Scot Schmidt blasting off in Greg Stump’s classic film, Blizzard of Aahhh’s.  Photo courtesy of Rod Walker. 

I first became aware of Greg Stump when Salomon North America’s Director of Marketing, Steve Meineke, and Competition Services’ longstanding helmsman, Chris Hanna, screened Time Waits for Snowman in the conference room of Salomon’s Reno offices. I then served as head of product management for North America, with a portfolio that included all product divisions, so I had a deep enough budget that Meineke and Hanna hoped I could scrape up the dough to send these wacky kids some gear.

I was instantly hooked.  Perhaps it was because my own competition background (limited as it was) included a stint as a bump skier, I was a sucker for all the mogul sequences, but that wasn’t what drew me in.  It was the sheer sense of joy and humor – both high on my list of values – that attracted me at first, but what kept me riveted was Stump’s soundtrack.

It’s not that synchronizing skiing and music was itself a novel idea.  Joe Jay Jalbert had matched the rhythm of slalom racing to classical music in a Salomon-sponsored film just a few years earlier.  What I saw that afternoon was something cut from totally different cloth. Stump’s film reflected the anarchic spirit of freestyle skiing at its most rebellious, and the music likewise thumbed its nose at convention. I loved it.

Equipment was promptly dispatched to New Zealand, but we didn’t have the time or resources to include a service tech. None of the athletes had ever skied a Salomon rear-entry boot, which didn’t have a sufficiently supportive rear spine unless modified rather substantially. Scot Schmidt later confided that stars of Stump’s next project could barely buy a turn in the new boots when they first put them on snow.  I can only imagine their fear and wonderment as they contemplated skiing in front of the camera in these new-fangled clodhoppers. 

Somehow, Stump and cast managed to film Maltese Flamingo (and later, the immortal Blizzard of Aahhh’s) on Salomon boots and bindings, while I would step away from my career with the French brand rather than relocate back to my native New England.  I wouldn’t actually meet Stump in the flesh until a U.S. Ski Team fundraiser at the Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach, California, in 1989.

Stump was playing tennis at the time on one of the Meridien’s immaculate courts. As I approached, Stump was beginning his service motion. Legend has it that I hadn’t even introduced myself before inquiring, presumably as a form of greeting, “Who taught you to serve, your mother?” 

Thus began a beautiful relationship.

I can’t leave the scene of my first meeting with Stump without mentioning what happened to me later that afternoon. I was heading for the tennis courts myself when a Salomon lackey informed me that I was badly needed for a promotional event. Apparently, the event organizer needed one more skier for a ski race, right there, at the Meridien. In Newport Beach.  In the parking garage. On heaping piles of ice cubes from a thousand hotel ice machines.

Oddly enough, I demurred. Look, I pointed out, I’m in tennis clothes! No problemo, buck-snort, we have boots and skis for you!  The skis turned out to be about 150cm rentals, and the boots were the SX31, the cheapest, cheesiest boot Salomon ever made, where the only thing holding the foot inside the boot was the power of prayer.

Lest I lose the thread of this tale, I’ll cut to the finals, where I have to race down a parking garage ramp on a slurry of ice cubes in equipment made to discourage the user from becoming a skier.  In tennis shorts. No worries!  I would only be racing Ken Read, winner of Kitzbühel. 

The sole reason the result was close was the course was only about five gates long. Another brush with glory thwarted.  Back to our story.

My relationship with Stump went dormant for a decade, until I parted ways with Head in June of 2001.  One of the projects on the table at the time of my disengagement was a film project that had stalled in development due to the lack of a director (or script, or story line, or much of anything else but some already-in-the-can footage shot by another cinematic auteur).  Stump got the editing gig and I was assigned to conjure up a script, as a way of earning my severance. 

This was how I ended up in Stump’s small apartment on Maui, recording the voice-over in a cramped, humid bathroom made all the more claustrophobic by thick, loosely laid-in layers of waffle-foam that would buckle and fold themselves over me while I recorded. It is in such sweaty crucibles that lasting friendships are forged.

If you want to hear further confessions about the shenanigans Stump and I have shared over the years, I refer you to the four podcasts I’ve recorded with him on Realskiers with Jackson Hogen.  You’ll hear more tales of our working together in Hawaii creating Hotel Bella Coola; a vignette of the time Stump escorted two well-worn ladies of the evening to the eyewear booth where I was laboring at the Las Vegas Snow Show; and the chaos that accompanied our collaboration on Stump’s latest oeuvre, Legend of Aahhh’s.

In the interest of maintaining the attention of those still with me on this journey, allow me to leap ahead to around 2013.  My child bride and I were driving home from a Hogen family reunion in Aspen when we stopped by Stump’s studio, The Clockworks, in Victor, Idaho in time to share July Fourth with Stump and his paramour, Kaycee Sustaita.

Stump and I were idly kicking a soccer ball around in the unmanicured fields that surrounded The Clockworks compound when he swung mightily at one of my volleys and, instead of contacting the ball, cleanly connected with a flange of partially submerged, wrought iron lawn art.    

Medical attention wasn’t in the offing, and whatever damage Stump did to the bones in his midfoot went untreated. In time, the midfoot took charge of its own repair, leaving Stump with a chronic limp that only recently has improved due to the creation of new insoles to support his ravaged feet. 

The mangled tootsies effectively eliminated any hope of skiing for nearly a decade, but with something like his normal gait returning to form, hope is shining just over the horizon.  Driving this return to wellness is Stump’s impending induction into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.  Having nominated him for the honor – as I once told Stump, you can’t normally get in without being nominated first – I feel it’s incumbent on me to help make Stump a skier again in time for the on-snow events during induction week at Sun Valley, Idaho, this March. 

The next step in Stump’s return to skiing is to get him back into ski boots. The blessed event is set to transpire this coming weekend, where I will attempt the feat on the boot bench at Bobo’s in Reno, Nevada. I don’t imagine it will be easy. In fact, it may turn out to be impossible. But I owe to my dear friend to give it the old college try.  I can’t think of a better way to repay him for the inscription he scrawled on my poster for the premiere of Legend of Aahhh’s, that harkened back to the moment we met, 21 years earlier: “Did your mother teach you that serve?”

Postscript: Since Stump’s successful nomination to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, Mike Hattrup, the beloved third amigo of the trio of stars who headlined Blizzard of Aahhh’s, joins Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake and one Gregory Stump in the Hall. – JH