The Hollywood actor, stolen loot & the little told story of the 1990 Dash for Cash
Do you remember where you were when Cathy Freeman won in 2000? Perhaps when Steven Bradbury claimed Australia’s first and most unlikely Winter Olympics gold? And what about when Wilbur Fingerdoo brazenly snatched $5000 from the hands of a snow babe at the 1990 Dash for Cash at Perisher?
Last one a bit of a stretch for you? It wasn’t for me. A quarter of a century ago I remember sitting gobsmacked on my lounge as a teenager watching this incredible heist unfold on Wide World of Sports. It was a brazen theft that so rocked the Perisher ski resort that mountain operations almost came to a standstill . It featured on page three of the Sydney Morning Herald. And it made a legend of four skiers for eternity.
It’s a story that has it all: a Hollywood heart throb, wads of stolen cash, four angry Austrians and an Aussie Olympic ski champ all captured with more cheese by Wide World of Sports then a Mozzarella factory in Naples. The legend has remained idle for a quarter of a century but we can painstakingly reveal the truth behind this sordid tale of the slopes, stolen cash and the mother of all scams as told exclusively to The Snow Gauge by two of its protagonists.
A precursor if you will. As the 80s cussed its way into the 90s there was a revolution going on. Sure the hair was still biggish and the skis stupid long and thin but the ease and casual sleaze of the era was giving way to a harder edge. Ok, you could still call an Austrian a box head without people thinking you were some kind or pre-cursor to Eddie McGuire (check out 3.35 on the video if you don’t believe me) but the times, they definitely were a’changin.
Freestyle skiing was still struggling to gain a foothold in the Australian snow scene, alpine and all its very European affectations very much seen as the only real sport on the mountain.
But a group of four freestyle skiers wanted to change that. Struggling for funds and recognition and still a little bitter after finishing second in the winner-takes-all legendary Dash For Cash race of 1989; the quartet hatched a cunning plan – to pinch the $5,000 from the 1990 event. In a competition with no rules they were simply running with the ethos to its most logical conclusion.
And so Andy Ertenbuckler (Andreas Breitfuss), Jean Claude LaFeltch (Justin Melvey) Wilbur Figerdoo (Mark Neave) and Matt Biondi (Kristian Breitfuss) entered the race as masked amateurs.
“We thought there was no way we were going to lose as we were the fastest skiers down the bumps. Then there was a blizzard … it was just like being taken into a chocolate shop as a kid and then being told there was no chocolates there and getting kicked out,” said Melvey whose amateur ski career was cruelly cut short by big dollar acting stints in Home and Away and some years later General Hospital in the US.
“We’d seen all the Austrians there in the helmets, race suits and 210cm skis and said boys, we’re gonna cheat!”
All manner of diversions were created in the almost white out conditions. Olympian Steve Lee from the Brothers of Darkness was taken out. Kristian jumped a fence. And Andy and Mark hid in the bushes to stage a mock race to the end before ‘Wilbur Fingerdoo’ grabbed the cash and took off on a waiting skidoo.
“Then the real winners came down, the Austrians – and things started to get a bit heated,” recalled Andreas.
While it would appear Channel Nine were all over what was going on they actually had little idea as the event didn’t hit the TV screens for another week.
Then things got serious. These days you’d dismiss it as a PR stunt but this was anything but as the Perisher lifts started to be shut down at the behest of the mountain manager who wanted the culprits caught.
Meanwhile the protagonists had already split the scene and were going all Demi Moore from Indecent Proposal in a hotel room with their ill-gotten gains.
Just as they were considering what bar they’d be putting their money on, in came the call from Perisher Freestyle Team coach Nolen Oayda. It seems a little skiing technique and deduction had narrowed down who it was likely to be. And Oyada was copping the brunt of it.
“He said the shit is hitting the fan here,” recalled Melvey who had at first been coy about their involvement. “He said at some stage you are going to have to hand over the money or police will become involved.”
There were also threats of shutting down the whole freestyle team at Perisher and with the pressure on, the team eventually buckled. Seen as an embarrassment to the resort they were fined $1,000 (incidentally, the amount of money they had just won from another competition) and they had their passes temporarily revoked.
Yet there was some good to come out of it all.
“No matter which resort we went to, we didn’t have to buy a beer for the rest of the season,” said Melvey.
*Amongst other pursuits these days Andreas does things like CLIMB MOUNT EVEREST, his brother Kristian runs a restaurant in Jindabyne, Mark is living it large in California and Justin now runs a property venture from Sydney.