Somebody give Smokey an Oscar

'From Cow to Ski Town' a must for any local video collection


I couldn't track F.M. "Smokey" Vandergrift down Sunday night. But I'm going to take a chance and assume he was not rolling down the Boulevard of Dreams in a stretch limo.
No need for Smokey to rent a tux.
No need to prepare an acceptance speech.
And I'm going to guess no starlet in a Dior gown and rented jewels hanging off his arm. No cocktails after the broadcast with Whoopi and Ron Howard.
But Smokey should have been at the Oscars.
And had they handed out nominations for best producer of a video documentary set in a Colorado ski town with a Western image, Mr. Will Smith would have been handing Smokey a statuette.
Smokey is the preeminent documentary filmmaker of the history of Northwest Colorado.
His latest release, "From Cow Town to Ski Town," came out this winter, about a year behind schedule and over budget, just like most Hollywood films.
I have it on good authority that some of Mr. Vandergrift's clients were disheartened by the lateness of the video. It was commissioned to help celebrate Steamboat's 100th anniversary as an incorporated city in 2000.
I must say, I would have been a little peevish too.
But hey, you can't rush history.
And this video should become part of the curriculum in local schools. It's that essential for anyone who cares about Steamboat Springs.
The video takes on the difficult task of condensing 100 years of history into a running time that is blessedly shorter than Gosford Park. Smokey masterfully wove together sound bites from talking personalities, both those who still walk this world and those who have left us.
And there is tremendous vintage footage of early winter carnivals, ski jumping competitions and vintage ski marketing spots.
The most jaw-dropping footage was borrowed from a 1957 production from Universal Pictures entitled "Ski Town USA." The film actually shows children attending class at the Mesa Schoolhouse south of town. Next it shows them leaving the schoolhouse with their teacher for ski exercise in the schoolyard.
Later, through the magic of special effects, they are transported to Howelsen Hill where we see them waxing their wooden skis and cruising down Mile Run, with the Sleeping Giant in the background.
Universal Studio's footage captures a sense of innocence that is startling.
The video hits all the important phases of the valley's history, from the native Utes to the first settlers. It documents the cattlemen, merchants, loggers and miners, even the ski area builders and the real estate developers who have transformed the base of Storm Mountain.
There are precious interviews with people like Louie Dalpes, who learned to ski jump at the knee of Carl Howelsen, and John Fetcher, who reminisces about staying up late on Christmas Eve to splice the cable for the first ski lift at Mount Werner.
Art Hudspeth talks about what it was like to attend the second Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival, and Bobby Robinson of Hayden talks about the days when bucking broncs were more famous than the cowboys who rode them.
We get to hear Eleanor Bliss talk about the early days at Perry-Mansfield performing arts camp.
Hazie Werner recalls the modest beginnings of Steamboat Olympians.
Pat Mantle talks about his reasons for opening a riding stable here, and Doc Utterback discusses the forces that tourism and development brought to bear on the valley.
It's an irreplaceable record of the personalities who shaped the place we call home.
If you are persuaded that your home video library is not complete without a copy of "From Cow Town to Ski Town," then I suggest you begin your shopping trip at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
And Smokey, I'm going to get you a statuette of your own, just allow about 12 months for delivery.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat Springs resident. His column appears every Monday in Steamboat Today.


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