Forty years ago this month, I was a stunt double in the making of what would become a ski cult classic

The story might as well start at midnight, at the Truckee, California, Greyhound station, in the winter of 1982-83. It's a blinding snowstorm, and there's Lynne Wieland, 19, fresh off the bus from Killington, Vermont, standing all alone.

"I was a competitive freestyle skier growing up in Vermont in the late '70s," Lynne recalls now. "I moved to Squaw Valley to chase my ski dream. My dad bought me a one-way ticket to San Francisco, and from there I took a Greyhound bus up to where Robbie was going to meet me."

That would be Robbie Huntoon, a longtime Wieland family friend who happened to be the ski coach she wanted to train under so badly she would move all the way from the East Coast.

"The bus dropped me off at midnight during a blinding snowstorm. I got off with my skis and clothing bag, and there's no Robbie," she says. "We had no cellphones back then, and this young 19-year-old is getting nervous. A half-hour goes by, and I'm really starting to worry. Finally in the distance I saw headlights approaching through the snowstorm. It was Robbie in his Volkswagen."

A couple months later, Lynne Wieland would be cast with a speaking part in a movie — even better, as a character known as "Banana Pants." Such was the serendipity of the crazy days of February through May 1983, when Hollywood dropped in.

FROM TOP RAMEN TO TOP BILLING

Just like Lynne, my high school skiing buddy Dan Herby and I had moved from Coeur d'Alene to Tahoe the year prior in hopes of becoming better at the growing sport of freestyle skiing. The Valley had this bad-ass reputation, and it also had a freestyle ski team with some of the best coaches in the nation. Our dream was to make the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.

The team was being directed by Kevin Wightman, who had a few other coaches under his direction. One of them was Robbie Huntoon. Both had some impressive credentials from their competition days.

It didn't take long for Lynne to get ingrained into our group of mogul skiing friends, skiing daily and striking up a tight relationship we have to this day.

It was mid-February 1983 — exactly 40 years ago — when our coach Kevin told us that he was contacted by a film production crew that was going to be filming a movie at the resort revolving around freestyle skiing. They were looking for some freestyle skiers to be stunt doubles and possibly to act. They were calling it Hot Dog.

click to enlarge Forty years ago this month, I was a stunt double in the making of what would become a ski cult classic
Marc Vance: From dishwasher to hot dogger.

"For a couple of starving freestyle competitors who were short on cash and living off Top Ramen, this sounded really good," Dan recalls.

A bunch of us met up at some trailers that were recently placed by the old Olympic skating arena for what they call in the movie industry a cattle call. Kevin introduced us to Bill Dance, the casting director, and Max Kleven, the stunt coordinator. Our tight-knit crew fared pretty well.

Coach Robbie Huntoon was cast as the lead's main skiing stunt double. In the movie, Harkin Banks (played by Patrick Houser) was a young Idaho farm boy from Bonners Ferry (really!) who was also an ace at skiing. Just like Lynne Wieland in real life, he was coming to Tahoe to find fame and fortune as a freestyle skier.

Dan Herby was cast to do the skiing for Squirrel Murphy (played by Frank Koppala) during the ballet segment, and as filming went on he did some doubling as Harkin Banks as well. I was selected to be the main skiing stunt double for wisecracker Dan O'Callahan (played by David Naughton from American Werewolf in London and those early '80s Dr. Pepper ads... "I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper..."). A few of our friends ended up getting actual acting jobs: George Theobald was cast as the punk rock skier Slasher, along with Lynne Wieland as Michelle, one of the Rat Pack.

Lynne's role changed before they even started filming, she recalls.

"Robbie encouraged the powers that be to first watch me ski before things really got started," she says. "So I ended up with the part as Michelle, aka Banana Pants. The name Banana Pants was never in the script. The first time it was mentioned is the scene in the Tram building, where we all walked up. I happened to be wearing yellow pants, and David Naughton ad-libbed, 'This is Banana Pants.'"

click to enlarge Forty years ago this month, I was a stunt double in the making of what would become a ski cult classic
Hot Dog…The Movie

SKI BUMS CAN ACT, TOO

Other locals got some great acting jobs as well, like Marc Vance who had just barely moved to the area (more on him in a minute), and longtime Squaw Valley icon Debbie Dutton (they still call her "Hot Dog Debbie").

"Max Klevens, the stunt coordinator, was a longtime family friend," Debbie recalls. "Max thought I would be a good ski double for Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, who was the lead. And I could also be one of the Rudettes on the German team."

Debbie was busy throughout the entire project, in front of the camera constantly. In one of her favorite scenes, the broomball game between the Rat Pack and the Rudettes, "I ended up punching David Naughton, who turns out to be my future ex-husband after the filming."

Now back to Marc Vance, whose story is one of the classic ski bum tales of all time.

"I never heard about auditions per se," Marc recalls now. "I got off a crab boat in Alaska and was flat broke — it was a bad season. I walked into a [Tahoe area] restaurant asking for a job. Their first reaction to the question was 'NO.' Then a guy yells out, 'Will he do dishes?'

"So the next morning (day one), I was the dishwasher. Day two I was dishwashing, but the eggs were cooking and starting to overcook, so I flipped the eggs for the cook... who immediately yelled, 'Who the f— flipped my eggs!' Day three I was the breakfast cook. 

"Every afternoon, I was skiing and flashing lines down the resort having fun. I was also mimicking the ski school director Hans Standteiner and another instructor, Hubie, with their Austrian accents every day in the cafeteria. 

"So on day four at breakfast, Hans asks me if I could teach skiing and help out in the afternoon as a ski instructor. Sure I can. (Day five.) So I gave lessons in an Austrian accent to play with people's mind while teaching skiing. Day six: Casting director for Hot Dog came to talk to Hans and Hubie about the movie and playing Heinz, but he realized they were too old for the part. So he asked them, 'Do you know any other Austrians in the area?' They pointed at me and told him I taught skiing with an accent. Bam, I was reading for the part, and with a quick ski audition on the hill, I got it. 

"I went from broke to a dishwasher to the movie Hot Dog in one week."

HONDOS AND HANGOVERS

When Hot Dog came along, it was a huge economic boost for the community. The dozens of extras being used daily were getting paid $100 cash at the end of each day; production crews and stunt doubles got paid every Friday.

"This was the '80s in their prime," remembers stunt double Bob Vogel, "and the amount of debauchery that went on was crazy — actors and extras coming into makeup at 6 am, straight from partying all night was something else."

The movie had a few legendary party scenes, like the wet T-shirt contest and the party at the mansion on the lake. Those were always shot from sundown to sunup, and you'd hear about all the craziness on the set over the next few days from the actors and extras.

On the hill, filming was usually an all-day event, with lots of standing around waiting for your scene. There were definitely a few days that really stick out in my mind.

Most memorable was watching Robbie Huntoon blast through the second story plate-glass window with skis in the Chinese Downhill scene that closes the movie, and the ski through all the picnic tables was pretty spectacular. Robbie told me that the woman who was opening the door so he could ski through it at 30 mph barely got it open in time. He thought he was going to ski straight into a wall.

Being in the Chinese Downhill scene had numerous sketchy, adrenaline-filled scary times. My buddy Bob Vogel was standing a few people away from me at the start of that scene. Vogel, who goes by the initials BV, did the aerial stunt work as O'Callhan and he also skied the mogul scene as Kendo, the Japanese skier.

"Like everybody," BV recalls, "I wanted in on that so bad! It was super fun and more than a bit scary. I recall all of us being lined up on the cornice being well aware that the landing was really firm, so instead of soft powder that would slow us down, the firm snow would be like hitting the afterburner.

"Looking down the hill, it also became clear that there was only enough room at the bottom of the bowl for less than half of the skiers standing on the cornice, meaning you had four options: be out in front; hit the brakes; bump the guy next to you out of place; or take your chances going through the trees at 60.

"This hit home with more than a few of the skiers at the start. One of them yelled they wanted more money. Max Klevens, the stunt coordinator, yelled back, 'I'm in my mid-50s, and I have no problem doing this myself, if you don't like it, you're free to leave.' Nobody backed off. When the start gun went off, it was exciting and crazy being in the air with around 80 other people. The acceleration when we hit was off the charts, and trying to make it through the clear section at the bottom of the bowl is still one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life."

Another is when we shot the opening skiing scenes where the Rat Pack is tearing up the mountain while "When You Were Mine" by Mitch Ryder (covering the Prince original) is playing on the soundtrack. We were skiing powder and dropping cliffs. Most of us were severely hung over, as it was shot on May 2, the morning after the wrap party, which was one for the books.

I recall a second unit production assistant going around the party telling each of the stunt doubles that we were shooting the opening freeskiing scenes and aerial jumps in the morning — 6 am call time for makeup. Oh no. Time to try to sober up. Fast.

Thank goodness we weren't the only ones late that morning. The hungover casualties rolling into makeup was a classic scene. With little or no sleep, this day will always be remembered for how brutally tough it was to get going after the party. But once the day was over, the magic that happened made up for it.

While Robbie, Lynne, George and I were out skiing fresh powder for the opening scenes, BV was over at the jump hill, helping shovel out the jump sight.

"We finally got it ready with about 15 minutes of usable light, meaning no time for warm-up jumps," says BV. "Even worse, no stopping if your speed was off because this was shot on film in super-slow motion, meaning every second was burning through hundreds of dollars of film."

Despite the foggy head from the night before and the lack of practice that morning, BV managed to nail one of the best looking jumps in the movie, a perfect double back layout.

click to enlarge Forty years ago this month, I was a stunt double in the making of what would become a ski cult classic
Lynne Wieland (left), Bob Legasa and Debbie Dutton at the 30th Reunion.

WAIT... IT'S A CLASSIC NOW?

Before we knew it, the makeup and production trailers we had spent the past two months in were gone. Just like that, it was over. For most of us, after filming we returned to our normal lives. Herby and I returned to Coeur d'Alene; Marc Vance went back to a boat in Alaska for salmon season.

A year later, when the movie hit the silver screen in 1984, Herby had to make amends with his grandmother

"I thought it would be all about the skiing," Herby recalls, "so I excitedly called my grandmother. She called me after seeing it and was appalled, calling it a 'porno.'"

For sure it is raunchy and inappropriate, in the way '80s comedies excelled at. But even the New York Times gave it a sort-of thumbs up, as "less moronic than it might have been."

I didn't hear much about Hot Dog in the year after it was released. A little more than 10 years went by, and I start seeing it on HBO and hearing skiers still talking about and using some of the iconic lines from the movie all the time. That kind of interaction always puts a smile on my face.

Twenty years go by, and the resort hosts a 20-year reunion party with a surprisingly strong attendance. Chris Ernst, more recognizable as Uncle E the ski commentator for the X-Games and Winter Olympics, was one of the guys responsible for putting on that first reunion. I asked Uncle E how the movie impacted his life: "It made my life what it is! PERIOD, END OF QUOTE!"

Hot Dog helped put the resort now known as Palisades Tahoe on the map. There are hundreds of skiers who moved there chasing a dream because of it.

"I rented it on a sweltering hot day in Louisiana," remembers Matt Reardon, who grew up far from the mountains down in the Bayou. "We wanted to watch something cold with snow and came across this movie and rented it from Blockbuster, watched it on a VCR at my buddy Dean Elston's. It permanently changed my life."

Reardon moved out to Tahoe almost 20 years ago and has made Palisades his home mountain; 10 years ago he organized the 30th Hot Dog Reunion.

Herby, Lynne, myself and a few of our friends made a memorable road trip down for the 30th. The three of us were somewhat oblivious to the monumental impact it had made on the resort and its locals. To be perfectly frank, we were blown away at how this had become such a cult movie.

click to enlarge Forty years ago this month, I was a stunt double in the making of what would become a ski cult classic
Bob Legasa photo
Bob Vogel doing the ski moves for the character Kendo.

At the 30th, some of the actors like John Patrick Reger (who played the villain Rudy), David Naughton, James Saito (who played Kendo), Frank Koppola, Debbie Dutton, Marc Vance (who left fishing and went on to a career in the film business), George Theobald (who still lives in the Tahoe area) and Mike Marvin (who wrote the movie) were all there for this huge party at the Olympic Village Inn.

There were about a thousand people in attendance, most everyone wearing '80s ski gear. When the movie played on the big screen, it was like watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show — everyone knew all the lines, booed when the Ruddettes skied together and cheered beyond belief when Squirrel boarded the gondola.

With just a $2 million budget, Hot Dog was released in January 1984; somehow it opened at No. 2 behind Terms of Endearment and grossed more than $20 million.

With the 40th Reunion scheduled for April 2024, I plan on being there and embracing the moment. I was involved with something special in my ski career. So, to quote Dan O'Callahan, until next April, "You can kiss my ass. Not on this side. Not on that side. But right in ze mittle!" ♦

Bob Legasa has been a Snowlander contributor to the Inlander since 1994. He's also a Hayden-based independent videographer, TV producer and snowsports event promoter with his Freeride Media company.

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