During the first month of the 1965-66 winter Brown experienced nearly every frustration possible for a snowmaker. For example, on New Year's Day, a holiday as important to ski promoters as to undertakers, the thermometer stood at a symbolic 66�, and a misty rain pattered on the recreation supermarket. The new grass on the golf course and barley on adjacent farms were green and springlike. The ski side of Mount Charnita, upon which 15 tons of hay had been hopefully spread as a base for snow, resembled nothing so much as a long, soggy compost pile. Small but very natural lakes began to form at the foot of the hill, their waters lapping gently against the pylons of the chair lift. This meteorological pattern continued for several weeks. Occasionally there would be a break in the heat wave, but even then there were difficulties. The first really good snow-making day of the winter, as far as temperature was concerned, came in behind a 30-mph northwest gale, which blew most of Brown's new-fallen snow off toward Baltimore. Eventually, however, persistence and compressors paid off. Between the mud flats and green pastures was laid down a narrow, serpentine strip of the white stuff from which illusions are made.
During the fall and early winter, while Dick Brown, the snow shaman, laid out his bag of tricks and began his struggles against the demons of southern winter, what best can be described as the players and props of the Ski Charnita pageant were assembled. As far as the ski staff was concerned, typecasting seemed to be the favored personnel policy, with considerable weight being given to accents. The chief ski instructor at Charnita, as at so many other resorts, is an Austrian, Toni Sponar. Like many of his compatriots, Sponar is a charming, gregarious man, but he is also candid.
"In Austria I do not think of skiing as a job," said Sponar. "I was not good enough a skier. My father was a schoolmaster. The other boys ski to school, but I do not since I am already there. But I am restless, I want to travel. I go to Canada, job to job. I work in British Columbia as a choker in a lumber camp. One day I am rock-climbing near Banff. I meet some ski instructors from New England. We climb together. We ski. They say, Toni you ski well enough but, better, you are an Austrian. That is important here. You can be a ski instructor. I think why not. I get a job in New England. Then Michigan. Now in the summers I go to Chile."
What is a man who has been a choker and skied in the high Andes doing on the Mason-Dixon line?
"It is obvious," Sponar shrugs. "It is a job here with the machines that enables me this spring to go elsewhere to ski, which I do for my own pleasure."
And Dick Brown's white stuff, spitting out of 35 nozzles? How docs it compare?
"I like it well enough. Without the machines no snow at all. No job," Sponar says, looking speculatively at the surrounding green fields. "The greatest hardship with the machines is the voice."
"To instruct one must speak very loudly always. Yell because of the snowmaking."
Supporting Toni Sponar are another Austrian—a blonde dumpling of a girl, naturally called Traudi—and a slight Spanish boy, Luis Sanchez, proclaimed in the Charnita promotional brochure as "Former Champion of Spain, 1960-1964 Spanish Olympic Team." ("That is like having the best Arabian 200-meter freestyler at your pool," carps an unkind critic.) There is also a native ski instructor, but of a special type almost as essential to a resort's image as blonde Austrians. Sig Snyder was flown in from Aspen, where he had been leading a capricious, impecunious, odd-job existence. "I get off that plane in Baltimore—and all that rain and blooming flowers. I think I have got, like, on the wrong jet. The Tamiami Trail Special. But if these people want to ski here I will not tell anyone different."