Annals from the Dark Side of Skiing:
Lycra, Lace & Leather
Featuring the World’s First Exhibition
Dryland Solo Synchronized Swimming
Blooms on a Las Vegas Evening
Bender is the Night
I doubt if the ski mavens who first decided to peddle their wares in Las Vegas knew exactly what chemistry they were concocting when they elected to convene the annual Ski Industries of America (as it was then known) show during March in a city where every sin imaginable is available on demand. For a golden period in the 1970’s and 80’s, what seemed like half the people in the Las Vegas Convention Center had come straight off the slopes and some serious après-ski training and hit the town with a running start. A delicious hormonal stew was released each spring when slightly addictive personalities with risk-prone tendencies collided with a city that didn’t care what you did as long as you had cash.
Giving T&E expense accounts to men in their late 20’s, and early 30’s, with instructions to entertain clients whose appetites were every bit as depraved as their hosts, did not do much to constrain the frivolity. But this musing is not about that time. Allow me to speed the clock ahead a decade or so to roughly 1994. The ski economy had taken a few body blows and ski equipment sales continued to slip. Tech reps who had managed to stay up the entire show during the 80’s couldn’t stay awake past 36 hours, a significant fall-off in consumption. Parties still went on, do not misunderstand me, but their scope, majesty and sheer audacity were on the wane. Snowboarders were beginning to act as though they had invented high-level partying, a clear affront to all that nighttime ski culture had stood for.
It was into this semi-arid party landscape that an all-too-short tradition was launched:
Lycra, Lace and Leather. It was not my idea. Credit, I believe, belongs to Tina Vindum, who first proposed that the female members of the Snow Country Test Team convene at Vegas for a night of celebration, the only requirement being they wear Lycra, lace or leather. This was, perhaps, the greatest idea of the 20th century. The young ladies I had been fortunate enough to recruit as Snow Country testers were all uniquely blessed athletes, charming and witty and so mind-bendingly beautiful they caused instant, temporary brain damage in men. They would have broken hearts in a burlap burnoose. In the mandatory wardrobe they overloaded all the senses, enabling them to rule all they surveyed.
My contribution was to corral sponsors as the sushi bill for ten screaming-hot young ladies dressed to slay, and the men they tend to attract, would do permanent damage to the entertainment budget for Jackson Hogen, Inc. It turns out men will pay almost anything to be present at such an event, particularly if their motives are impure, as men’s are wont to be. Suffice it to say, I found sponsors. The ladies were notified. It was game on.
As master of ceremonies I had one additional problem: what could I do to help make the evening memorable? The ladies promised to swivel heads even in jaded Vegas. Among their escorts were the expense accounts that would bear the brunt of the evening. What could I bring? This wasn’t some suburban soirée where a bottle of white wine and a slab of brie would suffice. I had to match the occasion. So I enlisted the largest ad rep in the Snow Country stable (size, in this instance, mattered), told him to acquire two rubber swim hats, ideally with a giant plastic sunflower stapled to the temple, and be prepared to lift me over his head when I gave the signal.
When we arrived at the small sushi restaurant on Sahara Boulevard we had to push extra tables together to fit our overflowing party. The ladies had outdone themselves. Tina wore a red lycra sheath that made you appreciate both woman and fabric as if they were one, which by all appearances they were. Kristi Brown wore a patch of stretch material just large enough to earn a PG rating, and stacked her 5’ 10” frame on four-inch-high stiletto sneakers, shoes made to drink from. Kristin Ulmer was granted a vinyl exemption for her mini-skirt and go-go boots as the lady had a motif to maintain and she knew how to work it. (The Pontiff appreciates dedication in all its many forms).
We were just being served another sushi boat the size of the USS Enterprise, this one laden with soft-shell crab, when I rose to address the table. I probably began by saying how proud I was of all their achievements, how grateful I was that they joined me to ski test every April, how (eyes misting) they were just the greatest. Regaining my composure, I fabricated some pitiful segue about how I yearned to match their athletic achievements but somehow circumstances and a distinct lack of skill had unfairly held me back. I had taken a fling with women’s Nordic jumping, then an open field, especially for a man, but sex prejudice and acute nearsightedness kept me from fulfilling my dreams. Obstacle course racing had failed to crack the Winter Olympic agenda, a discouraging setback. Then I found my partner – let’s call him “Goliath” – and it was as if heaven spoke to me. Suddenly, it all became clear: dryland solo synchronized pairs swimming was my future.
The training was gruesome, too rigorous to describe in a space devoted to family-related matters. It was probably a little rougher on Goliath, what with all the lifting and spinning. For me, I practiced my ankle flutter to "Flight of the Bumblebee"… but I promised no details. Let’s just say I lost sweat in areas I did not previously realize were big sweat generators, like the top of my nose and the region immediately around my butt. Sorry, sorry, but my therapist says if I can face my past I can overcome it. Fat chance.
Anyway, this was the moment of truth. Goliath and I slapped on our plastic swim hats, tucking away any loose hair for safety’s sake. Damn, no sunflowers! Steady, steady! The show must go on. I circled Goliath provocatively, drawing the rapt audience into my web of fantasy. With a few quick, coltish steps I flung myself at Goliath who dexterously caught me by the throat and lifted me high above his head, shifting his grip just before my trachea collapsed. A festive toss, a fraction of a pirouette and I was supine! [A few cheers and shifting of seats, as if to avoid an accident.] As Goliath began to spin, I threw back my head with balletic abandon and I put all I had – at least 110% - into my ankle flutter, stirring up the turbulence of a tropical storm.
Perhaps it was the weather event I was creating over an adjacent table, but the house took a sudden interest in our theatrics. Several tiny women who looked far, far below me were chattering at us in a foreign tongue that I did not feel obliged to acknowledge. It was time for my dismount, the pièce de résistance of our pas de deux. I folded, spindled, twisted and gracelessly hurled myself earthward, landing to my enormous relief on my feet and to the dismay of the house on the edge of a table that became in that moment no longer fit for service. Shoddy construction if you ask me.
Our presence no longer required, we took several cabs to the Shark club to work off all the calories we’d just consumed. To keep the ride interesting, Tina thought it helpful to moon the cabbie in the taxi next to us, who came from a country where such behavior was not part of the cultural mainstream. He only drove off the road for a moment, but the memories most likely left him scarred for life, poor devil.
Once at the Shark Club I tipped the doorman with a handful of soft shell crab, which I thought terribly a propos; I didn’t pause to learn the depths of his appreciation. Inside was a writhing, wall-to-wall fleshpot, just what we had in mind. I shall never forget a “dance” with one of our number wherein she showed her gratitude by whipping me with her perfect tendrils of caramel and sunshine while…. sorry, sorry, my therapy is still a work in progress.
Eventually even the best of bacchanals require a change of venue and so it was we whisked our way back to the Hilton, then the social omphalos of the show. We crowded into an elevator, giggling and chatting, heading up to use my loo before launching an assault on the casino. We laughed and laughed, and when the doors opened and we tumbled out sideways we realized we had never left the lobby level. So we repeated the exercise, this time victoriously, and barged into my modest room to find my roommate asleep, but not for long.
My roomie, one Peter Kirkpatrick, was, and I presume still is, a charming fellow who served as an ad rep for Snow Country and other titles. He made a felicitous choice as a camarade de chambre, for his diurnal rhythms and mine rarely overlapped. This was a rare moment of convergence. I repaired to the rest room, leaving my amped-up entourage bouncing on Peter’s bed and generally probing for mischief that might keep them amused.
At first I mistook Peter’s screaming as a sign of unbridled mirth unexpectedly released at around 3 AM. “Jackson!” How sweet, he remembers my name! “JACKSON!” Good grief, he’s going to wake the neighbors. “Jackson, get out here NOW!” The activity I was engaged in was not so easy to self-arrest, but I did what I could. When at last I popped out of the WC I beheld a bug-eyed Peter now beyond screaming, beyond speech. But he could point, and he was gesturing spasmodically towards the open window of what the Hilton amusingly called our “suite.” There a bored freestyle skier was hanging out the window, some 32 floors above the pavement, with only his feet remaining inside the room, gripped with passionate indifference by another bored freeskier. Peter wasn’t bored. Quite the opposite.
“Now, now,” I cooed indulgently at my wayward companions. “Naughty, naughty!” The unrepentant dangling participant – this was apparently a frequent nocturnal pastime that he found calming, nothing for any squares to get uptight about – was hauled back into the room and we all flitted away, leaving Peter amazed and a little unsure of what had just transpired.
I could go on, but discretion requires a light touch when describing the evening’s denouement. All evenings and all stories must come to an end, as has the longtime marriage of convenience between the ski trade and Las Vegas. January of 2009 marked the last time SIA show attendees helped pay for all the neon along the Vegas Strip. The exhibition is moving to Denver, bringing the show to the mountains after all those years of bringing the mountains to the Show. It won’t be the same. It can’t be. For a delicate flower like Lycra, Lace and Leather to bloom requires a special environment, where night and day are interchangeable and every sybaritic delight is never more than a finger snap away.
To check out other musings, click on the following links:
* Volume 1: The Greatest Boondoggle Ever: A Three-Part Story Told in One Breathless Burst
* Volume 2: The Cruel Shoes
* Volume 3: Killing it at Kitzbuhel: Part 1
* Volume 4: Killing it at Kitzbuhel: Part 2 : How I Won the Hahnenkamm And Other Life Lessons