hands.  I tried a couple more times.  I took my pole and pushed the snow away from my binding, barely exposing what looked like might be the back release tab.  I jabbed desperately at the release tab with the pole, but I missed.  However, the impact knocked my ski tip off the tree!  I spent one long second getting ready to roll, and wiggled my ski.  The heel, which had been embedded straight down in the deep soft snow twisted free.  I was falling, sliding, and avalanching head first.  I rolled over with an aerial 180, and got my skis under me for a stop after a 15' slide.

I slowly skied a cruiser and stopped for coffee
at the Black Diamond Expresso, to have a rest.  I had mildly strained my left thigh, back, operated knee (ACL replacement), and neck. I skied another slow cruiser wanting to get my weekly exercise and conditioning.  I realized I wasn't at 100%, too much risk of further injury, and headed to Rhoda's Restaurant for some green chile stew. Better to live to ski another day.

As I was suspended, trapped, upside down - stressed and alone on the isolated slope, a clear message came across the screen: ARROGANCE.

"Thinking I was Superman, I had slammed into a brick wall."

Comment follows from my son, Samsunshine:

"Nice!  I think I've done the same thing on the same run... though unfortunately not with as much powder.

I arrested my fall before completing my 180 by hitting those trees 30' downslope with my left shoulder (just missing my head).

I decided to get back at the run, by hitting it again - to solidify my confidence.

The second time I dug in and twisted over at the same spot, freed myself and went downhill to hit the same other tree with the same shoulder.

That was the end of that ski day."  - Samsunshine

PLACES I HAVE SKIED
Alpine Meadows, California
Alpine Valley, Michigan
Angel Fire, New Mexico
Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Banff, Canada
Boyne Highlands, Michigan
Boyne Mountain, Michigan
Buttermilk, Colorado
Caberfae Peaks, Michigan
Coronet Peak, New Zealand
Crystal Mountain, Michigan
Durango/Purgatory, Colorado
Harris Mountains Heliskiing, New Zealand
Heavenly Valley, California
Hunter Mountain, New York
Killington, Vermont
Kirkwood, California
Lake Louise, Canada
Loon Mountain, New Hampshire
Mad River Glen, Vermont
Mammoth Mountain, California
Mont Tremblant, Canada
Mt. Brighton, Michigan
Mt. Holly, Michigan
Mt. Hutt, New Zealand
Nubs Knob, Michigan
Perisher Blue, Australia
Sipapu, New Mexico
Ski Apache/Ruidoso, New Mexico
Ski Santa Fe, New Mexico
Stowe, Vermont
Snowmass, Colorado
Squaw Valley, California
Sugarbush, Vermont
Sunshine Ski Area, Canada

Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
The Remarkables, New Zealand
Thredbo, Australia
Treble Cone, New Zealand
Whistler - Blackcomb, Canada
Winter Park, Coloradoa


Home

SKIING



AT THE TOP OF TREBLE CONE, NZ     Photo by Samsunshine Levy



CREEPING OVER THE SNOW
"LIKE A JAGUAR STALKING THROUGH LONG GRASS"
(at 40 mph = 64 kph)
Photo by Samsunshine Levy


MY LINE DOWN TWIN TREES AND EAGLE NEST CHUTES
JANUARY 2013 at 67 years old


IN MY WHITE PLAYGROUND


Rookie Ski Instructor at Santa Fe Ski Basin 1987


My daughter, Alanna jumping the cornice on Kachina Peak at 12
YO in 1986


COOKING BUSINESS AT TSV, WITH MY SON
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley


Ascent of Kachina Peak 12,481 ft - March 2010, Age 64
I skied deep powder down Hunziker Chute that day - an awesome run I had been looking at for 40 years


Celebrating Three Generations of Skiing - at The Martini Tree Bar, TSV
Ike (Papa) - Aden Sunset (Grandson) - Samsunshine (Son)


WHISTLER, B.C. CANADA
April 2011 Spring Skiing


REUNION WITH MY AUSTRALIAN STEPSON, DANIEL
L to R:  Aussies; Reece, Katy, Daniel, and myself


I DIDN'T REALLY CARRY MY SKIS TO THE PEAK
Daniel did - but that is ice in my beard, we were hitting powder runs through narrow trees back to back that morning


TOP OF WHISTLER
not a bad view for a 65 year old


WRONG
I jumped it


THAT'S THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN GET INTO COULOIR EXTREME
Whistler photos by Daniel Treacy


TAOS SKI VALLEY, NEW MEXICO, USA
MY ENCHANTED FOREST





'WALKYRIES CHUTE', 'SIR ARNOLD LUNN', & 'LORELEI'
FROM THE WEST BASIN


THE SASQUATCH SQUAD
IKE'S SKI SCHOOL CLASS


The Sasquatch Squad - January 2009
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley


The Sasquatch Squad - January 2010
Samantha, Ike, Wheeler Peak, Emma
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley



Ike, at 63, comes over the hill with his class close behind
"When you're 'over the hill, you can pick up speed faster
" - Ike
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley


Initiation into "The Loyal Order of Sasquatch "


Leaving a big footprint - March 2010 Sasquatch Squad


Sunglasses awarded on Initiation Day - Spring Break 2010


Melena & Andres - March 2011 Sasquatch Squad
Photo by Kristi Barrientos


2009/2010 Junior Elite II Ski Instructors at Taos Ski Valley
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley



LAST ASCENT OF KACHINA PEAK MARCH 2011


PEAK EXPERIENCE with Michelle Heath and Birgitta Linhart


'SIR ARNOLD LUNN'
This run; narrow, very steep with rocks, never fails to strike terror into my heart.  I love doing it!

 
'BILLY SOL', 'NIÑOES HEROES', 'HIDALGO'
"Easy" runs on the Ridge you can hike up to.


                   
            HIKING TO THE                          'SPITFIRE' CHUTE                 SAMSUNSHINE , my son, SPITS  FIRE
TOP OF THE RIDGE                        
STEEP AND DEEP            ON DOUBLE BLACK DIAMOND
Photo by SamSunshine Levy


DOLLAR SLOT


From HUNZIKER BOWL


WERNER CHUTE
March 2013



         
   JOHN SALMON, MY SKI BUDDY                         DR. JOHN ON 'BILLY SOL'
           From Albury, VIC, Australia - Visits Taos                                                                                  

                 
LOOKING BACK UP                                                    MOVING MEDITATION
  'NIÑOES HEROES'                                                                                                  


Back from Australia - with Attitude
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley


A Cruiser - 2010
Photo by Cold Smoke Photography, Taos Ski Valley


        
KACHINA PEAK   -   12,481 FT.                                          MOUNTAIN REVERIE


THE TAOS EXPERIENCE
Photo by Ken Gallard


CAUTION!
WILDERNESS
EXTREME SKIING


HELI SKIING IN NEW ZEALAND WITH SAM
August, 2000 - we are wearing avalanche beepers


SUSPENDED   PRAYERS


PICKUP FOR ANOTHER RUN



FATHER & SON AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD


STEEP TRAVERSE

 
 NOW WHERE?


SAM MAKES FIRST TRACKS



ENOUGH ROOM TO SWING A (SNOW)CAT



TOP OF NEW ZEALAND                                               Photo by Samsunshine Levy



SAM'S  SMOOTH  "COLD SMOKE"  STYLE 

             
"LORD LIFT US UP WHERE WE BELONG,
WHERE  THE  EAGLES  FLY, ON A MOUNTAIN  HIGH"



HAPPY HOUR, MUCH LATER, IN QUEENSTOWN


NO MAN'S LAND
(A GOOD DAY TO HAVE STAYED AT HOME)


THAT'S ALL FOLKS

All photography and graphics by Michael Levy
except as noted

Home


Michael T. Levy
HCR 74 Box 24508
El Prado, NM 87529-9546

Ph/Fax: (575) 776-2230
Mobile: (575) 613-5007