Ravinos rock on in Vail Valley lore

Motorcyle gang on skis embodied rowdy ski-town spirit in Vail's formative years

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJuly 1, 2010
Editor's note: A shorter version of this story first appeared in Powder Magazine. This version was first posted on RealVail.com in 2007, and the comments have been re-created for this re-post on the new version of RealVail.com. Enjoy:

It's a given that the upper-crust establishment of any slick modern ski town has a virtual killing field of skeletons in their collective walk-in closets. But in Vail, perhaps the most corporately cultured of all the world-class winter wonderlands, the skeletons still dance on a few dirty, sleeveless jeans jackets – proud emblems of the legendary Flying Ravinos.
Arlan Moore, left, and Phil Horsman show off the long boards they used for ridiculous aerials during the glory days of the later outlawed Ravinos ski gang in the 80s.
By Dan Davis

Cops, doctors, realtors, elite athletes, even some Vail execs can trace their youthful roots back to a sort of motorcycle gang on skis that benignly rampaged on the slopes, in village bars, and every St. Paddy's Day in the late '70s and early '80s converged for a massive, chemically-fueled aerial rally where new gang members earned their colors by throwing inverted air off a cliff (successful landing optional).

The paganistic end-of-the-season parties became so popular Vail Associates finally kicked the Ravinos off the mountain and banned inverted aerial maneuvers altogether, even going so far as to knock down some of the rocks near First Step where the biggest kickers were built each spring. The circus then moved to U.S. Forest Service land at Meadow Mountain, East Vail and Vail Pass – each time chased away by a more imposing state or federal agency – until it finally fizzled out in 1985 at the height of the Reagan Era, when even hotdoggers were told to just say no to big air.

“It flourished in its day because of the general social state of the times, and as that changed the Ravinos time was over,” says Philip Horsman, a former gelende jumper (Nordic jumping on alpine skis) who now runs a ski rental delivery and limo service in town. He laments the fact that liability concerns killed the Ravinos parties but hasn't slowed the vertical revolution in today's terrain parks and half-pipes. “Nobody back then was thinking about suing anyone. It was, ‘No, I made that decision to hurl myself into the air and I've got to live with it.'”

But Arlan Moore, a carpenter and former ski-racing coach, says the St. Paddy's Day bash just got too big and too out-of-hand for a ski town fast on its way to becoming an international “it” spot. “Just the mere fact that alcohol and drugs were involved in the gathering was reason for all the pooh-poohers in society around here, the more straight-laced people, to frown on the whole event,” says Moore. “And ski patrol had great reason to frown on it because they were asked to come down and pick up the bodies of the people who had too much to drink and hurt themselves badly.”

The Ravinos themselves, who skied the mountain in aviator helmets and jackets emblazoned with flaming skulls and gothic script, held cultish induction ceremonies in the darkened projection room of Vail's only movie theater at the time, but “any fool who wanted to hurl himself out there was more than welcome,” Horsman says.

Which led to a host of honorary members drawn more by soaring than scoring – people like three-time Eco-Challenge champion Mike Kloser and former U.S. Ski Team member Mike Brown.

“Most of the people who were inebriated in whatever fashion they wished to be inebriated in were the observers, because you didn't want to put yourself out in the place where we were going, where you could get really hurt, in that altered state of mind,” Moore says. “Pretty much invariably people who did do that wound up getting hauled away.”
While the Ravinos exemplified Vail's hard-charging past, chemical and alcohol consumption at their pioneering aerial "Expression Sessions" was typically left to the spectators.
By Dan Davis
By 1985, upwards of a thousand spectators jammed Vail Pass to watch the carnage, but that was the year, according to Moore, that someone ran across the hood of a tricked-out '66 Mustang wearing ski boots, which prompted the driver to punch it and run into a bystander. Later, he says, someone absconded with money collected as a charitable contribution, allegedly to buy cocaine. The Forest Service and the State Patrol had had enough, and the Flying Ravinos were forever grounded.

The Ravinos began innocently enough, the brainchild of a group of high school friends from Oshkosh, Wisc. who grew up getting as much air as you conceivably could at nearby Rib Mountain in Wausau. Inspired by the Rolling Stones use of Hells Angels for security at the notorious Altamont concert, Ravinos founding father Jeff Van Tassel came up with the gang's colors: a flaming skull suspended over a Rib Mountain ravine. Later they would hang out at a nearby bar called the Ravine.

When the group's core graduated highs school and moved en masse to Vail in the early '70s to be ski bums, they found a new ravine – a cliff band just off First Step run in the woods near Chair 11 – and began holding Expression Sessions, where flips and twists (unheard of in the fledgling days of freestyle) became the norm.

The Ravinos started bringing sound systems and other contraband up the lift, drawing bigger and more boisterous crowds, and then sometime in the late '70s (everyone interviewed was fuzzy on exactly when), a midnight-to-noon mass induction party at the Crossroads movie theater (hosted by Ravino member and theater manager Bobby “Chi Bear” Garcia) brought in more than a hundred new devotees.
The Ravinos spirit still burns on in the Vail Valley, in small pockets like the Minturn Militia, but it's mostly underground.
By Dan Davis
That's when things really started to take off, says Van Tassel, who now lives in Newport Beach, Calif., and still works in ski and snowboard manufacturing. Vail's marketing department eventually called the Ravinos in to ask them why their grassroots events were so much more popular than the resort's heavily hyped pro races, he recalls.

“We kind of kept a check on the radically invested family atmosphere that Vail Associates was trying to portray in its marketing at the time,” Van Tassel says, laughing. “It was pretty sterile, even back then.”

Ravinos member John “The Wizard” Faas, who owns the Alpine Apartments where several gang members rented a place and set up unofficial headquarters, says Vail is a different place now: “It's all high style and fur coats and all this bullshit. Everybody's looking at it from a money angle and not so much the fun angle and the adventure of life.”

A few seasons ago, when Vail Resorts and the Forest Service put the clamps on BB&B, a drunken end-of-the-season orgy of excess in the woods near Minnie's Mile, many said it was the death knell of Ravinos-style raucousness at the nation's most popular winter playground.

But longtime locals say that spirit will always live on, just in different forms.

“The Ravinos party was more of just a lunatic fringe,” says former U.S. Ski Team member Mike Brown, whose late brother Todd threw one of the most legendary St. Paddy's Day jumps in Ravinos lore – a 285-foot 1080 on a pair of Mike's 223 downhill skis.

“It was a segment that has been represented throughout the history of Vail, and in some shape or form it's the artistic, diligent working class blowing off steam,” says Brown. “That group gets represented every year, whether it's a BB&B or the Ravinos or some other niche that gets together and celebrates another season of living here.”

The torch may have been passed to the Minturn Militia, an underground coalition of thrill-seekers named for a nearby century-old railroad town where locals pay exorbitant rents to hole up in decrepit Victorians that sell for half a million bucks.

“It's a matter or making the most out of where we live,” says Denver Post writer Scott Willoughby, the Militia's self-described minister of information. “Vail gets such a rap as a tourist destination, and (the Militia) is a group of guys who have lived in the valley for decades and have found a way to avoid the clown posse and enjoy everything this place has to offer, not just the lift-served skiing on Vail Mountain.”


Jeff Sangster — January 9, 2008

Does the author know how to contact Jeff Van Tassel? I used to work with him at Newport Ski Company and want to see how he is?

Morair — January 17, 2008

Although I wasn't a Ravino I was there from 1976-1989 and took part in several St. Paddy's Day productions on First Steps. The Ravinos were "the Bam" back then! Chi Bear was an icon.

RAVINO ROBOSO — June 27, 2008

This Ravino skied vail in 73-78....and still rides rib mtn... Yeah the Ravinos are the real deal.

Claire — September 17, 2008

I knew Jeff Van Tassel and fellow Ravinos when they worked at the Red Cock Rooster Farm in the late 70's or early 80's. I used to hang out at the "ravine" where they gathered to have "lunch" on the mountain during the ski season. I made a jean jacket from the silk screen Jeff gave me, and I will always treasure it. They were a great bunch of guys and my fond memories of living in Vail will always include The Ravinos!

Larry Mathews — September 23, 2008

In the winter of 1976, I moved from Richmond, VA to Vail. I got a job as a “su”waiter at the Red Cock Roster Farm and met a real tight group of friends from Oshkosh WI. My introduction to the Ravinos was a 5:00 am road trip to Steamboat Springs. I'll never forget arriving, and my new friends putting on their colors, butting in line and putting on the most incredible skiing/jumping exhibition I'd ever seen. My room mates at the Alpine Apts. were Tim McDougal and Bob (night manager at the Holiday Inn); both Ravinos, and from Oshkosh. I can't remember most last names after 32 years, but other Ravinos at the Red Cock Rooster Farm were: Mike, T.J., Matt, and of course Jeff Van Tassel. The cook was “Blu”, possibly of Blu's Restaurant, which is now only a block away. On Mondays, when the restaurant was closed, we would all go up chair 11 to the rock cliffs and “picnic”. I'm very lucky to have been so fortunate to have met, worked, lived and skied with such a great bunch of guys. Maybe I'll get back there in the future and run into some of them. Larry Mathews

Melinda Daunis — November 14, 2008

I was the first (and possibily only) female that earned my own set of Ravino Colors back in 1977. Not for "inverting" but for being crazy enough to streak on skis Vail Mt. with some of the boys, anually. Matter fact I streaked Bever Creek First. My love and well wishes to all Ravinos!

jake jacobsen — January 28, 2009

Ravinos wail forever...so does Betty Bitchin'

Rob West "Ob Air" — February 23, 2009

I too would love to re-connect with JVT...I worked with him at the legendary Pats' Ski & Sport Shop and was inducted into the West Coast Chapter of the Ravinos by Jeff back in 1979. Someone please let me know where he landed..if he has yet! ...More Air!

doogler — September 19, 2009

It's good to see memories from all of you.We're trying to get J.V.T. online,so keep posting. Remember the Ravinos are nurtured by those who----.

Dave "Otis" Wise — November 3, 2009

The Ravino's St Paddy day parties were always the ones we looked forward to each year. Getting upside down with those guys was a highlight of my 10 years in town. The good ole days. Keep flying my friends.

Mikey — November 11, 2009

For every one out there looking for JVT. He is still out there. He is currently working at Phill's ski shop in Costa Mesa Ca. Still a great guy with a ton on history in the ski world. Keep on hucken.

Jennifer Myers — December 2, 2009

To Melinda Daunis, you are mistaken. You were not the first nor the only female Ravino. My sister Marty Myers and I were the first two Ravino Mama's in the gang and unlike you we didn't have to streak to join the gang, instead we were actually great skiers like the other orginal members. Also we had some screws lose, which was needed to ski the terrain we did. We lived there from '73-77 and still tear the mountains to this day. In fact, Jeff Van Tassel was my roommate for a couple years and share many wild memories. Vail is a and will always be a fabulous mountain.

Rick Clark — December 11, 2009

Yeah it was Billy Murdock that did the double flip holding hands with I believe Mcdougal. Stecky had a broken leg, while he and I skiid down Lookma(spelling??)I boke my arm badly and had to leave. Billy, is in Las Vegas,we had a St Pattys Day South West chapter initiation of about 20 Great times were had by all....

Champagne Charlie — May 10, 2010

Thanks to the Rossi M incident, I read about in the DenverPost...MY EYES GOT Big as SaucePans! The Ravinos have a Website? I contacted ACE & was one of Only 2 in the Old Colors, Wiz was the other one....While Walkin UP to the GP Terrain Park..($90 for one Chair 6 Ride...No way)
..I was resting, & Tim McD..stopoed by. I gave him one of my only Remaining Steal this Menu" Menus fron Rockies Cafe! Then, after Watchin' the New Genertion Twist, Flip, for hours, The most Mind-Blowing thing Happened...I was gonna Slide down on my Leather Jacket, making it a SNOWSaucer ride...But ACE just said..."Hop on... Well, He carried littl' OLD me down like, a Livin' Breathin' Ravino BackPatch?!? There is Video of this Ride down by other New member...and I'm Guessin' ACE will post it on the RSite sometime. I told ACE thatRide down will be Forever be in the TOP 10 Runs of my 49 years of Sking. Since I was wellknown for my Artwork, I've promised ACE through E-mail to Help Promote next Years St PaTRICK'd DAY Aerial Circus. Think about it..This will be the 40th Anniversary PARTY.. Come on Back. Maybe we can Take over the Crossroads Cinema agian...If it's Still There?

comments: 1 Comment on "Ravinos rock on in Vail Valley lore"

Magic – Nov. 16, 2010, at 11:50 p.m.

This is so awesome to see the Ravinos again. I was inducted the same night Rob West was into the West Coast Chapter in 79 while working at Pat's Ski and Sport Shop in Redondo Beach. I remember having to "drain Duane's head" . Good times. JVT was the man along with Dennis Austin. Go die!

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