SnowFest! 2012 | Presenting your grand marshal – longtime Tahoe local Pete Perata
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. – Pete Perata doesn’t want to talk about himself. He can’t understand why he was chosen to be the grand marshal of SnowFest! this year. He doesn’t want to talk about “I” because there is no “I,” he says; it’s always “we.”But sit down with him for lunch at Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet after he’s come in from his morning ski, and the reason he was chosen as the ceremonial figure of this year’s festivities is easy to see.In 1953, at the age of 17, Perata first came to Olympic Valley, where he washed dishes at the Squaw Valley Lodge for two days before being promoted to bellhop.On that third day, he decided he was never going to leave. “Sprinkle my ashes over Squaw Valley and Tahoe City,” he said before taking a bite of his sandwich.Perata lived in a Squaw Valley most can only imagine.It was the days of the mountain men, when the likes of “Big” John Mortizia, Pete Heuga, Howard Martin, Roland Garwood and Dick Reuter built lifts, chopped trees for make-shift bridges during Pineapple express storms and responded to avalanches with a crank alarm.It was the days before Squaw had grooming machines, when on big snow days, all the employees were required to ski the powder in the morning in order pack it down for the guests.”Last year was big, but to me ’58 will always be the big winter,” Perata said. “We plowed out to Highway 89, and there was 12-13 feet of snow. The plows from the other direction didn’t come for a week.”That was the year, he remembers, when Dave Ritchie and Mickey Duval helped deliver a baby at River Ranch. It was the same year the entire mountain staff – 20 to 30 people – responded to a hand crank alarm signaling an avalanche on the mountain. It was when Heuga, a little guy built like a bull, carried a 100-pound resuscitating machine on his shoulder out into a gully to a victim who didn’t survive.Perata learned to ski on bear traps and thongs from instructors like Jo Marilac, Lee Baker, Terry Tollefson and Stan Tomlinson.”They’d say, ‘no do this here,’ and they’d hit you with a pole,” he said. “They were all my idols.”Perata worked for Squaw until 1959, when he bought a back hoe and started Perata Excavation. In the 70’s he started playing and coaching men’s fast pitch softball, where he and his team once and for all settled a score with Reno.”After they beat us in Reno in the early 60’s, 30 to 0, we’d go to Reno and they’d laugh at us,” he said.In 1978, he and his team walked away from the season with 58 wins and 10 losses.”When we brought the nationals here, that was pretty cool,” he said. “You can see some of the trophies at Pete ‘N Peters.”And, yes, he’s the original Pete in Pete ‘N Peters, although he sold his share of the business long ago. Perata has a memory associated with every crevice and peak in Squaw Valley and the Lake Tahoe area. He looks around and thinks – that’s where this happened, and that happened there, he said. Sometimes the places and names aren’t even the same anymore. “‘Where you at?’ sometimes people ask me,” he said, “and I say I’m at Mambo Meadow. And they say ‘Where’s that?'”Maybe he’ll tell a person, maybe he won’t. But he will say there’s no “I” in life – it’s always “we.””And that Ruthie,” he said, referring to current SnowFest! executive director Ruth Schnabel, who also was the very first leader of the event back in 1982, “she’s doing a hell of a job with SnowFest!.”
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