I have been approached over the past last 60-plus years by hundreds of "wannabe" Stein Eriksens, Phil Mahres, Alberto Tombas, or Scott Schmidt look-alikes, who want to appear in one of my ski movies.
Years ago, in Vancouver, B.C., a young man approached me after my show and asked the same old question.
"How can I get to be in your next ski movie?" Without waiting for my answer, he went on to say,
"I want to be famous for the rest of my life and this will be a great way to do it."
I gave him the same answer that I had used on many other wanna-be-in-a-ski-movie-people.
"Why should I put you in my next movie? What can you do that is different than turning your skis to the right or left or just going straight and leaping off of a cliff?"
He caught me by surprise when he said, "A friend and I have bought a $10 Army Surplus Asbestos Fire Fighting Suit. It even includes a complete asbestos face mask and helmet."
"Here's our plan. I'll wear the suit, my partner will pour gasoline all over me, then he'll light me on fire and I'll ski down the hill in flames and jump off of a big cliff."
It sounded like a pretty good idea to me, so I said, "You do that, and I'll make sure that I have a camera crew there to make you world famous."
The drama unfolded exactly 61 days later on an overcast day at Squaw Valley Calif., right under the watchful eye of the local ski patrol.
My ace cameraman, Don Brolin, had hired eight or ten extra people to help him with fire extinguishers, first aid supplies, and to run a couple of his extra cameras. Don wisely figured if they bought the fireproof suit for only $10, it probably had seen better days and would have a leak here or there.
Our soon-to-be-world-famous hot dog skier had selected just the right rock to jump off a few days earlier and had laboriously hauled 15 gallons of gasoline up to where he would start skiing down in flames.
By his calculations, it would take five gallons of gasoline per try. He decided that the suit could probably withstand three flaming trips before it would be leaking too badly.
The day before the jump, he and his assistant had practiced the countdown by dousing the asbestos suit with water a dozen or more times. The idea worked fine, but the Asbestos Man gradually built up a lot of ice on the asbestos suit until it was getting very hard for him to bend the suit as he tried to hit the take off just right.
This was going to be his big day, everything was ready.
"Fire extinguishers ready?"
"Asbestos Man, are you ready?"
A mumble came from inside the helmet, then a wave, and thumbs up.
The gasoline started flowing over his helmet, down over his shoulders and back, his chest and then a little extra shot of gasoline on his skis.
"Get ready for ignition."
An explosion roared across Squaw Valley and everyone instantly had second thoughts about the wisdom of this hot dog roasting trick for the cameras just so he could be world famous.
He shoved off with three cameras rolling and flames leaping six or eight feet high, and before he had skied fifteen feet, the viewing port on his fireproof helmet fogged up. He couldn't see where to hit his take off properly, but he had to jump anyway to get down the hill to where the men with the fire extinguishers were standing.
The world's first authentic barbecued hot dogger flew about 100 feet and crashed ignominiously in flames.
The fire retardant fog was spewing out of the five fire extinguishers as the minimum-wage firemen skied down the hill shooting at the flames that were slowly dying.
Hopefully before Asbestos Man did.
He wanted to be world famous and Brolin knew he couldn't come back from this shoot without spectacular footage.
Fogging up due to the flames was the only problem the hot dogger seemed to have.
At lunch, Asbestos Man, his assistant, Brolin, the five firemen and the three other cameramen, figured out that the only place he could get warm air to inhale instead of the cold mountain air and eliminate the fogging problem would be to rig up a breathing tube that went down under his arm pit. That way he could breathe the toasty warm armpit air that he alone would generate.
He suited up once again, but not until after he took a shower and sprayed on a heavy dose of deodorant.
Brolin had traded for a new set of fire extinguishers when he pretended to film a maid in one of the dorms. He was set for another try at filming the "well-cooked hot dog skier."
The partner had suggested more gasoline for bigger flames next time.
"Let's try for 10 gallons."
More gasoline was hauled to the top of the run by three off-duty bartenders. The cameramen practiced their pans so they wouldn't miss. The firemen each took a practice squirt of foam. Everything was ready.
This time it was really spooky as Asbestos Man took off down the in-run looking like an airplane going down in flames.
Flying 100 feet through the air while looking through a clear visor, and breathing warm, armpit air, he still crashed in flames. The crash was immediately followed by five foaming- fire-extinguishing-skiers converging on him while he slid and rolled to a stop.
Asbestos Man's first question, after he wiped the foam from his face plate and removed his still smoking helmet, was, "Will I be world famous?"
"Sure," Brolin told him. "You'll be world famous as Asbestos Man, but no one will recognize you. Your whole body, your head, and even your face were covered up with your $10 asbestos suit."
(Copyright, 2009: WarrenMiller.net).
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