For the 52 years before he entered public life, people probably knew Skip Harvey as “that guy with the smile on his face.”
“Here comes that guy with the smile on his face again,” people would say, and we’d notice they walked with a little more bounce to their steps just for having him pass by.
Matthew Lehman got to know Skip on the night that guy with a smile on his face rode his motorcycle cross-country to a party. “What a cool guy,” Lehman says he remembered thinking.
On Mammoth Mountain, that smilin’ guy was immensely popular as a ski instructor, and why not? His ebullience rubbed off on people. Soon, everyone up there had smiles on their faces after Skip finished a lesson.
One night in September, we ran across Skip at the blues event that Mammoth Brewing produces at Sam’s Woodsite. Skip was holding an open bag of corn chips—the kind anybody can get at the supermarket. But the deli-master from Southern California had a trick. Order up a bag of chips, and you’d also get a ladle-full of chili over the top, right onto the chips and into the bag, along with a decent-sized spoon, too.
“I picked this up in Manhattan Beach,” he said. “Good, isn’t it?”
He scooped out a spoonful of chips and chili and then flashed that big, toothy smile. We couldn’t decide what made us feel better—the chips-and-chili thing or the smile.
From time to time we’d drop into the Base Camp Café for some wholesome sustenance, and when the owner was in—that would be Skip—we could sit around and talk skiing, snow conditions on the hill, what the weather might bring and that kind of thing. It was more than chit-chat but less than what you’d call a serious discussion.
We loved that about Skip.
When he entered public life on the Town Council, he had built a large foundation of friendships and relationships—his own base camp, so to speak.
We couldn’t help but notice that most of the media reports about Skip’s death on Monday morning seemed to be almost totally focused on his work on the council during the last eight years.
We remembered, too, but there was something else.
One day, we were trying to reach Skip for some such or another thing. We rang his mobile number, and after a few rings, he answered. Obviously he was outdoors.
“Skip, where the heck are you?” we asked.
“I am standing on the top of Mammoth Mountain,” he enthused. “It is SUCH a beautiful day up here. Why don’t you come on up?”
We spoke about the issue at hand, but not before Skip got in a last word: “You have no idea how nice it is up here today.”
We could imagine that big ol’ smile creeping over his mug. We could picture him pointing his skis downhill from the gondola station. We could conjure the sight of Skip, disappearing over the lip and then swooshing into Cornice Bowl for some perfectly executed carved turns.
We’re really going to miss moments like those around here.