Ann Heestand organized the first midweek ladies bus to come to Meadows the year we opened. She eventually went to work for Meadows and grew that midweek program to nearly 1,000 women, riding buses from the Portland metro area Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Ann passed away March 19, having “lived an incredibly rich, full and intentional 88 years and blessed everyone she knew. She was most at home in the mountains and with those she loved, living her life actively and with passion.” Those are qualities we all admire (from the Celebration of Life program, personal reflections from grand daughter Meredith).
We thank the family for sharing Ann with us for so many years, and especially to her son-in-law Bill Savage who read this essay at Ann’s celebration of life service.
By Bill Savage
Standing at the top of a ski run called Powder Keg at Mt Hood Meadows on a sunny winter afternoon after too much lunch, I looked down at a horrific sight. What I didn't know then about Double Black Diamond ski runs probably saved my life.
I was skiing with a group of some of the most gorgeously aggressive women in the world. One of them was my brand new mother-in-law.
A little background about recreational skiing. In the 1970's housewives didn’t ski unless it was with their families on the weekend. The idea of the independent woman had not hit the ski slopes. During the week, those empty ski runs were the domain of dentists and divorce lawyers. The lodge was full of cigar smoke and deals were brokered on the chair lift. Meadow's men's club. Then Ann and her friends stepped in. Why not start a Ladies Day bus service?
Starting with thirty determined bus riders the Ladies Day Program grew to one thousand avid skiers. Eight busloads of 40 women, three days a week. Three hundred and twenty downhill alpinistas swarmed into the lodge. The CPA's didn't know what hit them. First, they had trouble getting private lessons anymore from the best instructors, because they were standing in groups of women giving autographs. It won't last. They'll take a few runs and spend the day in the Alpenstube. Too drunk to cook? Their husbands will lay down the law. No dinner. No skiing. And that will be the end of it.
Ann could see they had a point. In order to save their hard won victory, the Ladies Day Advisors stayed up late mimeographing cookbooks. Quick Slow Cook Crock Pot Dinners For Skiing Housewives Too Busy To Cook and distributed them free on the next ski bus.
Imagine a little wife standing in the doorway in a short cocktail apron and fresh lipstick. Hi Honey, I've got a Hot Mug Wump for you: hot instant coffee,
instant cocoa and one jigger of vodka. Here, I made you an appetizer. I know you’ll like these Cheese Nut Balls: Kraft margarine, Kraft Cream Cheese, Kraft American Cheese, Kraft Old English cheese, Kraft Pimento cheese, Kraft Cheese Whiz, and crushed nuts. The oven's heating up. She opens the freezer. Let's see what will it be? Lasagna, Mexican Casserole, macaroni and cheese with little wieners.
"Honey, what's for dinner?"
"Tonight we're having Rustic spaghetti casserole, sweetie." She dumps a can of Campbell's Tomato soup into a pot of precooked noodles and adds some stuffed olives, sprinkles on Wonder bread crumbs, Kraft grated Parmesan cheese and fried onion rings and puts it in the oven to brown. Now, a vegetable. From the fridge she pulls a Pyrex bowl of lime jello, miniature marshmallows and shredded carrots. She stirs cottage cheese, Miracle Whip and mandarin oranges into a fluffy salad with a sprig of parsley and brings him another hot Mug Wump with two jiggers of vodka.
After a candlelight dinner with Martin Denny wafting softly from the stereo speakers, she puts her arm around him as he sits in the den, watching Johnny Carson, sipping another Mug Wump.
"Darling." She snuggles up to him, looks in his bleary. amorous. bloodshot eyes and says, "I'm going skiing tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the ... "
"Okay. Thaas good honey."
Once women hit the slopes, you couldn't drag them off. Forget the Alpenstube. They'd have their glass of wine on the bus home. They were there to ski, surrounded by sexy instructors giving them all kinds of encouragement. "Can I see that again. Good. I like the way you swing your hips. You have one of the best stem kristies I've ever seen." Ladies Day skiing was here to stay. Women's liberation had come to the ski slopes. Too cold to burn bras, these feisty homemakers were united by fast ski runs and faster food into a Skiing Sisterhood with Ann in the lead.
This was my first winter with the Heestand family since marrying Nancy on a hot day in August. Before the wedding, nobody ever thought to ask me if I knew how to ski. They assumed she had chosen a skier. It was a Heestand Tradition. Why would she do otherwise? The Heestand Family was a skiing family. Ann had a reputation at Mt. Hood Meadows.
So, using an assumed name, I took lessons at night, disguised in a muffler and ski goggles. Eventually, Ann's friends would have to see me skiing in daylight. But right now I had more important things to think about like - How do you balance on skis and go forward at the same time? How do you stop without falling down? These questions went unanswered as four different instructors passed me around to each other as they gave up in frustration.
On the fourth day I met Ann and the GDA's for lunch. I knew she had been in a sorority at U of 0. On campus she was an Alpha Theta. But at Meadows she was a member of the notorious GDA's. A breed apart from Greek life.
As we waited for them. Ann filled me in.
"When our first Ladies Day ski bus arrived we should have celebrated. But as our group proudly walked down the hall to the locker room, some large man smoking a cigar poked his friend and said, "Look at those GDA's. Don't get any taller than that. Do they? Hey girlies where are your spears and swords?" Her eyes tightened "We might have seemed like a bunch of clueless housewives, but we clasped hands and made a vow. There was a spring in our ski boots as we continued down the hall. We were the GDA’s.”
"What does GDA mean?"
"Oh. Here they come ... I'll tell you later."
Six magnificent women stood in the cafeteria doorway. Immaculate makeup. Hair bobbed or stuck in their ski hats. Bright shining faces. High altitude cold air radiated off their ski suits bringing the outside, inside. Ann ran over and gave them hugs as I clomped after her, a gaunt bearded hippie with flowing blond hair, stuffed inside a ridiculously long-tailed, tasseled, knit wool ski cap. I wore Nancy's old parka with sleeves a little too short. Bob's hand me down high water ski pants hung from suspenders. Slipping and sliding in bright red scuffed used plastic ski boots, I was swept into their colorful entourage.
"Why?" asked the sullen ski instructors, lining the walls, eating Snickers and potato chips. Why are they sitting with him?"
Faces tanned by winter sun, healthy as lumberjacks, heads held above the crowd, these athletic housewives exploded into the room with a riot of red, blue, yellow, green, purple parkas and multi colored vests. Bright matching knit ski hats framed enthusiastic faces with white rings around their eyes from wearing Vaurnet sunglasses. Confidence and competitive spirit oozed from their pores.
There are two schools of alpine cuisine. The Light and Leans and the Bountifuls. My mother in law came from the Spartan school of ski gastronomy. Ann served me hard thin sliced salami cut with a Swiss Army knife, multigrain crackers, nuts, apricots, water and two chocolate chip cookies.
Sitting next to us, at their gourmet table, her six beautiful friends celebrated a bacchanal, of fried foods, coleslaw, double chocolate chip brownies, Bugles, and Andres after dinner mints. The table groaned, heaped with nutrition. Fuel for a vigorous afternoon of skiing. Ann had come up with a plan so I wouldn't reveal the family secret that I was a non-skier. After lunch I was supposed to remain hidden on the leather couch in the dimly lit upstairs pizza parlor, closed on weekdays, reading 'Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas' until I heard the ski buses revving up their engines for their trip back to Portland.
Since it didn't take long for Ann and me to eat our meal, she excused us and we got up to visit. Table by table, she reached out to warm handshakes, her arms rounded into a perpetual hug. She was friends with everybody. Instructors, foodservice, lift operators. She even knew the UPS driver's name.
"Ann. Over here."
After making the rounds we came back to the table. Steve Bratt, ski school director and probably the most handsome man on earth, tan, Vaurnet sun glasses shoved casually into his short cropped black hair was talking to the GDA's, smiling at them with penetrating, owl eyes.
Steve shook my hand. "You've got a nice pair of skis. K2 Factory DirectDouble AA's. Those Look bindings. I'm sure you're like me. They give you the racers edge alright. But I love to hate em. Good you're keeping 'em safe out therein the ski sentry."
If he'd looked closer he would have noticed they were the length for a woman racer. Nancy's childhood friend, and daughter of GDA Grindel. Mary 'Babe' Matthews had worn these K2 AA factory direct racing skis. She got a new pair every year from her sponsor . Since I was now part of a Matthews/Heestand Skiing Dynasty, I had inherited them. Seeing she was shorter than me, her long racers were the exact size for an inexperienced skier.
Ann put her hand on my shoulder. "Bill, I have to meet with Steve for a few minutes."
Steve said, "I'll catch up with you ladies, later."
"Okay Steve, sorry you can't come." They looked glum.
Ann winked at me and pointed to the wooden stairway as she walked away. I stood up.
"So Bill," Beverly said handing me a double chocolate brownie as I turned to go, "Ann says you've been to Aleyeska."
I sat back down. I knew about Alyeska. Nancy and I had visited the forbidding slopes just to admire the incredibly steep downhill race course. Babe had won the Women's Junior National Downhill in 1976 using my skis and I marveled at her ability to win the race without falling off the mountain.
"I've heard about Alyeska?" said Gwinn.
"They say they're Double black diamonds all the way," said Lorraine.
They looked at me with renewed interest.
"Well you know what it's like up there, don't you Bill." coaxed Maria.
"Yeah," I said. "It's pretty steep."
Their heads went together again.
"We were thinking," said Grindel, handing me a big plastic cup of orange juice, "Steve usually takes us with him on Wednesday afternoons. But since he can’t come, maybe you'd do a run with us on a double black diamond and give us a few pointers."
Scientists tell us high altitude does two things to your body. You have to use the rest room in the lodge a lot more than you do at sea level and these things called phonemes get electrified in your brain and actually increase the size of of a skier’s ego.
"Sure," I said. How could I give up this chance to be helpful. I'd be glad to." I didn't want to disappoint them by explaining I'd knocked down two instructors that morning.
"Let's go," said Gwyn, her eyes scrunching up in an excited smile.
I followed the GDA's out onto the deck skittering only once in my slippery boots, my tassel bobbing in the noses of the disconcerted ski instructors as we headed toward the blue chairlift.
Pat was my partner for the five minute ride to the top. Bright smile, big brown eyes, long black braids tied with orange yam, sticking straight down from under her ski hat.
"Oh look." She leaned across me and pointed.
I caught a glimpse through the trees of a very dispiriting sight. Through the branches I saw the mouths of dark cave monsters with gleaming icicle eyes and glittering teeth. The very picture of rugged despair. Tiny dots of bright colored skiers stood high up at the top, looking over the edge for a moment and then retreating to find an easier way down.
"Powder Key looks fantastic today. Don't you think?"
"We should have picked up parachutes at the ski shop."
She laughed and looked down at my K2 AA's. "You won't have any problems with those."
We reached the top. Okay. I didn't actually fall getting off the chairlift. Pat did. But that's because I was grabbing her.
I snowplowed behind them down a short gentle slope over to the top of Powder Keg. I wondered who names these runs. Daisy, Buttercup, Easy Rider, Showoff, Last Breath on Earth. I made that one up. But you get the idea.
"We'll have to grab some air to get over that rock into that chute over there,"said Maria stoically.
"It should be a straight shot from there," said Lorraine, with a red-headed grin. "Straight and fast. Just the way we like it."
"Watch us, Bill," Gwinn shouted with glee. With Grindel in the lead their bright ski pants stretched as they negotiated unseen obstacles, their skis lifting into the air and their shoulders and poles twisting around and aiming them through perilous turns. Avoiding basalt walls, their skis carved a path through an intricate labyrinth of death. Anyway that's the way it looked from where I was standing, since I was soon to follow their lead. They made it look so easy, but the phonemes were gone now and once again I had become a cowardly hippie, recently arrived from Nome, Alaska.
Ann's retirement party at Meadows in 1994, escorted by Steve Bratt.
Now it was my turn. I pondered the question of a condemned man Why a Double Black Diamond, when a single Black Diamond would do the job? I had made a big mistake. I knew I was literally skiing out of bounds, giving up a life with a wonderful new wife and a supportive family because I was too proud to call the Ski Patrol.
I had watched the GDA's hang their ski tips over the edge before launching off into space. I would have preferred to slide down sideways, but that wasn't an option. I was standing on the lip of an overhanging cornice. My first five feet, no matter what choice I made, would be in mid-air.
It was steeper than steep. I slid forward and my arms windmilled in an uncontrolled aerobatic maneuver. My skis dropped in front of me and my rear end hit the tails. I straightened up, bent too far forward, too far back, twisted, turned heard a pop as my right ski flew up and bumped my forehead before dangling in the air by it's safety strap. After lunging into a basalt boulder sticking out of the snow, I looked straight down. Grabbing my swinging ski, I reset the spring and stuck it on my boot. At least I'd learned how to do that. It popped right back off. I tried again. In the blue chairs, skiers gestured and yelled advice before disappearing into the trees.
I'd watched the GDA's skiing from above, but looking up at Ann from below, watching her come toward me, was something altogether different. She was flying. Did her skis touch the snow? I don't know. All I could see was that mission of mercy look in her eyes, that determination, the way she dug the edges of her Atomic skis into the ice. More graceful than grace itself, her white suit with pink and purple trim blended into a rush of snow crystals. leaving behind a ghostly apparition of salvation. The Snow Queen was coming. I could see by her haste, she had made up her mind. Her son-in-law was worth saving.
When she reached me, I could see she was baffled. "What are you doing here? Where are those GDA's?"
I pulled the ski back up and she tried to reset the spring. It wouldn't budge. I had to get the ski back on no matter what or I'd have to take off the other ski. Somehow I just knew that was the coward's way out. I would not remove the other ski in defeat and hobble, slip and trip, holding on to young fir trees dragging my boots in the snow, slipping, falling, grabbing the edges of sharp boulders. I would not let anyone on the Blue Chair see a pair of Matthews/Heestand /Savage skis slide ignominiously to the bottom of the run without me.
Once Ann knew the ski would not stay on my foot, she took a deep breath and smiled.
"Your binding's broken." And then she laughed. "It's not you. You can't ski until it's fixed. You'll have to side step down. She skied below me and started digging the side of her ski into the ice. We can do it together. Just don't fall on me." She laughed again. "Follow me. Everyone's had an equipment failure. No one will question your ability to ski."
I took her word for it. She had saved my life. I started stepping down the hill. The least I could do now was save her reputation.
I looked through the trees and saw the squeaking blue chairs pass by, as one skier offered a thumbs up. Another hollered, Way to Go Man. Tough luck with those Look bindings. His buddy shouted, Love your K2's. Welcome to Meadows.
So, Ann. I took your advice. And yes, everybody's welcome to sing along ...on the second chorus.
This song's for you. And I know you're listening.
The GDA Song
Well Aspen girls are hip
I really dig those styles they wear
And the Telluride girls with the way they carve
They knock me out when I'm up there.
The Mammoth Mountain beauties really make you feel alright
And the Big Sky girls with the way they schuss
They keep their boyfriends out of sight.
I wish they all could be Mt. Hood Meadows .. .
I wish they all could be Mt. Hood Meadows .. .
I wish they all could be Mt Hood Meadows girls