This site, MyAlptitude.com, represents a bit of an extended thank you letter to my father. He passed away many years ago, but I still think of him constantly, especially when I hit the slopes here in Switzerland where I’ve lived the last six years.
William J. Blackshaw — or just “Bill” to friends, family, a colleagues — absolutely loved skiing. Every slope. Every turn. Every place. And perhaps a few too many of the mountaintop sweets. He instilled in most of his children (seven of us in total, one deceased) a love and fascination for the sport and related mountain adventure that persists to this day.
The funny thing is…my father stumbled into skiing. He wasn’t borne into luxury or privilege, and he certainly didn’t come from a family with the means to take ski trips. The story actually begins with World War II, where my dad served in a combat-free capacity in Africa and India as part of the Air Corps (now the Air Force). He was among millions of recipients of the GI bill, which in turned opened the door to his attending St-John’s University in New York and many other opportunities.
While he ultimately settled into the advertising industry, he flirted with a career in professional photography. In his capacity as amateur photographer, he took several trips to Europe in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. There he discovered the great Alps and many of the legendary ski towns and areas that captured my fascination as young child. Endless snow fodder for greater storytelling. And beyond perfect in black-and-white.
If there was a single icon that captured my imagination as a child, it was the Matterhorn. In my father’s large darkroom, which adjoined the room I shared with my brother John, he housed a small library of black and white photos and negatives of this majestic peak. His pics were priceless. In our private darkroom lessons and tutorials, he taught us to “see” things in composition, light, subject, and to keep iterating the process until we found the “magic” of what people care about. Long before Instagram, he mastered the analog art of “filters” to add texture, sharpness, and extra exposure to black and white photos. Long before Pinterest, he kept piles of magazine photo clips to use as inspirational (even “aspirational”) reference points. Long before Facebook, he used the darkroom feed to power “urban storytelling” (as my sister Anne’s put it) about our family.
But back to the Matterhorn. Compounding my fascination with this peak was an almost fanatical obsession with Disneyland as a kid. I pretty much had the entire park — only about an hour from my home down Interstate 5 — memorized. I knew every detail, turn, and side attraction of the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride.
Curiously, long before the the rise of the internet or social media, I was totally hooked on the 1970s version of Oculus Rift: the infamous View-Master. This captivating device allowed me to step into entirely new worlds with 3D like imagery. Thanks to my mom’s generosity (or deft deployment of pacification techniques…you choose) I had hundreds of these reels focused on National Parks, Wildlife, and of course, Disneyland (including The Matterhorn).
Net, you had a perfect storm of the real (Dad’s dark room photos), the not-so-real yet captivating mountain down the road, and a trusty View-Master to bring it all to back to life (on demand). All powered a still-continuing fascination with that very-real hill down the road of my present domicile.
Interestingly, only a month or two before my father died, he gave me a beautiful black and white framed print of the Matterhorn. The photo was time stamped 1960, and it prominently sits right above my desk. You can see it in the photo above. Just perfect!
The (welcome) irony here is that mid-way through my professional career I found myself right smack in the middle of the Alps. The bummer is that my padre never lived long enough to know this. Still, I figured I’d memorialize these experience — which initially started as a series of “branded” kid ski videos — in this MyAlptitude.com blog. Thanks, Dad!