Here's a story about one of the most colourful and ever-present characters at the ski hill. Maybe you've met him. He's like a piece of furniture in the chalet, except he's a person. He's like person-furniture with a mustache. Like a really nice piece of furniture. Like in the best way possible.
Anyway, it was Gord's 60th birthday last week. To celebrate, we got our writer Lyndon to sit down with him at the Nest in Falcon Lake for a coffee.
THE JOKER, THE SMOKER, THE MIDNIGHT SNOWMAKER
Written by Lyndon Froese
It might not sound like a big deal to put some new tracks on a snow groomer, but Ryan, the brand new mechanic at the ski hill, was looking at a week-long job, mostly unscrewing hundreds and hundreds of little bolts with cold hands. It was going to be a long, lonely, cold week in the parking lot.
He wasn't very far into his first long, lonely, cold day of operating tiny bolts on a big machine when this guy Gord showed up. Gord wasn't an employee of the ski hill. But there he was with his truck, tools and drooping mustache.
Who knows what else Gord had up for his day – it's not like he was retired – but he stayed until quitting time, had a beer and said he'd be back the next day. Gord did come back the next day. And the next day after that. And all the days. Even when Ryan got sick, Gord showed up and worked alone until the Pisten Bully, the hill's one and only groomer, was ready to crawl the slopes.
Ryan said it's been like that with Gord ever since.
Gord works and refuses all pay except a pilsner every now and again and a season pass for his granddaughter whom Gord hopes will become a champion at the slopes, like he was back in the day.
Gord's been kicking around the hill ever since he was 4 or 5 years old when his family went there to toboggan one day. That first visit ended with a broken arm and collar bone for his cousin. No big surprise, really. The kids would get dragged up the hill by the rope tow – five or so huddled on a toboggan, going up at 30 clicks. Then they'd barrel down the steepest side of the Sunshine run, hanging on like Calvin and Hobbes through the bobsled-style banked corners.
For Gord it was love-at-first... uh, someone lost an eye... sight...
He has a taste for danger. Young Gord was chased out of a gal's house when her father came home and fetched his riffle. Gord ran, hopped on a train and didn't come back for three months or something.
Another time, when Gord was 18, his mom asked him to take the car and pick up a pint of milk. Gord figured he should stop in for a beer while he was at it. Soon the bar closed for supper, following Manitoba's old liquor law, and he thought "might as well go to Kenora," a 45-minute drive over to Ontario, for all you geography majors. It was four days later when Gord was in Thunder Bay, in a wood fire hot tub with three naked women when he remembered about the pint of milk... and his poor mother.
At least it wasn't as bad as the time he went hitchhiking when he was twelve. On his way back home, the RCMP greeted him at the American border – while he was away they'd been dragging the lake for his body.
Oh-my-gawd, Gord... I know you got to see the show in Minneapolis, but you gotta tell your mom and dad where you are going!
Lectures from me aren't going to make a hill of beans. Gord played by his own rules. Still does, but now he channels it for the good of everyone. One time he was telling us guys at Falcon Trails a story about how he headed out in a lightning storm to track down some power lines that were down. I was just getting to know Gord, so I said, "Oh, so you work for Hydro?" No. He just wanted to help get the power back on for everyone – figured he'd give the Manitoba Hydro fellers some help. He makes his community his business.
There's a big ice fishing derby here at Falcon Lake and last year Gord came across some guy cheating. Two lines in the water at once! Balled-headed, biker-mustached Gord chased the guy off and the other fishers at nearby holes clapped. But Gord never says anything bad about anyone, so everyone else was talking about it after, but that was the end of it for Gord.
He's been known to lend a hand to Parks and fix public roads when times are busy. He's out there with his own truck filling holes without being asked.
Gord doesn't care if it's not his job, but he was actually employed by Parks back in the day. As a teenager, he'd do typical summer job stuff – you know like mowing grass and also fighting forest fires.
In the winter time, he worked at the ski hill, which was run by the Park back then. That's what he really liked – the ski hill. Before Gord got his driver's license, he rode his snowmachine to work. It was a 110 kilometer round trip on a '69 Moto-Ski just to work there.
Eventually Gord moved to Falcon Lake, into the Park staff bunk house. The Park employed 200 people out here at the time and they housed and fed everyone. The food was a mass-cooked situation – what you'd expect, except the chef used to cook for the Queen. No kidding, eh? The guy worked for CN Hotels, owners of Banff Springs and that big one in Quebec. When the Queen was in Banff or royalty was in Montreal or other fancy places, the chef would ride the train over and light up some pans.
Fine dining for fifty cents a day... plenty of beer at night... but Saturday morning, if the roads were icy, the guys would be up early on the back of a moving 1-ton, shoveling sand onto the miles of winding road leading to the ski hill.
That wasn't their favourite thing to do hungover, but they had their fun. In the 1970s streaking was becoming a funny thing to do all over the world and Gord does recall a few instances at the ski hill. They always seemed to end up at the First Aid shack where him and his Ski Patrol buds spent time. Gord said he had no idea why.
Here's a photo of a naked bum pressed up against the window of the First Aid shack:
It was more than a job. Gord loved the ski hill, so after he had moved on career-wise, he volunteered in any way he could, from teaching kids to ski, to being the head coach of the Falcon Hawks ski team, to many a coffee-fueled night shift of checking on snowmaking machines.
"Snowmaking is terrible job," said Barb Hamilton, the matriarch of Falcon Trails. "It's wet and cold and terrible."
Gord will do anything for the ski hill. When the Park's accountants started raising flags, blue-collar Gord put on a nice shirt and took it upon himself to travel to schools around the province and make presentations about how the ski hill was a great place for school groups – it was everything a school could want: naked staff, broken-bone toboggan runs and a lift that once-upon-a-time dragged someone up by their scarf.
"When we took over the ski hill, Gord came with it," said Barb.
Any vexing piece of old equipment there at the hill will be familiar to Gord – he probably helped install it back in the day. If he gets a whiff of an unpleasant job where he might be of service, Gord seems to be there. You gotta be responsible with what you ask Gord for help with because he always say yes. He never complains. Never makes you feel dumb, no matter how dumb you are (I should know – I worked for his construction company one day and I'm moron with that stuff). Gord's a joker, a smoker and a midnight snowmaker. And Barb notes that in the past few years his mustache has become even more extravagant than she thought it was before.
Nice work, Gord!