Deadlines are always crazy. Even though the Squaw Valley Times isn’t a daily or even a weekly, things still get nuts. Every once in a while, it can be a three-ring circus and I don’t mean that metaphorically. During this past production cycle, I was working on a couple of different stories and while I was on the phone, another call came in. It never fails. One of the stories for the issue was a piece about the memorial scholarship set up in memory of Robert “Fro” Frohlich. Fro was the voice of these mountains for several decades, a noted writer, friend and fellow ski bum. He was one of many who came for a visit and never left. He died in 2010 following a lengthy battle with cancer, but in spirit, he remains an integral part of the community.
I’m always a little melancholy and nostalgic at this time of year. The end of the season always shows up to me as something of a good-bye. Not ‘see-you-later’ but more of a “we may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again” kind of thing. Writing about Fro and doing another story on the Shane McConkey Foundation put me in a strange space. Winter was a no-show and even though it was warm enough to wear shorts, I felt just a little blue.
I clicked over on the call-waiting, and I’m always amazed at my ability to do that without hanging up on both callers. One small step for womankind. The voice on the other end of the phone instantly reminded me of so many things I am grateful for, including the great blessing to have known so many of the people we have lost from our Squaw Valley family. He did all that with just by saying “Hi.”
My conversations with Dick Dorworth are always a revelation. I learn something about myself, about life and navigating my way through the day, one turn at a time. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, he was my ski coach. Skiing with him was, as a former teammate put it – “transcendent.” Some things don’t change. The conversation meandered around, from Shane to Stevie (McKinney) to Sully and Fro. I appreciate that Dick doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and that he somehow keeps it all in perspective. When I got off the phone, he sent me the link to this post.
I opened up the link, and fell into a quiet reverie. I felt a little voyeuristic, reading this intimate, honest, funny and brilliant encounter between two of my favorite writers. As soon as I finished, I jumped on to my email to send him a quick thank you note and only then did I read the rest of his message to me: “Yes, spring is early this year and there isn’t enough water. Spring is always the end of something – this year it is early and disturbing but, as the song continues, “ . . . don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy . . . Take it easy.”
By Dick Dorworth/dickdorworth.com June 22, 2014
Robert “Fro” Frolich was a beloved member of the Squaw Valley/North Lake Tahoe community for many years. When he died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer, the world of mountains and the soul of adventure lost one of its most passionate and articulate spokesmen and chroniclers. His two coffee table books, “Mountain Dreamers: Visionaries of Sierra Nevada Skiing” and “Skiing with Style. Sugar Bowl: 60 Years” are classics. Fro was many things to many people—writer, skier, climber, adventurer, seeker, bon vivant and trusted confidante with huge shoulders. First of all, to me, Fro was my friend, and just after my book “Night Driving” was published he sent me these questions.
Fro: You’ve been pumping out an array of stories for over forty years. Finally, you’ve published a book. It’s about time. What’s been the hold up and is there a novel on the way?
DD: The short answer is that if I had a dollar for every publisher rejection I’ve received I would be able to take that money and fill up my car with gas, drive to Squaw from Ketchum, buy a lift ticket for the day, ski all day with a fine lunch at High Camp, take you out to dinner in Squaw’s best restaurant, fill up my car again and drive back to Ketchum and have a few dollars left over. The long answer is that my writing career, as I once told Mort Lund, “……has been hampered by all the time I spend skiing and climbing and traveling. If it weren’t for the mountains, I think I could become a hell of a good mountain writer.” I’ve got at least two more books worth of material already done that if “Night Driving” proves successful I’ll try to get published. Yes, there is a novel on the way, though it’s still in my brain and not on paper or even in the computer.
Fro: Your writings and your lifestyle have been compared to part Kerouac part Edward Abbey even part Hunter Thompson. Whose actually been a big influence and do you have any Hunter stories?
DD: Well, those three were writing about several issues, experiences and attitudes that interested me and they are among my favorite writers; but I’d been driving long distances around the U.S. long before I became aware of Kerouac, altering my own consciousness long before “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was published, and pissed off about the environmental destruction of my homeland before I knew about Abbey. Among the beats, Gary Snyder certainly has long been an influence. Hemingway was such a strong early influence that much of my early work sounds like third rate Hemingway and I had to quit reading him for about 20 years, but now that he’s no longer a threat to my own voice I admire him more than ever. My young influences included Mark Twain, Jack London, Thomas Wolfe (not Tom), John Steinbeck, Scott Fitzgerald, Montaigne, William Blake, Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay and, of all people, Monty Atwater. No, I don’t have any Hunter stories that haven’t already been told.
Fro: Night Driving has long been celebrated as a classic piece of writing. And it has just as much power in its words today as way back yonder when you wrote it. Have we come full circle as a society to still embrace its message?
DD: Society as a whole seems to me as out of control as ever, but every individual can read a book, embrace its message and change some small part of their world that needs changing. There is great hope in that and if “Night Driving” in some small way adds to that hope in action I am pleased.
Fro: You write that our ultimate tragedy, the deepest despair, is to not be who we are. It seems to me you’ve been several different people in your life—athlete, rogue, loadie, Buddhist, etc. Not to be sophomoric, but is there a time and place for truly discovering oneself?
DD: Yes. The time is now. The place is here.
Fro: You write in “A Place To Start” that “…hope is the intention to trust the true nature of things.” Yet so many times we feel despair. We feel hopelessness sometimes whether reading the newspaper or just looking at our own lives. Have you ever had the same feelings and where did you look to start believing again?
DD: Fro, it is a continuous, unending struggle. Joy does not exist without sorrow, nor does life without death. It is the human condition. And, yes, I’ve had my fair share of black holes in life. The great writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams was asked by a conservative U.S. Senator who disagreed with her thoughts about Iraq and other national policies, “What are you willing to die for?” Terry answered, after a great deal of introspection“….that was not the question, it wasn’t what I was willing to die for, but what I was willing to give my life to.” You get out of black holes by figuring out what you are willing to give your life to. What else is there to believe in?
Fro: You’ve hung out and played with some dynamic and groundbreaking people. My favorite friend of yours, of course, was Steve McKinney. Do you have a favorite McKinney story?
DD: Steve was raised as a McKinney, though biologically he was not. His biological father and mother had divorced when he was young, and the father was estranged from his children and bitter and angry. The parents’ disputes and differences were, as usual, dropped upon the heads and hearts of their children. Steve knew who his father was and even where he was, but he did not know his father. Steve was in his 20s when he decided one night he wanted to contact his biological father who lived on the other side of America and who he had not seen since he was an infant. He phoned. His father told Steve he did not want to have any contact with him and to never phone him again. Steve did not, but he told me he was very hurt, confused and depressed by his father’s response. I asked him what he thought about it, and about his father. His reply took my breath away and has always resonated with me. Steve said, “Well, I know he was doing the best that he could do with what he had to work with at the time.” That’s my favorite Steve McKinney story and how I remember him.
Fro: Who’s the downright craziest skier or climber you ever knew? Was there ever anybody you stayed away from because they were just too weird?
DD: All the real crazies of my era and even of a couple eras after are dead or no longer skiing or climbing. Without mentioning names, yes, there are a few people I avoided (and avoid) for a variety of reasons involving personal taste and self-preservation.
Fro: In today’s ski industry the wooing of “extremism” is so big that no one can deny its influence. Its movement has changed the perception of ski terrain radically. High risk means high pleasure and, though attempting defy-defying acts for most sane folks is tantamount to digesting a bowling bowl, especially Tahoe skiers and boarders, who chase cliffs the way a dog chases tires are called crazy and willing to be hit. Do you think that extremism sends a mixed message to young people out there who think this is what the sport is only about, about going big and skiing sick lines? You were one of the first going big and doing it on huge skis. Does it blow your mind with what’s being skied on the hill these days? What advice do you tell young skiers jumping all these cliffs and skiing such outrageous lines?
DD: To borrow the title of Bode Miller’s fine autobiography which I recommend to every skier of any age, ability and degree of love for the sport, “Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun.”
Fro: The Lake Tahoe Basin, surrounded by a dozen alpine resorts, and blessed with big mountains complemented by big snowfall, is extreme skiing’s breeding ground. Extreme skiers traveling to Lake Tahoe is comparable to surfers visiting the North Shore of Oahu, or windsurfers making the pilgrimage to Ho’okipa on Maui. Tahoe’s terrain is a rite of passage for the ski or snowboarding enthusiast, especially Squaw Valley. Is Squaw Valley the mother ship for extremists and is it that rite of passage? What are your thoughts?
DD: I probably don’t know enough about modern extreme skiing to make an intelligent comment, but the most extreme skiing and lines I’ve seen have been in Alaska. I was very grateful that I was too old to think that I needed to ski them, though those who do are wild and beautiful adventurers.
Fro: You’ve traveled to some of the most remote places in the world. You probably have more frequent flyer miles than the Rolling Stones. What are some of the most far out places you’ve traveled to? Do all airports look alike or do you have a favorite. Any place you ever went where you should have stayed home?
DD:Kashgar, China; the Rongbuk Valley under the north face of Mt. Everest, Tibet; Mustagh Ata, Pamir Mountains, China; Patagonia, Argentina; the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Arizona; Mt. Steele, Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada; Yosemite, California before, say, 1975; Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada before, say, 1960; Mt. Shasta, California; Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho; Indian Creek, Utah; the volcanoes of southern Chile. I like airports less and less with every journey and there are no candidates for favorite. Yes, like all people who tend to wander, there are many places I went where I should have stayed home, but I didn’t know that until I got home.
Fro: After decades of being on your skis you appear to not have slowed down. How many days per season do you still “boot up”? Skiing is your lifeblood. Has it ever felt like a job or does the love for the sport continue to increase every day?
DD: I ski nearly every day all winter, though often for only a couple of hours; between the lift served mountain in Sun Valley and the backcountry I probably ski 120 to 140 days a year. Like most skiers, I began skiing for the joy of it; then it turned into a competitive endeavor; and then to a professional one; and now it is back to being what it was in the beginning. Yes, it has been a job at times, but my love and appreciation for skiing continues to grow.
Fro: The ski industry has jettisoned itself from a rather fringe sport into big business fueled by corporate takeover and real estate. It’s a far fling from the days of staying at the Heatherbed in Aspen Highlands or The Star Hotel in Truckee. However, the ski industry as a whole continues to move from independent ownership to a structure fueled by corporate takeover and real estate. Has there been anything lost in the transition of free enterprise? What are some of the good and maybe some of the bad directions taking place in today’s snowsport industry?
DD: Think of the principle that guides a community, and think of the principal who guides a corporation. Think of a privately owned cattle ranch with meadows that have supported cattle for a hundred years, and think of a CAFO.
Fro: Reading “Europe: Fourth Time Around” made me laugh and cry. Those were great days. Adversely, do you think skiing has lost its soul, its on-slope experience? KT-22 on a powder morning has one of the worst vibes full of grommets, poseurs and gapers jostling in liftline. What are people’s anxieties about these days? In general, what’s everybody so stressed about? We are living in mountain paradise in a wonderful community amongst groovetron folks. Why are people so upset? Are people just as tweaked in the mountains and need counseling as in the urban areas?
DD: Beats me what the people you’re talking about need, but it’s a shame they can’t get it. The business of skiing has lost its soul, but the experience of skiing and the skiers who tune into it have not. The basics never change in skiing or anything else.
Fro: That looked like a really cool camper that you hung out in while writing your essays at Camp 4. Whatever happened to that rig?
DD: I bought that from my friend Louis Bergeron (now a doctor in Elko) for two pairs of skis, drove it for a few years and sold it to a gentleman (I’ve forgotten his name) who was into restoring old vehicles. I like to think the old Chevy is still on the road at old car reunions, full of soul and good karma.
Fro: If there is one thing to take on the road what is it? Peanut Butter, Bible, Swiss Army knife, Six Mix-A-Lot CDs? And what is the one indispensable thing you take with you when you’re doing big walls. (Dave Nettle once told me a headlamp as example).
DD: On the road take good coffee; on a wall take a pair of prusiks.
Fro: Does it ever blow your mind about what a long strange trip it’s been? What is your favorite testimonial to Tahoe and what does Squaw Valley mean to you in the big canvas of things?
DD: Yes. Didn’t you read “Night Driving?” I grew up at Tahoe and grew up some more in Squaw, and, to pursue the big canvas metaphor, Tahoe and Squaw are the undercoating to everything.
Fro: Do you have a favorite anecdote from a moment through the years that puts your lifelong efforts into perspective; funny, humbling? Is there a moral to all this?
DD: If there is it was summed up in “Europe: Fourth Time Around” by Emile Allais when he laughed and laughed while sitting in the snow after a fall and said, “Oh, it’s good for us to fall down every now and then,” and he laughed some more.
Fro: Bonus Question: What’s your favorite line at Squaw Valley?
DD: The Nose, the West Face, the East Face, Chute 75 in powder were my favorites, but I haven’t skied Squaw in several years.