c. 8,000 B.C.
It was rutting season in the canyon.
The hairy old devil was having trouble remembering why he bothered. He was king of the canyon: a five-ton testament to the power of evolution, having developed the biggest brain and the biggest set of balls on the planet. These days, he hardly had the stamina to mount anything bigger than eohippus. His ivory tusks, cracked from decades of defending his rights to the herd’s pungent females, were yellowed with age, but behind his bright, coffee-bean eyes still lingered the desire to have it all.
This morning, synapses from the still-sensitive tip of his long, prehensile proboscis were signaling that all was standing upwind only a hundred yards away, with her tail raised. He pawed feet the size of manholes into the cool autumn earth and then, the old familiar feel of his manhood peaking bravely from its sheath reminded him why he bothered. He raised a great head of long, matted hair and trumpeted a proud arpeggio skyward. It rolled across the sage-pocked hillsides and echoed off the canyon walls. He started forward, eyes on his Rubenesque prize.
Then he smelled another scent. The fine hairs edging the pink tip of his snout rose warily. His manhood paused in its majestic descent. His eyesight was not what it once was, but what were those prairie horses doing dancing on hind legs around the future mother of his child? They held long straight branches and moved in a way he had not seen prairie horses move before. As he watched, they raised the branches as one and threw them at the female. She reared up with a squeal that swept an alarm through the old mastadon’s body. And then he smelled another, more familiar scent of death.
The female had collapsed, and lay motionless in a pool of blood that was quickly drunk by the parched ground. Her suitor blinked slowly, his erection long scuttled back into its place of safety, and he wished, immediately and strongly, that he could do the same. But he stood his ground. Surely, the small gangly prairie horses, approaching strangely on hind legs and now encircling him, were no match for his great big brain, and his great big balls. It was an error of judgment that he would not live to make again.
Homo sapiens ate well that night, even if the entrée was a little tough. They decided to stay for the next ten thousand years. Life in the canyon had changed.
Time moved on, not marching as much as strolling aimlessly and whistling at the sky, because time is not a solder, but a child, or a drunk.
Then one day, a young man named Jack Chumley, who had gotten horribly lost on the way to the gold fields of California, stumbled across the river meandering through the bottom of the canyon. Half starved, he dropped a line, hoping for a fish. The line snagged, but when he waded in knee-high to retrieve what was his last bait worm, he pulled out of the water a chunk of silver the size of a baking potato. Within a year, the canyon boasted a population of five thousand men who looked, if possible, more stupid than the first. The men set about removing from the canyon walls what ancient volcanic activity had put in and subsequent flooding had nearly exposed: lead, carbon, galena, nickel, silver, and traces of gold. Teams of twenty mules hauled long trains of narrow ore cars downriver, and then across the prairie to the nearest railroad junction two days south. Plath Rail built a branch line to the mines. For seven years, earth flowed out of the canyon on a river of black tracks. Life in the canyon had changed.
And then the hills ran dry. The canyon lay still again, as though playing dead so people would just leave it alone.
But they did not. And because they could not devastate the hillsides thoroughly enough by themselves, they brought sheep. The sheep moving as one up the canyon looked like a sea of moving sage, but lacked any intelligence that indigenous desert bush might have possessed. With one end they scoured the hillsides and with the other end they pooped, and with the four hooves in between they churned the fragile high desert soil to dust.
Then one day, Eli Plath of Plath Rail suffered a massive coronary brought on by eating too much well-marbled lamb, and Eli Plath Jr. inherited his father’s kingdom. A youth spent in European boarding schools had taught Little Eli a love of alpine skiing and the parties that inevitably followed several hours in the brisk winter air with members of the opposite sex who, very conveniently, did not seem to have very good circulation in their extremities. Little Eli had very good circulation in his. And he was on very good terms with Hollywood stars who did, too. When he decided to revitalize a failing bit of line in central Idana, he did it the only way he knew how: throw a party after a day on the slopes. The lucky invitees would have to ride his train to get to it. Then, they would ride his chairlifts, ski down his mountain, dine at his restaurants, drink at his bar, and commit adultery in his lodge. They would become prisoners of luxury and they would pay handsomely for their incarceration. He paid a Madison Avenue ad company more than the United States would eventually pay for the State of Alaska to come up with an attractive name. Snowy Mountain Ski Resort was born. Life in the canyon had changed.
Little Eli cut the tape across the rails of the Snowy Mountain Ski Special, nonstop from Los Angeles, on December twenty-first, 1934. Every Friday after that, a new train arrived, and a new party began. As it had once flowed out, gold now flowed back into the canyon, draped around the necks and jingling in the pockets of the rich, the famous, and the well-sponsored. Little Eli was king of the canyon.
And the canyon prospered. At the foot of the mountain, Chumley grew; twenty miles south, Chepe became home to hundreds of doctors, waitresses, construction workers, and real estate speculators. A road was built, winding along the banks of the Snowy River. It was seventy miles from Triple Rocks, a city of 100,000, and twice that of Idana’s capitol, Mouton, with its sprawling population of one million. Federal parkland pocketed it on three sides. Crime was low. But all in all, as the mastadons had discovered long before, Snowy Canyon remained—even as the population grew, automobile traffic became thicker, and air particulate count rose to hang in a yellow fog on winter days—a pleasant place to raise a family.
Then one day, Bucky Carr, founder and sole proprietor of Carr Oil, the fifth largest oil company in the nation, looked upon SnowyCanyon and saw that it was good. The only thing Bucky Carr knew about ski resorts was that he wanted one. And what Bucky Carr wanted, Bucky Carr got. Bucky Carr became king of the canyon.
As such, he went about giving the grand old lady of destination ski towns a highly entensive, questionably necessary, and questionably successful, facelift. Now, although it was a magical place to visit, for those alighting at the Eli Plath Memorial Airport in mahogany-lined Condor VI’s, the narrow valley had become a less hospitable environment not only for the average recreational outdoorsperson, but for the locals as well, who, while some profited from the construction of palatial ski lodges and burgeoning population of multiple home owners, were mostly taking it long and hard up the wazoo. As such, he made many changes. Most of which resulted in most of the locals taking it long and hard up the wazoo.
As such, he went about giving the grand old lady of destination ski towns a highly entensive, questionably necessary, and questionably successful, facelift. Now, although it was a magical place to visit, for those alighting at the Eli Plath Memorial Airport in mahogany-lined Condor VI’s, the narrow valley had become a less hospitable environment not only for the average recreational outdoorsperson, but for the locals as well, who, while some profited from the construction of palatial ski lodges and burgeoning population of multiple home owners, were mostly taking it long and hard up the wazoo.
As such, he made many changes. Most of which resulted in most of the locals taking it long and hard up the wazoo.
But life in the canyon was about to change.