Last week your Scribe mentioned the news about the passing of Jake Jakespeare in mid-November, and he would like to tell a bit more of the story about one of the more charismatic ski bums to have landed in Stowe. Jake Jakespeare came into the world in Bayonne, New Jersey as William Walter Jacob Jr., the oldest of 10 children, and from a very early age Jake was playing by a different set of rules.
He learned to drive at an early age, grammar school, as he and several like-minded peers mastered the art of hot-wiring neighborhood vehicles, and perhaps the feat of which he was most proud in those formative years was hot-wiring the police chief’s car one night and moving it to the other end of the street. (These and many tales come from his youngest brother’s loving eulogy given Jake a few weeks back.
Jake was a big guy but remarkably agile. He was a runner and a trampoliner to boot. At Saint Francis College in Pennsylvania, he competed in the pentathlon and it was his coach who introduced him to skiing for the first time. Jake was smitten and from then on it was skiing. Somewhere along the trail he came to be known as Jake Jakespeare, the moniker that followed him for the rest of an eventful life.
He decided to become a racer and soon found himself trying the legendary Thunderbolt downhill race at Mount Greylock. He survived the hair-raising dash down the highest peak in Massachusetts but unfortunately failed to negotiate the huge right-footer at the bottom. One month and one kidney later, Jake decided to switch gears and take up bump skiing, known in those days as hot-dogging. Soon enough his path brought him to Stowe.
Jake was a great bump skier. His trampoline background helped him master the flips. In a world dominated by smaller athletes he could really spin for a big guy. He never made it to the Olympics, a childhood dream, but he did make it to Japan where he competed against the likes of the legendary Wayne Wong.
Jake was a surprisingly organized fellow amidst the seeming chaos of his incredibly confident persona, and as the safety officer at an International Free-Skiing Association event at Heavenly Valley in California he was overseeing the action at the aerials event. A helicopter with TV people kept hovering low over the hill and the backwash from the rotors was making everyone miserable. Unable to move the chopper away, Jake flung a slalom pole at the craft and fifteen minutes later four federal marshals showed up to haul Jakespeare away for violating FAA regulations. Late that same day, a judge threw out the charges after hearing Jake’s story and that night he received a standing ovation at the banquet.
Will Buchan, a long-time Stowe ski bum and a legend in his own right, tells of an evening in a bar in Sun Valley when a young freestyler came up to the now famous Jake to discuss the art of the properly executed back flip. The next thing Will recalls was the sight of this big hulking guy in a crowded bar clearing out the crowd to create a landing zone. Jake executes a perfect flip, telling the kid, “It is all in the hands. Should I do it again?” The crowd went nuts.
No story about Jake is more famous than the ambulance ride to Sugarloaf. It seems that Jake did a stretch on the patrol at Mansfield and each spring, Sugarloaf’s patrollers over in Maine would host an annual get-together for patrollers from all over the region. Nominally, the patrollers would be competing in different events but that was only a cover. It was party time. Jake and a co-conspirator got their hands on a Stowe ambulance. In those days, pre-rescue squad, the ambulances were under control of the Mountain Company and took out at high speeds for Maine.
The duo hauled through the upper reaches of the Northeast Kingdom and crossed the Connecticut River into the wilds of New Hampshire. The blue lights were on and the siren was doing a great job of clearing traffic from the roadway leading to Sugarloaf. They sped through many a small town along the way and in one ran afoul of a local constable who pulled them over to deliver the great bromide, “What’s your hurry.” Jake, not by any stretch of one’s imagination sober, but with his unfailing air of confidence, announced that they were responding to an emergency call in Maine. Good enough, off they went again.
A couple of days of good times followed, but then it was time to return home with the ambulance. Lights on, siren screaming they came back through the same sleepy town and met the same constable. He did not buy the story the second time around and soon a delegation of ski patrollers was dispatched to bail out Jake and return him and the ambulance to Stowe.
Jake had many loves in life. He was a superb fisherman, and his fly-casting skills were legendary. He was, to say the least, a sharp dresser. Who could forget the sight of this big-honking bump skier taming the bump-lines of Liftline in the spring clad in classic Bogner, perfect shades and his signature “silver bullet” skintight hat. Only Jake could pull off the silver bullet look.
He left Stowe late in the ’70s, or perhaps the early eighties. He had fallen in love with the lovely Christina Wu whom he pursued relentlessly for three years. Soon he was gone to Walpole, Massachusetts. He would resurface in Stowe to ski a bit or visit old friends.
He spent the rest of his life fishing, having fun, raising a delightful daughter, Maile, and living life to its fullest. He was a wild child and he never changed. As Christina said a day or two after his death, “It was a crazy ride with lots of challenges, but I would do it again in an instant.” As she told Will Buchan, “I am sure he is crawling over the Pearly Gates to get in, but he’ll find a way to that better spot.”
Kim Brown, a ski bum by winter and a hacker by summer, lives in Waterbury Center with his very understanding family. Comment on this article on stowereporter.com, or email letters to email@example.com.