by Gavin Gibson
That first bra toss was an act of protest directed at a controversial female member of Aspen's upper management. But Aspen skiers, in the bell-bottom throes of free love and the sexual revolution of the '70s, saw the symbol as nothing more than good fun and flung their delicates en masse. The lacy wildfire spread. Panty trees began popping up at resorts across North America. The most famous tree was in Vail, Colorado. Full of high-dollar skivvies, it once appeared in a national liquor ad.
But even early on, many panty trees were treated as noxious weeds at the ski hills they invaded. Aspen's was nearly cut down until the ski community protested, forcing management to improvise. "The first solution was a bamboo pole with a gaffing hook attached to fish out underwear," says Tim Cooney, a veteran Aspen ski patroller. But every time they cleaned up the tree, Cooney adds: "The underwear would come back with a vengeance." Today, with most ski areas featuring multiple panty trees, management tends to favor a laissez-faire approach. "It's not something we actively promote," says Matt Lillard, marketing director at Vermont's Magic Mountain. "But it's part of skiing culture. We don't make an effort to get rid of it either."
And then there's the decidedly non laissez-faire approach of Snowbowl in Missoula, Montana. The Snowbowl tree is heavy on the Mardi Gras beads—the local ski population not being known for bra-wearing or throwing away wearable panties. "We never really had an issue with the beads," says mountain manager Pat McKay. "They only put beads in one area just like any other ski hill." The U.S. Forest Service, though, saw it as an eyesore. "It's litter that continually accumulates," says Lolo National Forest Ranger Carl Anderson. When the tree was felled in the past decade, the locals revolted, throwing beads on every tree that lined Snowbowl's steep, mile-long Grizzly double chairlift. Not surprisingly, the Forest Service was displeased and insisted on total bead removal. The widespread distribution made fishing for beads impossible, spurring a truly Montana-style solution. For the last five years Snowbowl's ski patrollers occasionally board the lift before daily operations with loaded shotguns and remove beads forcefully—with steel shot.
From the Early Winter 2011 issue