In the early 1960s, Charlie Brown was working in the computer industry down in Florida when friends invited him for a visit to the Mad River Valley of Vermont. He remembers vividly the first day he arrived here, walking into the Blue Tooth—a popular bar on the Sugarbush Access Road—and feeling embraced by the music. “I fell in love,” he recalls with a warm smile.
Soon after his Vermont visit, Brown was offered a promising job with Revlon in New York City. But as he sat in a chair in a high-rise building overlooking the New York City streetscape, he recognized that his heart was somewhere else.
Brown accepted an alternative offer that Revlon executives may not have understood. He became a dishwasher at the Inside Edge restaurant in Sugarbush Village, just across the way from the french bistrot Chez Henri. He moved into a big house on German Flats Road with his friend Richie Fredericks and 13 others. Brown and Richie were full-timers in the house, while everyone else came up on weekends.
“Richie was quite a ladies man,” Brown recalls jovially, sitting outdoors on an Adirondack chair at his home on Blueberry Lake he shares with his wife Rita. He recounts a story where Richie and a lady friend were lying in front of the fireplace one evening when they were startled by a sudden loud noise. A can of shaving cream had exploded in the fire in front of them, having been left by a housecleaner in an abandoned bag of trash. “Barbasol was all over Richie’s naked body,” Brown chuckled, “and his lady friend did not fare much better!”
Brown set out to learn to ski, and was on the Sugarbush slopes most every morning. He has stories about the Carlevaro-Savio three-person gondola, and three-way activities that may have occurred in the ride from base area to peak. As for work, he transitioned from dishwasher to bartender at The Inside Edge, and spent many late nights pouring drinks to a full house attracted by The Thrice Mellow One, a Peter, Paul, and Mary-like musical trio. After too many late nights, Brown had a “parting of the ways” with his boss Mike Rocchio, and moved down the street to a job as bartender of the then-booming Sugarbush Inn. The Sugarbush Inn, as first conceived by Brita and Jim Herman, was a destination in itself, with a restaurant and bar, an ice skating rink, a pool and tennis courts, and a nordic ski center and spa. Brown’s affable demeanor as a bartender earned him a promotion to sales manager for the Inn, a position which required some travel to New York City to drum up corporate business. Brown’s visits to the city only further supported his decision to decline that Revlon job, as he found that he preferred a far more rural work environment.
The Blue Tooth had taken hold of Brown from his very first visit to the Valley, so when co-owner Tom Storrs decided to sell his ownership stake in “the Tooth”, Brown stepped in. In 1965, for $15,000, Brown became a co-owner of the Blue Tooth with Storrs’ partner Jimmy Connelly.
The Blue Tooth was an aprés ski spot and night-time haunt for locals, as well as a Saturday night stop for “the hoi polloi” —Brown’s description of the Mascara Mountain crowd which featured models, actresses, financiers, and musicians. Daredevil ski movies were shown each night at 5 PM, accompanied by ten-cent beer specials. Tequila shots were fifty cents a piece on Sundays from 11:30 to midnight. During Sugarbush’s 60th Anniversary celebration, Brown told a story at The Moth StorySLAM about the plastic-wrapped sandwiches he would serve to customers on Sundays so their drinking would abide by the strict Vermont liquor laws. They’d never unwrap the sandwiches, so he’d serve the same ones over and over. He’ll tell you he still has a recycled ham sandwich in his refrigerator.
The Wet T-shirt Contest, a new brainchild conceived by Playboy magazine, had become all the rage, and the Blue Tooth was the first bar in Vermont to get in on the game. Brown recalls the contest was planned for a Tuesday night. That afternoon, around 1 PM, the parking lot began filling up, and there were already 25 people perched on the roof so they could peer in the windows. At 10 PM that evening, the contest was to begin. The parking lot was overflowing, and more and more people were arriving to spectate, but no one was brave enough to kick off the evening. Finally, a local kid jumped up on stage wearing a wet t-shirt and, with the support of an eager crowd, got the party started. Other female participants followed his lead, and the contest was off and running. “It was a wild ride,” Brown recalls with a grin.
The Blue Tooth held its own version of the Academy Awards each April. The judges—Brown and a mass of friends— would meet at someone’s house, bring a bunch of slides, “smoke a little marijuana”, and assiduously discuss the potential categories. There were innocuous categories, like “Ski Bum of the Year”, as well as politically incorrect ones, like “Largest Breasts” and “Sneaker Full of Shit”. As one might imagine, prizes were less like the gold statues of the Hollywood set and more like the women’s undergarments hanging on the tree visible from the Heaven’s Gate Triple chair. Brown recalls one Academy Award night during a snow storm. When he saw there were only five cars in the parking lot, his heart fell. But when he walked in the doors, to his surprise, the bar was packed—most everyone had arrived on foot or snowshoes. Past Academy Award recipients include Chan Weller, longtime marketing director for Sugarbush, who received the “Sneaker” award, and Brown himself, who won the “Ski Bum” award.
Another memorable evening (there are many), a massive pillow fight broke out at the Bore Bar at the Sugarbush Inn. Brown was subjected to a whipped-cream spray-down followed by a whole-body feathering. Life in the Valley was all about having fun.
Brown’s memories of his time at The Blue Tooth are clearly cherished. But owning and running one of the most popular bars in the Valley caught up with him. “Live music seven nights a week. . . tequila shots on Sundays. . . I realized I was drinking a bottle of vodka a day.”
He sold his ownership stake, and moved on to other pursuits. Through the years, Brown has captured much of the local scene on film, and his extensive slide collection has fueled the creation of numerous videos that tell stories of the Valley. He has produced videos commemorating Sugarbush’s 35th, 45th and 50th Anniversaries. He has told the story of Lenord Robinson and the founding of Blueberry Lake. He has celebrated the arrival of frenchman Henri Borel and his bistrot Chez Henri. Brown has told many stories, but has many more to tell.
Charlie Brown has wholeheartedly partaken of the adventure and camaraderie of this Valley. He has skied, danced, drank, sang, and laughed over the decades. He appreciates this special corner of the world. When he turned eighty, Brown retired his skis. In summers (non-covid), he is a regular at Waitsfield’s Round Up at the River, relaxing in a lawn chair and enjoying a beer with neighbors and friends, of which he has many. Daily, he walks his dog on the trails at Blueberry Lake. Occasionally in winter, he ventures out on the frozen lake, which got him into trouble a few years back. But that is a story for another time. Charlie Brown is a man who, sixty-some years ago, stumbled upon the Mad River Valley, was claimed by this place, and has never wanted to be anywhere else.
about the author: Candice White is a communications consultant who served on Sugarbush’s Executive Committee from 2008-2018. During her tenure, she oversaw marketing, communications, brand, and guest service.