Chicken Yard


‘Meet me at Mid Vail at one.’

‘I’m not skiing today, the weather’s crappy.’

‘Bullshit, just meet me at Mid Vail.’

Donnie had done some stunts for me in the past and I had recommended him to double a famous model in a ski spot.  Donnie was one of the seminal innovators in the revolutionary freestyle ski movement.  He was an extreme skier, fabulous athlete, complete rule-breaker, an astonishing presence.  He did nothing that could be called conventional.  As a former instructor, I was always interested in new technique.

I once asked Donnie how he turned his skis as I couldn’t see his use of what we called turning power.

‘When I want to go left, I turn them left, when I want to go right, I turn them right.’

So much for that. Once I followed him through the trees trying to ‘steal’ his technique. I almost killed myself. DANGEROUS. I didn’t have the reflexive quickness to do what he did.

I’m at Mid Vail waiting.  Donnie gets off the chair, skis over to me and introduces me to someone he’s skiing with. I shake hands and evaluate the person. He looks like a dork with ill-fitting ski clothes, and can’t really stand on his skis properly. You can tell in an instant how good someone can ski. As is in any sport, there are codes and at the time I kinda knew them. This guy couldn’t ski and I had no idea why Donnie would ski with him.

The chair to the top was only a double at that time and Donnie and I get on, with his ‘friend’ taking the chair behind.

‘Who the fuck is that?’

‘He’s a model…from New York.’


‘I did a commercial with him.’

‘That’s the guy?’


‘Why did you ask me to ski with you guys?’

‘I need a witness.’


‘The fucker saw the commercial and thought he was me.’

‘You’re kidding?’

‘I’m not kidding.’

We get off the chair, meet up with the FRIEND and Donnie heads for the Back. We called the Back Bowls of Vail, the Back. The bowls could be both terrific and treacherous depending on the weather. That was not a good weather day.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I want to see if the fucker can ski.’

The first part was a fairly easy open bowl where you could dictate your own pace and style. Donnie and I ski down a few hundred yards and wait for FRIEND to catch up. The snow is crusty and windblown and the day is overcast. That was why I didn’t want to ski that day.  Not fun.

I look up and see FRIEND slogging his way down, arms flailing, and this was the easy part. FRIEND catches up breathing heavily and sweating. As soon as he catches some breath we ski down and Donnie skis through some woods at the top of Chicken Yard.

‘Are you crazy? This is no fun skiing through this junk.’

It was all I could do to get through the crappy, crusty snow through these trees. I looked up at Donnie’s FRIEND thrashing through the trees.  The next phase from where we had stopped is a cliff.  Most freestylers would stop at the top of the cliff to assess the landing. Donnie would just go for it and improvise any ‘air’ that he felt, dictated by his emotions or ski conditions.  Donnie’s reflexes and skill levels were closer to a big cat’s than a human’s.

‘Donnie, you are a sick fuck. You’re going to kill that poor bastard.’

‘That’s the plan.’

I turned and skied around the cliff and made my way through the last crappy part of Chicken Yard, took the lift up to the top of the mountain and skied home.

I think Donnie killed the guy.