The Bump

Mommy, where do panty trees come from?

Powder - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - —Sierra Davis

You’ve prob­a­bly skied by one, or per­haps you’ve wound up the pitch from the chair­lift and tossed some­thing silky into the out­stretched branches of a nearby aspen. Maybe you shielded the eyes of your child as you rode past barely-there lace un­men­tion­ables. How­ever your first time hap­pened, to ski is to ex­pe­ri­ence the Panty Tree.

A sto­ried tal­is­man of ski cul­ture, the Panty Tree first took root in the late 1970s in—where else?—aspen, Colorado.

Aspen Ski Com­pany had just hired its first fe­male ski pa­troller, and in an ef­fort to see more women on the ros­ter, less spots were made avail­able to men. In protest, a hand­ful of pa­trollers, de­vel­op­men­tally in­dis­tin­guish­able from rocks, tossed a ro­bust nurs­ing bra in the tree off Bell Moun­tain Chair.

“Other peo­ple thought it was pretty funny; they didn’t re­al­ize the protest in­volved,” says Tim Cooney, a 30-year vet­eran of the Aspen Ski Pa­trol who was there when the first undies went up. “Peo­ple went to the thrift shops and bought up all the un­der­wear just to throw on the tree.”

Then came the com­plaints—or more likely, a sin­gle com­plaint, laments Cooney—at the ar­bor dé­cor, and moun­tain ops or­dered the or­na­ments be re­moved.

“The re­sult­ing craze by lo­cals and vis­i­tors to re­stock the tree in de­fi­ance of the old-school moun­tain man­ager’s at­tempts to clean out the undies only led to more,” re­calls Cooney.

A lift me­chanic built a spe­cial tool for the retrieval task, but he couldn’t keep up. The moun­tain man­ager then man­dated the orig­i­nal tree cut down, but the un­der­wear sim­ply moved up­hill to the next tree.

In­ter­est in the tree fell off as a new era of faster lifts rerouted ski traf­fic up the new gon­dola, but not be­fore vis­it­ing ski pa­trollers on ex­change from Vail took the in­spired tra­di­tion home with them to Sun­down Bowl.

And so it spread, spark­ing gen­er­a­tions of copy­cat trees at other ski ar­eas and in­spir­ing a coy Grand Marnier com­mer­cial in 2004.

Present day bar ban­ter may lead you to be­lieve the un­der­gar­ments adorn­ing your lo­cal ev­er­greens and conifers are the re­sult of post-après bow-chick-a-wow-wow. How­ever, in an act of free­wheel­ing re-ap­pro­pri­a­tion, to­day’s mod­ern moun­tain women are more likely to have to cast their knick­ers to the trees all by them­selves.

Photo: Franklin Tow­ers

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