Photo: Doug Driskell

None of it seemed historic at the time, just crazy. But there was lots of craziness going on in Aspen in the early 1970s, so Aspen Highlands ski patrollers jumping over a restaurant deck didn’t seem particularly out-of-the-ordinary.
The patrollers, in uniform and apparently trying to drum up business, started above the old Cloud Nine restaurant, made a tricky turn right before an eight-foot ramp, then pressed forward and launched — raining snow from their skis on the people beneath. They peaked out 20-plus feet above the wood, hanging weightless for a split second at the apogee, before dropping out of sight behind the cliff-like landing on the other side. Patrollers often did this in back-to-back-to-back tandems, or even triples, sometimes dragging a 30-pound rescue sled behind.

It all began in 1968 after the original Cloud Nine restaurant burned down and a patrol hut was built slightly uphill from that site. The patrollers made a kicker there that morphed into the deck jump when their hut was expanded into the new restaurant a few years later. “At first we didn’t jump over the deck, just off to one side,” says current patrol director Mac Smith, who was a rookie when the event began. “But in a couple of weeks, we were going over wood.” About 50 to 60 feet worth of it, sometimes directly over skiers at picnic tables.

What could go wrong with that? Lots, according to Lloyd’s of London, Highland’s insurer at the time. Lloyd’s let them keep jumping, although after two years — perhaps after seeing a publicity photo that showed a patroller flying right over beer-swilling diners — the company insisted that the dining public be moved well out of harm’s way.

Doug Driskell, a 42-year patrol veteran still on the hill today, was the first to jump while pulling a toboggan. “The best ones were the old Thompson’s, made out of indestructible ABS plastic,” he says. He came up short a few times, so he can vouch for their hardiness.

The deck jump became a regular event when the patrol and the mountain’s owner, Whip Jones, decided to make a show out of it, and it entertained skiers nearly every day of the season for years, playing to crowds of up to 500. But the workman’s comp exposure was, to say the least, considerable, and in 1994 the show shut down forever. With it went a uniquely wild piece of Aspen’s history.
h6 style=”text-align: right;”>Vintage Highlands