By Nate Opp
Every once in a while, our fearless
leader and ski patrol director opens
up a tab at one of the local bars, and
we have a few rounds on the boss.
So, when Phil Capy turned 80 a few
years ago, we couldn’t not have a
party. After a few beers and a couple
toasts, it was time for a speech.
“Well sometimes I just can’t believe
I’m still alive after all the dangerous
things I’ve done,” said Phil, never
one to be at a loss for words. Background
noise drowned out the rest
of the speech.
Nine years ago, Phil and I went on a
ski patrol exchange to Winter Park,
Colorado. As we went south on 191,
his mostly homemade Volkswagen
station wagon rattled along the road.
“Phil, have you ever thought you
were going to die?” I asked.
“Both times I went down in an airplane
in Korea, I knew it was over,”
he said. “Same with my motorcycle
Luckily, it would take more than
that to stop the ‘Original Hippie,’
a nickname Phil earned in Oregon,
where they invented hippies.
Mike Russell’s 40th birthday party
in 2002 was memorable as well. We
built two pallet fires side by side,
and someone jumped one of the fires
on a snowmobile and crashed into
Ben Stevens. To prove he was OK,
young Ben ran and jumped back over
the same fire.
“That looks like a real good idea,”
said Phil. I was standing next to
him, and I told him I wasn’t so sure.
These were pretty big fires.
Phil handed his beer to Katie Feris
and said, “When you get to be my
age you got nothing to lose.” He
took a running start into the flames,
landed on a pallet in the middle of
the fire, and executed a triple jump
out the other side, completely unscathed.
Phil was born in Texas and is a veteran
of World War II and the Korean
War. He started working as a Big Sky
ski patrolman in 1994. Previously,
he’d spent almost 20 years patrolling
at Mount Bachelor in Oregon, a few
years at Jay Peak in Vermont, and did
a brief stint in Hollywood, where
he worked on the set for Gunsmoke.
Before this, he had a career in military
diving, rescuing and spying on
Russians before the creation of the
Special Forces. In 1957, Phil crewed
on a military icebreaker that went
further north than anyone had ever
gone—they came within 400 miles
of the North Pole.
Phil’s meticulous attention to safety
is almost extreme. He won’t drive
with skis in the back of his car, because
he once ran an ambulance call
where the driver was impaled by skis
from the back seat. After the plane
crashes, Phil realized the airplanes
were going down because of mechanical
failures more often than because
of being shot at—that’s when
he begin learning about mechanics.
Today, Phil stretches and practices
yoga daily and is a strict vegetarian.
After knowing and working with
Phil for over a decade I’ve learned to
try to be ready for anything, not to
be too afraid, and that many things
in life are more dependent on luck
than anything else.
In the fall of 2009, when Phil took
a job as patrol director at Spanish
Peaks, I thought he was done with
his chapter on Big Sky patrol. But
now he’s back as a full time patrolman,
skiing around sticking bamboo
in the snow and keeping everyone
else up to date on the constant
and most recent changes from the
American Heart Association on how
to do CPR. We were all glad to see
him with a brand new Subaru for the
start of 2010/2011. I hope he can
keep this one running as long as the
Nate Opp started with Big Sky ski
patrol in 1999 and became unofficial
biographer for Phil after they went on
exchange to Winter Park in 2002.