Jam bands have handlers?
If you’ve ever lived more than a week in the mountains, you know how deeply skiers revere jam bands. You’re aware that Phish hails from Vermont and String Cheese Incident calls Colorado home. Perhaps you’ve popped a psilocybin cap and divined that jam band music involves repeated crests and troughs—just as a mogul field does. And that the climactic groove represents a moment of delayed gratification, not unlike thigh-deep powder after a long spell of high pressure.
Or maybe you’re a realist who recognizes skiers are about as diverse as Barbara Bush’s pearls but even they can nail some nice dance moves in the course of a 13-minute song.
Whatever. Skiers and jam bands are simply made for each other, and that’s why Telluride locals were ecstatic to learn String Cheese Incident would play a free show at a mid-slope restaurant on an early spring day not too long ago.
The concert took place on a Sunday afternoon, with amiable sunshine beaming down on the Gorrono Ranch event space (where I got married), which occupies the opposite side of Coonskin Ridge from downtown Telluride (where I got divorced). Colorado Freedom Perfume wafted out of glass pipes and into the hyper-blue sky. Not only were the assembled snowriders enjoying T-ride’s plentiful snowpack, here they were gifted a free “ski-to performance” that forbade losers who did not ride snow. Seriously, the ad warned, “No non-skier access is permitted.” Plus, the band slayed.
Folks in the Rockies regard SCI as the ultimate ski bum band, given its founding in Crested Butte. Most winters, the band stages “Winter Carnival” tours to assorted ski areas, so SCI can S-K-I. Watching guitarist Billy Nershi smile into his microphone, I glowed with admiration for my fellow schralper, a guy who actually lived in Telluride when he joined the band. Nershi performed the whole two-hour show in his ski boots.
Heck, even I had swapped clunky Langes for comfy slip-ons in order to shake it, shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture. Yet this meant Nershi was ready to click into bindings the moment the show ended and I was not. As a result, I was inside Gorrono’s wrestling my little piggies into polyurethane when the rock star stole my skis.
It’s true: Returning to the rack where my custom Wagner skis were stashed—the white ones with a green W logo at the tip—i found only my poles.
Dammit! What kind of scumbag would burgle boards from a String Cheese show?!?
My mood spun from hippie bliss to murderous rage.
Security told me a confused drunk likely grabbed them by mistake. But why would a confused drunk leave behind the attached poles?
Misty Maiden, the run below Gorrono’s, sparkled with silky corn that afternoon—or so I’m told. Me? I descended in sheer humiliation inside a patrol toboggan. On the way, a friend skied by, slowing long enough to needle: “Oh, does widdle Robbie have a boo-boo?”
At the base of Lift 4, I angrily stomped around, glaring at ski racks. Zip, zero, nada...until the valet ski check... and there they were! WTF? What kind of thief checks stolen goods at the valet?
The kind of thief who has “handlers,” it turns out. In their rush to escort the jam band star down to his hotel, Nershi’s handlers overlooked his nearby shredsticks—the white ones with a blue W logo at the tip—and convinced him that my skis were his, despite the fact he kept lurching out of bindings set for a significantly larger boot sole.
(Sometimes, Colorado Freedom Perfume makes people irrational.)
In the end, I got my skis back and the handlers said they were “super sorry, man.” They even persuaded Nershi to call me the next day. The rocking robber left a very nice, if rambling, three-minute apology that I sincerely appreciated. I preserved the voicemail for months, till the November day when my phone vanished. I believe the phone was simply lost, and not stolen. But you never know.
Rob Story is a longtime Powder senior correspondent based in Telluride, Colorado. He’s listened to enough jam band music for the entire state.
Photo: Re Wikstrom