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Gorillas On the Piste

Gorillas On the Piste

Travel
By Rob Story
posted: 11/11/2005




Call me Ho Ho. It rhymes with Koko, to honor the famous sign-language-flashing gorilla. Plus, I like the snack-cake double meaning. Ho Ho would be utterly happy chilling in Africa and munching Hostess Ho Hos the rest of his days, but nooo. War, hunting, and rainforest logging put Ho Ho on edge and on the run.

Ho Ho's a mountain gorilla, straight outta Uganda. Only 700 mountain gorillas remain on earth. Science didn't know we existed until 1902, and now we're almost kaput. It makes a gorilla go apeshit, man. I've done some chest beating. Emitted a few high-pitched barks. Indulged in more lip-tucking and sideways running than I care to admit.

Enough. Time to fight. Let's turn the tables and see how the elite like dealing with habitat encroachment. Yep, Ho Ho's on a mission to the richest enclave of the richest sport in the richest nation on the planet.


A gorilla (me, Ho Ho) aims to poach the millionaires-only Yellowstone Club in Montana.

I'm going in solo. Although some 'rillas in the Gabon rainforest offered assistance, Ho Ho demurred. "One sloping forehead should suffice," I said, letting them down gently. As if I'd go to Montana with those Congo Basin swampthings! They ski as ugly as baboon butt! Like Dian Fossey used to say, "Yo, they're not called 'lowland gorillas' for nothing."

["The Yellowstone Club"]

The Yellowstone Club trademarked the words Private Powder¿. It owns exclusive use of the snootiest, least appealing phrase to ever end in "powder."

Think of the Yellowstone Club as a snowy country club for the super rich. It demands $250,000 to join, yearly dues of $16,000, and a building provision that will set you back $2 million to $14 million for a lot and another $3 million to $12 million for a house.


I doubt Yellowstone Clubbers are subsisting, like Ho Ho here, on bamboo, roots, and bark. They can afford not to ski, which they do in great numbers, all season long. Daily skier tallies sometimes fail to crack double digits. According to SKI magazine, the mountain's eight lifts and four restaurants were fully staffed one recent week just to serve a woman from Greenwich, Connecticut, and her two kids.

The members don't appear to prize the 2,200 acres with 2,700 feet of vertical and 400 inches of annual snowfall. Call me cynical, but the feature they cherish most is the fence. Seems the Yellowstone Club isn't selling skiing so much as the chance to hang with peers who also have a gazillion bucks-and to avoid rubbing polylaminates with the filthy masses.

["Ho Ho's Mission"]

Ho Ho contemplates the enormity of his task from room 215 of the Belgrade, Montana, Holiday Inn Express. He looks out over a wind-scoured mobile-home dealership, and sighs. Oh, to be back home in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, leading what biologists call a family group but, given the disproportionate number of mature females, is clearly a harem. Getting groomed without having to groom back. Did you know that female gorillas always take the initiative in mating? Ho Ho could be knocking paws, as is the horny gorilla's wont, behind bushes right now. Once you go silverback, you never go back...

On the bright side, southwest Montana poses a negligible Ebola virus threat. Ho Ho turns his attention back to the matters at hand. What about strategy? Poaching a private ski area seems complicated when your IQ hovers between 85 and 95. Ho Ho intends to enter from Big Sky resort, which adjoins the Yellowstone Club and admits impoverished skiers-thank you very much. Ho Ho will be joined by a local accomplice, a cute hairless ape with a million-dollar smile by the name of Trixie Wanderlust. Trixie will photograph Ho Ho for the Democracy Now website. Beyond that...uh...he just hopes to channel a little of Dion Rich's mojo.

Yes, Dion Rich-the best transgressor of all time. No one has walked erect into more forbidden zes, with more success, than Dion Rich. He's conned his way into Academy Awards presentations and Olympic Games venues, and slithered into 33 Super Bowls without a ticket. The intense security of Super Bowl XXXVI, played less than five months after 9/11, rebuffed him for all of six minutes. Check the photos: There's Rich at the Kentucky Derby, accompanying the triumphant horse in the winner's circle. That's him at the first Super Bowl, standing next to Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi as he accepts the trophy. There he is at the end of Super Bowl XII, and, yes, that's him helping carry Dallas coach Tom Landry off the field.

Think about Rich the next time you're treated as criminal scum for having the gall to travel through an airport. Ho Ho liked America better when there was more freedom-and fewer rubber gloves.

Sneaky trespassers these days work hard for their trophies. The Yellowstone Club hired Bruce Bales as its vice president of security, a 28-year veteran of the Secret Service. He was on the "take-a-bullet-for-the-prez" detail for Gerald Ford. Bring it, Bales. Ho Ho's only worry concerns the grunts on the front lines-the lifties, the burger flippers. Gorillas empathize with menial employees. They're not that far above us on the food chain, after all. Like us, resort employees stand a far better chance of eating termites for dinner than coughing up a quarter-million bucks for a lift pass.

Though mountain gorillas are gentle by nature, four hundred pounds of burl can inflame any confrontation. Ho Ho dreads the worst-case scenarios. He'd hate to bloody a liftie or get an innocent security guard fired. It can't be easy working for filthy-rich silver spooners. As Ho Ho always says, "You can't know another's pain till you've walked a mile on his knuckles."

["Stealing Private Powder¿"]

Big Sky borders two ski areas. Last season, before Big Sky and Moonlight Basin announced a cooperative agreement that lets customers ski both resorts, their border was marked with simple SKI AREA BOUNDARY signs. Meanwhile, the fence separating Big Sky from Yellowstone Club warned: VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.

Ho Ho obeys only the Laws of the Jungle. Still, he's done his homework and knows that according to Montana code, section 45-6-203, a person commits criminal trespass to property if he or she "knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon the premises of another.... A person convicted of the offense...shall be fined not to exceed $500 or be imprisoned in the county jail for any term not to exceed 6 months, or both." If Ho Ho gets arrested, he's in for a long day. The Yellowstone Club is located in a different county from the Big Sky access road, meaning Ho Ho'll be handcuffed for three hours or so as the sheriff hauls his furry butt all the way around the Madison Range to Virginia City, the Madison County seat. Faced with those logistics, Trixie Wanderlust might bail on Ho Ho's bail.

Trixie and Ho Ho (disguised in a one-piece ski suit-no fur) ride incognito up two Big Sky chairlifts and make our way to Deep South, a low-angled groomer running alongside the Yellowstone Club's property. We duck into a grove of conifers, and Ho Ho strips down to his gorilla glory. We attach climbing skins to our freeheeled skis, which is weird for Ho Ho: The texture's like that of a gorilla's inner thigh.

While gorillas enjoy opposable thumbs, biologists say we've never been observed using tools in the wild. So Ho Ho makes history just by using poles to propel across Deep South to the Yellowstone Club fence.

This is it. The creamy white filling of global wealth. Say what you will about natural selection and forces of nature-when charismatic megafauna become extinction bait, it's Industry and Development's fault. And on the other side of this boundary lies the playground of its stockholders. Ho Ho has no words for the vengefulness he feels burning in his primitive heart. But James Brown does: "Get ready, you mother, for the big payback."

Ho Ho and Trixie step over the low split-rail fence onto Yellowstone Club terrain. Nothing happens. We stride slightly uphill through woods and across a groomed slope. Nothing happens. We peel off our skins, shove them in our packs, and begin a descent that-oops!-we forgot to pay $250,000 for. No sirens sound. Smithers fails to release the hounds.

Private Powder¿ swirls up around our boots and clings to Ho Ho's nappy fur. The turns are velvety, wide as we want for lack of other tracks and, as Dion Rich might have predicted, sweeter for their illicitness.

We huddle under trees as two people on a chairlift soar overhead. Besides them, there are no other Yellowstone Club patrons in sight. We approach the lift ourselves. We haven't been hassled so far, but in the next few seconds we're sure to encounter an employee. If he or she asks for credentials, we'll be in a pickle that none of a gorilla's vaunted 25 recognized vocalizations will get us out of. Not roaring, not grunting. Not even hooting can spare us now.

["Suspicion on the Slopes"]

The liftie, a medium-size man in his late 30s, steps out of his shack. Trixie, beaming, says, "Hi!" Good move, Trixie. The liftie looks up to return her greeting, pulling his gaze away from the hairy ape and, even more suspicious, Trixie's telemark skis. If there's anything more likely to raise a red flag than a Ugandan gorilla on skis, it's a granolahead with money.

The liftie stares at Ho Ho, but says nothing. We move to the boarding zone. The liftie's eyes drill into our backs. He could still call security. Instead, he bumps the chair to ease our seating.

The employee at the summit station also stares at Ho Ho. She too says nothing. We ski down and board the lift again. And so it goes till closing time, at which point we ski back to Big Sky.

Ho Ho marvels at how easy it was to steal Private Powder¿ from the Yellowstone Club. It took a while, but Ho Ho finally came up with an explanation. Rank-and-file skiers, see, make turns in jackets and pants. The very rich, on the other hand, subscribe to Town & Country and are more inclined to call their apparel an "outfit." Ho Ho suspects the liftie reasoned along these lines: that I was a member in good standing wearing a goofy gorilla outfit, and what the hell was a peon like him gonna do about it? Luckily for the liftie, he just didn't know that Ho Ho is all gorilla.

That the poach was simple makes it no less significant, though. Ho Ho feels he struck a blow for the Vancouver Island marmot, the Malayan tapir, the Chinese giant salamander, and every other species endangered by the carelessness of man. If so called, Ho Ho will encroach on every patrician ski hill in existence. A primate's gotta do what a primate's gotta do.

NOVEMBER 2005wn does: "Get ready, you mother, for the big payback."

Ho Ho and Trixie step over the low split-rail fence onto Yellowstone Club terrain. Nothing happens. We stride slightly uphill through woods and across a groomed slope. Nothing happens. We peel off our skins, shove them in our packs, and begin a descent that-oops!-we forgot to pay $250,000 for. No sirens sound. Smithers fails to release the hounds.

Private Powder¿ swirls up around our boots and clings to Ho Ho's nappy fur. The turns are velvety, wide as we want for lack of other tracks and, as Dion Rich might have predicted, sweeter for their illicitness.

We huddle under trees as two people on a chairlift soar overhead. Besides them, there are no other Yellowstone Club patrons in sight. We approach the lift ourselves. We haven't been hassled so far, but in the next few seconds we're sure to encounter an employee. If he or she asks for credentials, we'll be in a pickle that none of a gorilla's vaunted 25 recognized vocalizations will get us out of. Not roaring, not grunting. Not even hooting can spare us now.

["Suspicion on the Slopes"]

The liftie, a medium-size man in his late 30s, steps out of his shack. Trixie, beaming, says, "Hi!" Good move, Trixie. The liftie looks up to return her greeting, pulling his gaze away from the hairy ape and, even more suspicious, Trixie's telemark skis. If there's anything more likely to raise a red flag than a Ugandan gorilla on skis, it's a granolahead with money.

The liftie stares at Ho Ho, but says nothing. We move to the boarding zone. The liftie's eyes drill into our backs. He could still call security. Instead, he bumps the chair to ease our seating.

The employee at the summit station also stares at Ho Ho. She too says nothing. We ski down and board the lift again. And so it goes till closing time, at which point we ski back to Big Sky.

Ho Ho marvels at how easy it was to steal Private Powder¿ from the Yellowstone Club. It took a while, but Ho Ho finally came up with an explanation. Rank-and-file skiers, see, make turns in jackets and pants. The very rich, on the other hand, subscribe to Town & Country and are more inclined to call their apparel an "outfit." Ho Ho suspects the liftie reasoned along these lines: that I was a member in good standing wearing a goofy gorilla outfit, and what the hell was a peon like him gonna do about it? Luckily for the liftie, he just didn't know that Ho Ho is all gorilla.

That the poach was simple makes it no less significant, though. Ho Ho feels he struck a blow for the Vancouver Island marmot, the Malayan tapir, the Chinese giant salamander, and every other species endangered by the carelessness of man. If so called, Ho Ho will encroach on every patrician ski hill in existence. A primate's gotta do what a primate's gotta do.

NOVEMBER 2005

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