Rick Sylvester: From Sugar Bowl ski lessons to Hollywood stuntman

Easter Sunday with the ski patrol at Palisades Tahoe. Rick Sylvester is second from left. Far left is Paul Sullivan, Marco Sullivan’s father. | Le Chamois & The Loft Bar.

Hiya! I’m Rick, put ‘er there!” The two Cal students said it over and over in their little room at the Sugar Bowl Lodge. It was a Learn To Ski Week in 1962 and Rick Sylvester practiced the handshake and greeting with his roommate the way his instructor directed. They were on semester break and Rick was fortuitously assigned to Jim McConkey, his ski instructor for the week.

Jim came out from Alta to Sugar Bowl to teach with his buddy, the legendary Junior Bounous, director of the Sugar Bowl Ski School. The half dozen students in Rick’s class were probably unaware that their instructor was one of North America’s best powder skiers and sought after by ski resorts, photographers and filmmakers. To Rick, Jim was an impressive figure, a man’s man with great ski skills and while Rick was not an amazing skier yet, he was competitive. The next year he would win the college conference championship as a wrestler in his weight class. Years later, he completed 116 marathons, 85 of which were under three hours.

It was a ski trip to Mammoth Mountain that sparked Rick’s interest in skiing years earlier and after several days at Krakta Ridge and Snow Valley during high school in Southern California, he attended the Sugar Bowl ski week, offered at the low-season price of $44.50, which included room, meals and lift tickets along with a two-hour ski lesson every morning and afternoon. Rick was placed in the advanced class and the one time Rick rode the ski lift with Jim, he was most interested if Rick had seen his picture on the most recent cover of SKI Magazine.

Little did Jim know at the time that his ski pupil would become one of the most famous skiers in the world. Rick would also become an inspiration and influencer to Jim’s future son, Shane McConkey.

The time Jim and Rick spent together was encouraging and prophetic. Perhaps Jim recognized Rick’s enthusiasm for the sport when he told him “If I were your age, I would take a year off and ski.” It wasn’t until 1967 when Rick was living in Yosemite Valley mountain climbing when he realized he wanted to live in the mountains year round and work at a ski resort so he applied for ski patrol work at Lake Tahoe.

After a worldwide career in mountain climbing, Rick would go on to distinguish himself in the ski world by skiing Sylvester’s Slot on the Tram Face at Palisades Tahoe along with first descents of the Main Chute, Extra Chute and The Chimney. He gave back to the community when he was one of a dozen or so founders of Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue and ultimately earned his place as a legend in the opening stunt scene in James Bond’s “The Spy Who Loved Me,” arguably one of the greatest stunts in film history. Today, Rick still resides in Olympic Valley and this story is just one small facet of his exciting and adventurous life.