Chatting with Cheney

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Vice President Dick Cheney has just come from a video teleconference in his Jackson, Wyo., home with President Bush and Condi Rice. He segues seamlessly to his deep love of skiing, fishing and America's great wilderness areas-the Jackson region, in particular. That we have invaded his home on New Year's Eve seems not to bother him one wit.

SKI Our intelligence reports say that you are the first Vice President to have a ski town as your official residence.
DC Really? Your (intel) is probably OK.
SKI How did you develop your love for the mountains?
DC We moved to Casper (Wyoming) when I was a youngster, and this was all part of my congressional district for 10 years when I was in Congress. It's always been our favorite part of the world-winter and summer-so in addition to being able to ski in the wintertime, I'm an avid fly fisherman and bird hunter, so we've had a home here now for about 10 years.
SKI So underneath all your world-shaping responsibilities, are you a ski bum at heart?
DC Well, I wish I could say I was (laughs). I was an avid recreational skier, but I started late in life. We never skied when I was growing up; nobody in my family skied. The first time I ever tried the sport was in college down in Laramie. There was a local filling station where you could rent gear. You'd go in your blue jeans to a local area and ski the ropetows. Pretty rudimentary.
SKI When did your ski career take off?
DC Not until I worked for President Ford-this is '74-and I was in my early 30s. He had a place in Vail, and he loved to go there every year. The kids were young. One day we put them in ski school and went out and took a group lesson, and just got started skiing every year. We had some friends who had a place in Vail and for several years we spent Christmas there. Then I used to do a conference every year at Beaver Creek. So we'd get out to ski Vail for Christmas and get back for a weekend in March. And when I got elected to Congress, I always had a good excuse to get home to Jackson.
SKI So skiing is a Cheney family sport?
DC Mary is an avid snowboarder. She was over earlier this week at Targhee where they had a ton of new snow, cat skiing. She's probably the best skier in the family, although her older sister would argue....
SKI How much do you get out these days?
DC I would describe myself at this stage as a fair-weather skier. Bright sun, not too cold, snow conditions right-and go up and ski with the grandchildren. But I've got bad knees at this stage so I'm much more modest in my approach.
SKI You're quite the outdoorsman.
DC In the old days, when I was younger and more flexible, we used to do a lot of backcountry, horseback primarily, pack trips. When I was in Congress I used to try to organize a trip every year. One of my favorite rides was to go up to the headwaters of the Yellowstone, come up from the Cody side, drive up the South Fork to the end of the road. There's a circuit there that takes about a week. It's about 110 miles.
SKI Do you still take those trips?
DC Jim Baker and I used to do a lot of that, and the last time we did it was in '89. I was Defense Secretary and he was Secretary of State. He and I organized a pack trip and took some family members. Our idea was to set up camp and take day-trips to fish. The first morning, we got up, saddled our horses and headed up the mountain. At one point we turned around and looked back, and with his security and my security and his communications and my communications, there was a herd of about 20 people behind us. It just got too complicated.
SKI What other outdoor activities are your passion?
DC I'm a serious fly fisherman, and Jackson Hole is one of the great spots in the world to be able to do that. We're right on the Snake-that's sort of the home river. II've got a group of friends in the valley, and we get together for about four days every year and package a trip someplace in the region.
SKI And that restores your spirits?
DC It does. It's partly the setting; it's partly the people you do it with. Part of it is that to do it well you have to concentrate on it, and that lets you forget the normal, everyday cares of the world.