It started in 1978. Milton Friedman had retired from teaching at the University of Chicago, and he and Rose moved to San Francisco, where I live. Milton had learned to ski in his 30s in California. I had skied my whole life, and we started talking about skiing together. Bill did all of his skiing in Switzerland by then, but it seemed obvious that something wonderful could happen if he joined us in California.
We agreed to meet for a long weekend at a small California ski resort in which my father and Walt Disney were early investors. I remember very little about that first year at Sugar Bowl except that I was deathly ill and nearly had to cancel. I do remember that Bill brought a case of wine, which we consumed entirely. (It became an interesting measure of something how this prodigious quantity declined over the years.)
It was magical. We talked and laughed and skied our hearts out. Even though I was deathly ill, we had the time of our lives, and we resolved to move the venue to Alta, Utah, and make it an annual event.
Each of the next 17 years, we stayed in the Alta Lodge and skied on the second weekend of January in the center of powder-snow country. A couple of times when one of us got sick, somebody else would fill in. But it was special, just the three of us, and we resisted the temptation to expand the group.
In 1994, Milton began to suffer leg pains that forced him to give up skiing. The following January, Bill’s great friend Van Galbraith joined us, and Milton came and shared meals. But the magic was gone. Our grand adventure was over.
Our Alta Rituals
Every year I felt the extraordinary privilege it was, sharing these intimate experiences with these two giants of conservatism. Looking back, I wish I had taken better notes on the conversations we had, the personal insights, the humor. Since Milton represented the libertarian side of conservatism (what I call the freedom Right), and Bill combined the freedom and order Right, this was an 18-year conversation on global events, but also on the tensions between the two great themes in modern conservative thought. Our conversations helped clarify answers to what Irving Kristol once said was the greatest unsolved intellectual challenge: to integrate libertarian and traditionalist thought.
While they shared worldviews in important and obvious respects, the differences between Milton and Bill were in some ways more interesting. These conversations greatly influenced my own peculiar “transpartisan” ideology.
Before sharing pieces of these conversations, I want to describe the rituals and traditions that came to define our time together. The most important of them had to do with eating. Milton was naturally gregarious and was pleased to talk to perfect strangers at any time of the day. Bill was not. (I was more with Bill on this.) This difference became apparent in our very first meal at the American-plan Alta Lodge, which at the time (it seemed) had some kind of ideological commitment to random mealtime seating of hotel guests. At our first meal, the maître d’ seated us at a table for six, with the three of us facing three total strangers. Since we had just arrived and were eager to talk among ourselves, Bill, who was sitting between us, choreographed a three-way conversation by swiveling his head from one side to the other, to Milton and to me — as if the others at the table were not there. After two courses of this, the large woman sitting across from us leaned forward and said, in a loud voice: “I’m Lucy Goldfarb.”