Dan Davis trekkerphoto.com
- Town of Vail office manager scores new Volvo at final Streetbeat concert
- Sold-out Conway Cup community race honoring Dan Conway kicks off Korbel American Ski Classic
- Girardelli, Mahre, Klammer, Kostner, Wiberg among ski-racing legends in town for Ski Classic
- Vail Valley Foundation honors Beth Slifer as Vail Valley Citizen of the Year
- 2009 Vail Valley Citizen of the Year Award nominations due Friday
- Alpine Gardens to honor Dr. Richard Steadman with Spirit of Betty Ford Award in Vail Aug. 13
- Vail Valley Foundation now taking nominations for 2009 Citizen of the Year Award
- Randall named co-chair of the Vail Valley Medical Center Foundation
- O’Brien leaves Vail Valley Medical Center board after 11 years
- Celebration of the life of 'Sarge' Brown set for Saturday at Ford Amphitheater
- All Real Lives Articles
June 22, 2004 — It’s a given that the upper-crust establishment of any slick modern ski town has a virtual killing field of skeletons in their collective walk-in closets. But in Vail, perhaps the most corporately cultured of all the world-class winter wonderlands, the skeletons still dance on a few dirty, sleeveless jeans jackets – proud emblems of the legendary Flying Ravinos.
Cops, doctors, realtors, elite athletes, even some Vail execs can trace their youthful roots back to a sort of motorcycle gang on skis that benignly rampaged on the slopes, in village bars, and every St. Paddy’s Day in the late ’70s and early ’80s converged for a massive, chemically-fueled aerial rally where new gang members earned their colors by throwing inverted air off a cliff (successful landing optional).
The paganistic end-of-the-season parties became so popular Vail Associates finally kicked the Ravinos off the mountain and banned inverted aerial maneuvers altogether, even going so far as to knock down some of the rocks near First Step where the biggest kickers were built each spring. The circus then moved to U.S. Forest Service land at Meadow Mountain, East Vail and Vail Pass – each time chased away by a more imposing state or federal agency – until it finally fizzled out in 1985 at the height of the Reagan Era, when even hotdoggers were told to just say no to big air.
“It flourished in its day because of the general social state of the times, and as that changed the Ravinos time was over,” says Philip Horsman, a former gelende jumper (Nordic jumping on alpine skis) who now runs a ski rental delivery and limo service in town. He laments the fact that liability concerns killed the Ravinos parties but hasn’t slowed the vertical revolution in today’s terrain parks and half-pipes. “Nobody back then was thinking about suing anyone. It was, ‘No, I made that decision to hurl myself into the air and I’ve got to live with it.’”
But Arlan Moore, a carpenter and former ski-racing coach, says the St. Paddy’s Day bash just got too big and too out-of-hand for a ski town fast on its way to becoming an international “it” spot. “Just the mere fact that alcohol and drugs were involved in the gathering was reason for all the pooh-poohers in society around here, the more straight-laced people, to frown on the whole event,” says Moore. “And ski patrol had great reason to frown on it because they were asked to come down and pick up the bodies of the people who had too much to drink and hurt themselves badly.”
The Ravinos themselves, who skied the mountain in aviator helmets and jackets emblazoned with flaming skulls and gothic script, held cultish induction ceremonies in the darkened projection room of Vail’s only movie theater at the time, but “any fool who wanted to hurl himself out there was more than welcome,” Horsman says.
Which led to a host of honorary members drawn more by soaring than scoring – people like three-time Eco-Challenge champion Mike Kloser and former U.S. Ski Team member Mike Brown.
“Most of the people who were inebriated in whatever fashion they wished to be inebriated in were the observers, because you didn’t want to put yourself out in the place where we were going, where you could get really hurt, in that altered state of mind,” Moore says. “Pretty much invariably people who did do that wound up getting hauled away.”
By 1985, upwards of a thousand spectators jammed Vail Pass to watch the carnage, but that was the year, according to Moore, that someone ran across the hood of a tricked-out ’66 Mustang wearing ski boots, which prompted the driver to punch it and run into a bystander. Later, he says, someone absconded with money collected as a charitable contribution, allegedly to buy cocaine. The Forest Service and the State Patrol had had enough, and the Flying Ravinos were forever grounded.
The Ravinos began innocently enough, the brainchild of a group of high school friends from Oshkosh, Wisc. who grew up getting as much air as you conceivably could at nearby Rib Mountain in Wausau. Inspired by the Rolling Stones use of Hells Angels for security at the notorious Altamont concert, Ravinos founding father Jeff Van Tassel came up with the gang’s colors: a flaming skull suspended over a Rib Mountain ravine. Later they would hang out at a nearby bar called the Ravine.
When the group’s core graduated highs school and moved en masse to Vail in the early ’70s to be ski bums, they found a new ravine – a cliff band just off First Step run in the woods near Chair 11 – and began holding Expression Sessions, where flips and twists (unheard of in the fledgling days of freestyle) became the norm.
The Ravinos started bringing sound systems and other contraband up the lift, drawing bigger and more boisterous crowds, and then sometime in the late ’70s (everyone interviewed was fuzzy on exactly when), a midnight-to-noon mass induction party at the Crossroads movie theater (hosted by Ravino member and theater manager Bobby “Chi Bear” Garcia) brought in more than a hundred new devotees.
That’s when things really started to take off, says Van Tassel, who now lives in Newport Beach, Calif., and still works in ski and snowboard manufacturing. Vail’s marketing department eventually called the Ravinos in to ask them why their grassroots events were so much more popular than the resort’s heavily hyped pro races, he recalls.
“We kind of kept a check on the radically invested family atmosphere that Vail Associates was trying to portray in its marketing at the time,” Van Tassel says, laughing. “It was pretty sterile, even back then.”
Ravinos member John “The Wizard” Faas, who owns the Alpine Apartments where several gang members rented a place and set up unofficial headquarters, says Vail is a different place now: “It’s all high style and fur coats and all this bullshit. Everybody’s looking at it from a money angle and not so much the fun angle and the adventure of life.”
Where have all the good times gone?
A few seasons ago, when Vail Resorts and the Forest Service put the clamps on BB&B, a drunken end-of-the-season orgy of excess in the woods near Minnie’s Mile, many said it was the death knell of Ravinos-style raucousness at the nation’s most popular winter playground.
But longtime locals say that spirit will always live on, just in different forms.
“The Ravinos party was more of just a lunatic fringe,” says former U.S. Ski Team member Mike Brown, whose late brother Todd threw one of the most legendary St. Paddy’s Day jumps in Ravinos lore – a 285-foot 1080 on a pair of Mike’s 223 downhill skis.
“It was a segment that has been represented throughout the history of Vail, and in some shape or form it’s the artistic, diligent working class blowing off steam,” says Brown. “That group gets represented every year, whether it’s a BB&B or the Ravinos or some other niche that gets together and celebrates another season of living here.”
The torch may have been passed to the Minturn Militia, an underground coalition of thrill-seekers named for a nearby century-old railroad town where locals pay exorbitant rents to hole up in decrepit Victorians that sell for half a million bucks.
“It’s a matter or making the most out of where we live,” says Denver Post writer Scott Willoughby, the Militia’s self-described minister of information. “Vail gets such a rap as a tourist destination, and (the Militia) is a group of guys who have lived in the valley for decades and have found a way to avoid the clown posse and enjoy everything this place has to offer, not just the lift-served skiing on Vail Mountain.”
14 Comments on "Ravinos legend, spirit lives on in Vail Valley"