Patrol cowboys: A dying breed | AspenTimes.com

Patrol cowboys: A dying breed

Alison Berkley

Mac Smith is so totally my hero.With all due respect to his wife, I don’t understand why they don’t make men like that anymore. The guy is the last of a dying breed. Everyone knows my list of hot guys goes something like: surfers, firefighters and ski patrollers, depending on the season. But a ski patrol cowboy? He’s in a league of his own.If you don’t know that Mac’s been the director of ski patrol at Aspen Highlands since 1979, you might as well be sitting at some pool in Palm Beach with a bunch of old people or dumping quarters into a slot machine in Vegas where skiing and snowboarding at Highlands isn’t the focus of your life, because it should be. Hello, we live in a ski resort. Make that four ski resorts.I can’t stand these people who vow allegiance to one mountain over the other. There is a time and there is a place. Bad weather means go to Ajax and spend the good part of the day either in the ganjala or at the Sundeck trying to guess how much people spent on their ski outfits. Sunny day, hasn’t snowed in a while? Go be a hero at Snowmass, where you’ll find me doing giant cutbacks on the double fall line at Sneaky’s. Got friends in town who are afraid of their own shadow? Simple. Buttermilk.But none can top Highlands in terms of the cool factor. I used to drive my old boyfriend crazy because I was all stuck up about having lived in Jackson Hole. “You just don’t understand,” I would say. “We’re talking about fall-line vertical. Like, 4,000 feet of nonstop, pitch after pitch perfection. You don’t even have to traverse.” We were so one of those couples you’d see arguing on the catwalk, though he did do his fair share of giving me his pole, so to speak. Good guy. Miss him like the dickens.So I gotta admit, Jackson Hole or not, this whole Deep Temerity thing is pretty damn cool. What’s even cooler is the vibe up at Highlands, where everyone is acting like they’re on crack, they’re so flipping happy. So I called up my new buddies at this big city newspaper I know and told them all about this next big thing at Highlands. They agreed that it was like the coolest thing ever and let me write a story about it.The best thing about being a journalist is the perks, because everyone knows it doesn’t pay dick. Like getting to hang out at PHQ all Sunday afternoon, hanging out with all these grizzly dudes with avalanche beacons cinched around their bellies (love that).The best part about working on this article was getting to interview Mac. I can honestly say I haven’t been that excited by an interview since Jack Johnson (yes, Jack Johnson the musician). First of all, Mac is hard to get a hold of. Everyone knows there’s nothing that piques the interest of spoiled little girls from Connecticut more than having to work a little extra at getting someone’s attention. Let’s just say if you don’t have one of those sexy radios strapped to your chest, you’re out of the loop totally.One of the red coats tipped me off that I could catch Mac in his office if I came to Highlands at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning. Seven. Thirty. In. The. Morning. I am a freelance writer, which affords me the luxury of making sure I get at least 10 hours of beauty rest every single night, (make that 11 if I was at the J-Bar longer than I planned). Let’s just say I don’t get up when it’s dark out unless I have a damn good reason. I would have camped out to buy a ticket if I had known the show was going to be that good. I mean, the guy starts with these stories about how he used to ski the backcountry above Bob Child’s place. They’d lug two snowmobiles out there that were hitched together so they could do laps, one of which was driven by a 6-year-old! (“The kid was tough as nails,” Mac said). He got banned from Highlands for life at age 11 for tormenting ski school classes but snuck back on the mountain when he was older and figured his looks had changed enough that he could slip by undetected. There is nothing I love more than someone who knows how to push the rules a little bit and, you know, be an independent thinker. Thank God I had someone like him who was around long before me to help break in the Skico to us recluse types.Then he brandishes this photo of himself at 19, getting face shots in the area that new lift accesses today. “I just went back there just to see if I could find where that spot was,” he said. “And I found it.” Then he tells me all about growing up on a ranch with more than 50 bucking horses his dad trained for the rodeo. Oh yeah, and that time he hiked Capitol Peak in his cowboy boots wondering what everyone was doing up there with all those ropes and stuff.How cool is it that the Skico has let him have run of the place for the last 20 years? If the awesome terrain in Deep Temerity is any indication, he’s gotten pretty good at driving a bulldozer on 45 degree slopes with his crew of hot, grizzly mountain men following behind with chain saws and shovels (God, I love that thought). I just want to say thanks to Mac and his boys for all their hard work and saving my Princess ass from another season of long traverses. Jackson-shmackson. No one loves the idea of “Aspen goes deep” more than me.The Princess thinks it might be time to start dating older men. Send your loving e-mail to alison@berkleymedia.com