“In 1974, Mike Marvin (yes the same Mike Marvin of Hot Dog The Movie fame) had been documenting the current freestyle scene,” recalls Whitewolf Resort owner Troy Caldwell. “He had this curious idea of filming guys doing backscratchers, spread eagles and other stuff engulfed in fire. He was looking for guys on the freestyle circuit so he recruited Rocket, Dave Burnham and myself. We were all mogul worshippers, but also basically young, edgy and insane. We thought it kind of cool.”
In late May, Marvin received permission from Alpine Meadows to build kickers and do the stunts, which would be filmed at night just below High Yellow trail.
“Mike put us in these Asbestos suits he’d found in Hollywood,” recalls Ralph “Rocket” Bertoli, a Squaw Valley pass holder since 1967. “They wrapped scraps of cloth around us soaked in kerosene. They’d light us and we’d take off. It wasn’t exactly rocket science. We wore hoods but nothing across our face because it was hard to breathe. I remember a gust of wind came up and scorched my eyebrows, but I stuck my landing anyway.”
In all, the flaming skiers made 22 jumps over the course of the moonless evening.
“We first practiced the stunt the season before near the Five Lakes Trail between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows with my friend Glen Wurtele. It was just one jump but it made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle,” recalls Marvin who besides writing and directing Hot Dog is also Executive Producer for Hollywood’s A-Mark Entertainment. “I’ve been on less safe stunts in Hollywood. However, what we did at Alpine was the real thing, and real dangerous. It was, in its own way, an original. When we did it at Alpine Meadows all our friends came out to help. It was one of the biggest crews I’ve eve dealt with”.
“I never got burned by the flames, but I did receive chemical burns from the kerosene,” explains Troy. “You had your best friends out there with fire extinguishers. After landing they’d push our faces in the snow and spray us down.”
The jumps became the culminating scenes for the 90-minute movie. Marvin toured the country with the film and promoted it enough for a national airline to buy it and show it in-flight.
“That’s Incredible” TV series came and had us do it for TV” says Troy who also filmed stunts for Warren Miller and Dick Barrymore. “They had supposed real pyrotech guys. This time they wrapped us in duct tape and coated us in rubber glue and set us on fire.”
A photo of Rocket doing a flaming spread eagle remains on the entry wall of the River Ranch bar in Alpine Meadows.
“Every once in awhile I’ll be walking by a couple of people looking at the photo,” admits Rocket, still an every day skier and Tahoe City realtor. “I’ll overhear them say ‘That’s insane.’”