Robert Redford, The Snowmobiler: A Snow Goer Flashback

Robert Redford is many things to many people. Older readers will remember him as the Sundance Kid, partner of Butch Cassidy, or as Bob Woodward in All The President’s Men. Folks in their 40s may think of him as Roy Hobbs in The Natural or opposite Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal. And we could all go see him in theaters now, if we were willing to sit through Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 

Actor. Director. Sex symbol. Activist. Philanthropist. He wears many titles. But did you know that Robert Redford is also a longtime snowmobile owner? It’s true. Way back in 1971, Redford hosted Snow Goer magazine at his home in the mountains of Utah. Below is the full story pulled from the March 1971 copy of the magazine.

 

Robert Redford on Snow Goer magazine

 

That Snowmobiling Sundance Kid

From the March 1971 issue of Snow Goer magazine

By Gene Schnaser

“Dammit!” The word shoots out of the Sundance Kid’s mouth like a silver bullet as he and outlaw partner Butch Cassidy watch the posse pound across the desolate West, dead on their trail, after the duo had robbed the E.H. Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad one time too many.

“Dammit!” Dirt-track cycle racer Big Halsey spit into the dust as bespectacled Little Fauss and his bespectacled Ma and Pa, refusing to help “that no-account” start his pickup after a race, push their rental toilets into a trailer and roar off through the sage brush.

“Dammit!” the voice of movie actor Robert Redford, alias Sundance Kid and Big Halsey among others, cut through the whine of a Rotax when his T’NT bogs down in deep powder near his home 8,000 feet up Utah’s Provo Canyon as he heads out for an appointment he is already late for.

Not that Robert Redford swears a lot. Only when he does, that’s what he says, and he says it like it comes out before he can get his mouth shut. But you’d expect an occasional swear word if you’ve seen the film that really started critics thinking that Redford had “made it” as a major star.

That, in case you don’t go to the movies, was Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, where Redford teamed up with Paul Newman and Katherine Ross to show that outlaws of the old West were also human. You’d expect it more if you’ve seen the just-released movie, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, where Redford, playing an amoral drifter, picks up Michael J. Pollard as a sidekick to tune his bike for a circuit of small-time races.

Robert Redford
Robert Redford in Snow Goer magazine in 1971.

In both films, Redford is somewhat of a good-natured, thieving womanizer. Most of his film roles follow the same pattern, that of an anti-hero – cool, radically individualistic and rebellious. It’s the “under 30” set that really digs him; they feel Redford must be speaking for them.

But besides possibly being the Marlon Brando of the ’70s, Redford, in real life, is faithful (married to the same Mormon girl from Provo, Utah, for 12 years), a family man (father of Jamie, 9, and daughters Shauna, 11, and Amy, 3 months), a businessman (his own movie company called Wildwood Productions; partner in a ski-resort complex called Sundance), a skier (leading actor in self-conceived and produced Downhill Racer) and certainly not least, a snowmobiler.

Redford, his wife Lola and family, manage to spend at least three months out of the year at the three-story A-frame house he built himself in 1961, about a mile up the mountain from his Sundance ski resort. The rest of the year the Redfords (including a Siamese cat named Heber, an Abyssinian cat named Farouk, and a mongrel dog named Casey) usually can be found at their apartment in Manhattan.

“Without snowmobiles, we would be able to live up here,” Redford looks you straight in the eye. He had his first snowmobile in 1965, an Evinrude, and had had snowmobiles around ever since, including a Polaris and Yamaha, and for the past two years, Ski-Doo. In front of Redford’s house you’ll find both a 640 T’NT and a 399 Nordic. Ask him why Ski-Doo and he’ll tell you flat out that he thinks it’s one of the best machines on the market.

Robert Redford
The Redford family, in the Utah powder aboard Ski-Doos in 1971.

When Snow Goer was at Sundance a couple of days before Christmas, the Redfords faced typically holiday confusion with a myriad of activity: the A-frame house has a lived-in look, while large, dry snowflakes outside fall on new powder already a foot deep. Flamenco guitar plays on the stereo, above the occasional protest by baby Amy. Redford descends the staircase which is draped at the bottom by an Indian saddle blanket, and talks of hockey in Minnesota. The kids pull on their snowmobile suits, next to cases of cat food in the kitchen, while Lola wraps Christmas presents to be taken down to Sundance.

Low clouds block the view of the Utah mountains, with only another A-frame (the guest house) in sight. Jamie says he’s hungry and runs to take inventory of the refrigerator. Shauna wonders if “her and Jamie can go down to Grandma’s house” in Provo. Redford looks for his cowboy boots to wear later in the day for a business meeting.

Redford, who is definitely committed to skiing as a sport, thinks of snowmobiles mainly as a way to get between his house and civilization. But he does occasionally head up the canyon beyond his house to an 80-acre mountain meadow where, he says, “you can let them have their head.” Lola, Jamie and Shauna like snowmobiling, but this year the kids have been able to do less snowmobiling because skiing at Sundance has been excellent and they have spent most of the time skiing by themselves and with their folks.

Redford, as a film star, has been rising for the past 12 years. After a stint at the University of Colorado, studying painting in Europe and acting in New York, Redford has had roles in five TV plays, five
Broadway plays and 10 movies.

Robert Redford snowmobile powderRedford made his first film in 1961, co-starring with John Saxon in Warhunt, a psychological war drama. The same year he returned to Broadway for his first starring role in Sunday in New York. His second starring role found him in New York’s biggest comedy hit, Barefoot in the Park, receiving rave reviews and offers from all sides.

Following a four-year period of film making in which he starred with actors such as Marlon Brando, Natalie Wood, Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer, Redford recreated his role in Barefoot in the Park on screen opposite Jane Fonda. The film was one of the biggest box office grosser of 1967.

Downhill Racer, Redford’s own film story about a guy from Idaho Falls, Colorado, on the U.S. Olympic team, was also his toughest. He ended up working on the production of the film himself, editing it at night while making Little Fauss during the day. But, it turned out, Downhill helped pave the way to a solid future in the movie industry. Right now, Redford is sitting tall in the saddle, definitely able to call his own shots with the Hollywood moguls.

Before Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Redford played a sheriff named Cooper in the film Tell Them Willy Boy Is Here. The next movie you’ll see him in is being filmed right now in the Wasatch Mountains surrounding Sundance. He’ll tell you it’s about a “mountain man and his fight for survival in the 1850s” and although it’s still untitled, you might hear of it as “The Adventures of Liver Eatin’ Johnson.”

It’s his presence on the screen that’s acclaimed by critics. Even if Redford wasn’t an actor, he’s the type of guy you’d spot in a crowd and remember. At Sundance, he knows all the employees by name and a typical scene is Redford jumping out of a station wagon and making the rounds in the area, including the lifts, lodge and ski school, to make sure everything is operating smoothly. When he ambles into the Sundance chalet, teenagers start running for pencils and paper for autographs.

Redford, as movie directors will tell you, is deeply concerned about the physical end of his movie roles. Some say he loves to jest or goad acquaintances into adventures they’d never think of doing – possibly to test their cool – resulting in a series of casualties from rearing horses, wiped out cycles, race cars with stuck accelerators, ad infinitum. Redford has dared himself into his own share of misadventures. Like the time he came whipping down a canyon on a snowmobile, caught a ski on the edge and found himself heading down what flatlanders would call a 60-foot cliff.

Redford typically challenged himself to ride it out. “After I was over the edge, I held her for awhile through the trees,” he says. “As I got close to the bottom, I saw what looked like a big bank of powder snow. When I landed, I knew I was wrong.”

The pile of powder turned out to be a mound of frozen, snow-covered gravel. Redford gashed his knee on the carb ram tube, which while serious in itself, was even more serious since two weeks later he was on skis in Europe filming scenes for Downhill Racer. But he rode it out. And the cool was still there.

Lola, who often travels with Redford to shooting locations, will be at home during the shooting of the “mountain man” film. She met Redford in Los Angeles just after graduating from high school. They were living in the same apartment building. After the success of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, life for the Redford family has become a search for privacy. Lola says they can be sitting at the breakfast table at the house in Utah, 45 minutes from nowhere, and people will come right up the stairs and stare in through the windows without batting an eye.

Lola guards the children’s privacy and is especially wary of having their photos included in articles lest they become too well-known to the public. Back in Manhattan, Shauna and Jamie attend a private school with other children of well-known parents, mainly, Lola says, so they don’t stand out as being anyone special. But kids know their Pa must be special, and they are a little bashful of even going down to the chalet at Sundance because of the attention they get.

What it’s like for Lola to see her husband’s movies on the screen? Actually, she says, by the time of the premieres, Robert is already working on something else and their minds are far into the future. Of his films, she says that while Downhill Racer was the toughest on him, the one she liked best was Butch Cassidy mainly because of the people she met during the filming.
Both Lola and Robert Redford are sensitive to ecology issues and, back in New York, were active in forming a new citizens group called Consumer Action Now. Redford is involve in Utah’s “Save The Provo River” project and volunteered spot radio and TV announcements to assist the cause. In fact, Redford’s main concern and biggest hurdle in setting up the facilities at Sundance was in working recreation into the area while still preserving the existing ecology. (Rather than remove a tree when adding a dining room on the chalet, they built around it.)

No matter how many other commitments Redford has, he is vastly concerned with details, especially in the operation of Sundance. At the Sundance office, temporarily located in a trailer behind the Sundance chalet, you’ll find Redford’s secretary and Ed Jones, head honcho of Sundance affairs.

Jones says Redford has a deep concern for tiny details others in the same position would delegate. For example, awhile back they got around to naming the ski runs at Sundance. Redford, being interested in the Indian situation, suggested naming the runs after different tribes. So someone came up with the names of Tomahawk and Pow Wow. After some deliberation, they were changed to Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. Then Redford got to thinking about it, and suggested they be changed the Mandan and Navajo.

Robert Redford at Sundance
Robert Redford at Sundance.

Today the lifts are named Mandan and Navajo, but it’s an indication of Redford’s concern for details which reflect his taste and his identity with Sundance.

But perfection takes time, and time has always been a commodity which Redford views as a sort of infringement on his individuality. In Hollywood, Redford is notorious for keeping a full movie crew pacing the set waiting his arrival. This past spring, Redford kept the governor of Utah waiting two hours to give him an award designating him the official representative of Utah to the movie industry. “But,” says Ed Jones, “he makes all of the 8 a.m. staff meetings here at Sundance. Over committing himself may have something to do with it. I think he figures the more he can pack into a day, the closer he comes to conquering that day in his own mind.”

What’s Redford like to work with? Jones says Redford actually is extremely concerned with other people’s feelings, although he doesn’t mind being put on the spot himself. He works like hell and faces problems head on. “The only time I’ve seen him cutting is when he’s stripping a façade off of someone,” he says. “I think he likes to keep his mental state wiped clean as an individual. If he likes someone, he likes him; if not, he prefers to make that clear so he doesn’t have to pussyfoot around.”

The goal of Redford and his partners at Sundance is to make the area a year-round recreation center. Last year, a summer theater and riding stable were added successfully. Redford had tried a snowmobile rental operation a couple of years ago, but it fell through “because the company involved dropped the ball.” Another problem was that renters were riding across private property and the fact that the noise annoyed Sundance skiers.

Redford is adamant about keeping snowmobiles and skiing separate area-wise. A sign at the entrance to the lot at Sundance comes right to the point: “No snowmobiles or trailers allowed at any time in this area.” But Redford is ready for another go at renting snowmobiles, he says, if he can be totally sure the company with the machines won’t let him down.

Lola says it’s her hunt Robert uses moves to do things he wants to do, such as riding cycles in the movie Little Fauss and Big Halsey. According to some, Redford of late has been trying to get a movie going about small town rodeo riders – a fringe sport where “free” men compete for little more than pure reward of winning. With an interest in bike racing and rodeo riding as film subjects, does this mean Redford may be considering getting a movie going about snowmobile racing?

“Not for a few years,” says Redford, “but I can see a lot of documentaries produced on snowmobiles before then.” Snowmobiles, “lot of ‘em” will be used by the crew during filing of his next “mountain man” movie. Since the story takes place in the late 1800s, you won’t see a sled on the screen. But Redford says they’ll be making a short “behind-the-scenes” documentary for television on how the movie was made.

You don’t have to look far today to find someone who’ll say Robert Redford is an actor who’s going places. One thing we know for sure is that at least some of the places he’ll be going will be by snowmobile.

One thought on “Robert Redford, The Snowmobiler: A Snow Goer Flashback

  • Do you still have a copy of this edition ? If you do, i really want it. Thanks !

    Reply

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