Cowboy rode herd on ski patrollers
Twirp stood at the front of the church in his snapped western shirt, with his trademark neck bandanna, and his guitar. He looked out at the packed assembly and in his homely, forthright way said, “Shad was the best boss I ever had.”
With that he threw back his head and sang “The Tumbling Tumbleweed.” Pull on my heartstrings, will ya? Pard, you can sing that on my grave, too.
We gathered a couple of weeks ago at Aspen’s Prince of Peace Chapel to bury Bill “Shad” Mencimer, and to honor him, too.
Shad and I were never close, even though he hired me on the Snowmass ski patrol 33 years ago. But I came to the Prince of Peace for two reasons: One, to show respect for a decent and unforgettable man. Two, to see old Aspen friends I never get to see anymore, except when somebody dies.
Marshall told the story about how it always pained Shad to watch Twirp ski – because Twirp had a certain unique style. Marshall said, “Shad would just shake his head and say, `Twirp, when you ski, you want to get after it like a bitin’ sow.'”
“A bitin’ sow?” Who talks like that?
Shad grew up on the ranch in Rifle – Middle Mamm Creek, if you know those parts – and he was pretty much all cowboy. As a boy he worked cattle, starting out as helper to the camp cook, on the spring roundup to the Big Muddy. Later on he learned to brand, de-horn, and castrate. Starting in the first grade, he rode his horse six miles to school – when the weather turned bitter his father wrapped his feet in gunnysacks.
Somehow as a young man he landed in Aspen, but his rugged western upbringing forever left its mark. He let you know he was from Rifle.
I remember when I first met him at Snowmass in 1967. I asked him what he did. He said, “I’m the patrol chief. I ride herd on 16 men.”
Shad started out on the Aspen patrol. Lash Laursoo explained: “In 1956 or ’57 a bunch of us were in the Red Onion, and Shad came in in his gas company coveralls. He said, `Where do you guys work?’ We said, `On the ski patrol.’ And Shad said, `What does the ski patrol do?’ And I said, `We ski all day, and at night we drink beer and chase girls.’ Shad said, `Where do I sign up?'”
T. Suza told me a story later: “There was this guy who wanted a job on the (ski) packing crew. So I told Shad he should hire him. And right at the end, I slipped in, `Oh, by the way, he’s black.’ Shad looked at me and said, `Bring him in.'”
In those simpler times, “Bring him in” meant the kid had a job. In those simpler times, Shad could just as easily have said, “Forget it.” Nobody would have thought twice about it.
I never knew where the nickname “Shad” came from until Bear told the story. He and Bill roomed and patrolled together. Bear wrote “Shad” on the back of Bill’s patrol belt, after a character in Zane Grey’s “The Rainbow Trail.” The name stuck.
One time when we were short on the patrol, Shad came into the Sam’s Knob patrol room. He looked around and said, “Does anybody know anybody who needs a job?” Seriously. You didn’t need a resume. A man’s word sufficed.
If you didn’t pay attention, Shad would poke his finger in your face and say, “I say.” Then he’d repeat himself. He sometimes did this more than once during a conversation. Everybody remembers this.
Longtime family friend Bill Lane gave the final eulogy. At the end he said, “What a guy!” He paused. Then he poked his finger at his audience. You knew it was coming.”I say,” he said, “I say, what a guy!”
Peach Valley beekeeper and Snowmass ski patroller Ed Colby finds it ironic that as you get older, time speeds up. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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