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September 21, 2012
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Vail's class reunion kicks off

VAIL - Vail's 50th Class Reunion kicked off Friday night.

Hundreds of people showed up in Lionshead for Pioneer Weekend to find old friends, swap stories and see who survived.

Sunday morning will see a memorial service to honor those who didn't. It's on Vail's wedding deck.

The last Vail class reunion of this size was 10 years ago for Vail's 40th anniversary.

This weekend's highlight is a party Saturday night honoring Keith Brown and Harley Higby, two of the group who put the original deal together to launch the resort.

In keeping with the lifestyle of those early Vail days, Saturday's party might have food but it will absolutely have alcohol.

Man do these people have some stories.

There's the one about Paul Testwuide shooting a gun down Bridge Street.

Folk singer Glen Yarbrough performed at Mid-Vail one night. He and the entire crowd skied down by the light of the moon and stars, and everyone survived.

A bunch of people were skiing at the top of Look Ma as the Western Colorado sky turned orange with the sunset. Gorgene Burton's husband was an Air Force pilot and the next sound they heard was two jets screaming past at tree top level, so low they could see their helmets.

It was 1963 and one of the guys from the U.S. Ski Team got drunk and was jumping on a bed. He stuck his fist through the ceiling and hung there.

As punishment he was forced to hike and ski all day - with a hangover.

In 1963, they'd have days with seven paying people on the mountain. They'd ski all day in fluffy powder, but eventually go looking for cement to have a change of pace, recalled a few of those pioneers who can give you a first-person account.

They skied when they could, and when they weren't supposed to. Groups used to wait at the top of the mountain while the ski patrol finished the afternoon sweep looking for stray skiers. When the ski patrol was finished, they'd turn the lifts back on and ski all night.

Go back a little further and you get to stories about Vail before it was Vail. Brown and his daughter Susan Brown Milhoan, for instance.

Susan was 9 years old when Keith asked his wife, "What do you think about investing a little money in that new ski area?"

That was 1959 and they drove to what would become Vail and stayed in a small yellow house where Red Sandstone elementary school is now - the only house around.

"They thought it would be a cabin in the mountains and a weekend getaway where they could take the kids to ski," Milhoan said. "That seems to be what everyone thought."

She was 12 when Vail opened in 1962. They skied, they played, they hitched behind cars to ski through the streets, swung in the chairlifts, stole lunch trays from the cafeteria and sledded down what's now Pepi's Face.

Milhoan was 14 when they lost Lost Boy. Their phone numbers were four digits in those days, and it didn't take long to make a round of calls all over Vail to ask if anyone had seen him. They hadn't.

Milhoan remembers because it was the day she broke her leg on Giant Steps, and watched people carry torches past the window of the Vail clinic, right by the kitchen of the Red Lion.

Lost Boy was a Boy Scout and managed to keep his wits about him. He laid down tree branches, then pulled more tree branches on top of himself to keep himself warm, and fell asleep. They found him the next day when he walked out.

She was underage when she tried to get into The Keg with a fake ID. Steve Ruder was the bouncer and also rented a room from the Brown family, so it didn't take him long to figure out what she was up to, and even less time to tear up Susan's fake ID.

When Gorgene Burton moved here in 1963 and opened the first children's ski school, the paint was barely dry on Vail's town limits sign. Vail was a rough and tumble place with dirt streets, although calling the public thoroughfares "streets" is being generous, Burton said.

They lived in trailers outside town and had to push their cars through the mud and show to get to work.

Her children's Pooh Vale ski school cost $4 and she earned $20 a day, which she and most others at the time invested wisely and well in Donovan's Copper Bar.

"Donovan's was noisy, but that was the character of the town," Burton said.

She got Disney's permission to use Pooh's name and likeness for her business. Vail Associates didn't want her using the company name, so she changed it to "Pooh Vale."

Bill "Sarge" Brown groomed a small area where the kids could ski and they were in business.

Some of the guys in town said the women were dumpy dancers, so they practiced their dance steps in some of the local libation locations. When the ski patrol finally ended their shift and wandered in, the evening became what we'll call "festive."

"There wasn't a cow town that could have touched us," Burton said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Sep 21, 2012 09:49PM Published Sep 21, 2012 09:34PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.