Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Women of Vail," by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. Books are available for purchase at www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi's, Gorsuch, Annie's, and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
Driving across Wyoming in early December could be risky. Driving a Volkswagen station wagon towing a trailer filled with frozen deer, antelope, and dozens of jars of canned vegetables added stupidity to the risk, resulting in what was called "full-blown idiocy" (at least one person would make that assertion). Add to this insane mix: A 27-year-old ski instructor, his 21-year-old wife, and their 2-week-old son. Now, imagine that this brain dead group (not the baby, he turned out to be quite bright) was heading to Vail to spend a winter. The husband had a contract to teach at the Vail Ski School (guaranteed pay: $13 big bucks a day); the young wife had a quiver of practical knowledge gained from growing up in a small community of farmers, hunters (well, mostly poachers), gardeners, and independent sorts who had to know how to do almost everything. She also had a sense of wellbeing that would have made Pollyanna look like a despondent melancholic on the verge of suicide.
The weather was treacherous, a huge storm (the blizzard of 1969) rolled in, making it nearly impossible to get up some of the passes. Saner people would have turned back and taken the teaching job waiting in Bozeman, Mont. Saner people would have realized that $13 a day would be almost impossible to exist on. Saner voices did warn the young couple, but, like all young couples, they knew best. Like all pioneers, they focused on the good that would come their way, the life ahead. The opportunities! The glamor! The fun! The experience! Like all parents of pioneers, their parents maligned the adventure. They scorned the plans of their offspring. It was as if they were going into the Congo with one canteen and a Boy Scout knife.
I am Patricia Dorf, and I was that young wife. This is the very abbreviated story of how "one winter" turned into a lifetime. Bob and I met teaching skiing in Red Lodge, Mont. After we married, Bob wanted to teach at a major area for one year before settling down in a "real job." Through our friend, Denny Hoeger, Bob was able to secure a job with the Vail Ski School. We had vacationed in Vail the previous spring, and he had made a reconnaissance trip during the fall to find us a place to live. So, what could go wrong? Well, actually, nothing. At least, that is how we saw our first winter in Vail.
Out and about
Our home was a room rented from Tom Sachs. We were in a condo in East Vail, with beautiful two-story windows. Single-pane windows. On cold nights, we would sit in front of the fire, wrapped in our electric blanket with our baby (Erik) and listen to records. The Fifth Dimension, The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas, Elvis and Henry Mancini would play while we watched the fire burn. The Mancini album was a gift from Henry himself, a ski school client. Days were structured around the sun; I would wait until the sun was just about to hit our little part of the valley, bundle the baby up, and head out with him on the sled for our daily constitutional. Ever the optimist, I was undaunted by the incredible effort it took to get out the door for the brief time that the sun actually hit the valley floor.
Daily life was complicated by the fact that we had just one car. I would have to bundle the baby up and take Bob into work if I wanted to be mobile. Since we didn't have a washer and dryer and did have lots of dirty cloth diapers, I had to go to the Laundromat in Crossroads to do the wash. Two mornings a week I did laundry, went home, and returned at the end of the day to pick Bob up. We usually took that opportunity to go for a beer at Donovan's Copper Bar. Babies were a rarity in Vail and even more rare in Donovan's. Beers were three for $1.05, Bob would have two, I'd have one, and we would head home.
Once established in Ski School, we started going out more, having dinner with Bob's clients at the Clock Tower Restaurant and the Red Lion with Erik sleeping in his infant seat under the table. Doggie bags would provide a few more dinners, and clients who rented condos with kitchens would leave us leftover food. Let me assure you, I had stuff we had never even heard of in Choteau, Mont. It took me very little time to become accustomed to Brie cheese, tins of caviar, and smoked salmon. We have a very different kind of smoked fish in Montana; we never ate the raw stuff.
Three weeks after our arrival, our first New Year's Eve, we were invited to the home of Bud and Daisy Palmer. Bob had attended Middlebury College in Vermont with Bud's nephew, Davis Webb (Marka Moser's brother). I was in heaven. Bud made me feel like the most important person in the world. He gave Erik a beautiful mobile that hung in our home for years.
Adventures in babysitting
Our store of wild game and veggies dwindled as the winter wore on; I needed to shop for groceries more frequently. I found a great butcher shop in Gilman and would continue on to Leadville for the rest of the shopping. The trek would involve most of the day, so I made sure to stock up on everything.
My first jobs were tied together. I worked at "Pooh Vale Nursery" (now Buzz's Boots and Boards) in exchange for child care on the days that I taught skiing. The only problem was that when I worked at the nursery I inevitably caught some germ, making it impossible for me to work at the nursery or at ski school. As soon as I would get well, Erik would come down with the germ. The only variation in the process was that occasionally Erik would get the bug first, I would stay home to care for him and then myself when I caught it. The passing of the bug finally took its toll, and I gave up on working. This gave me more time for free skiing, but I had lost my free childcare so I had to resort to either taking Erik to a woman who lived in an apartment in The Lodge Promenade (those ground floor street-side shops were apartments then), or I had to arrange for Bob to take Erik. The woman in The Lodge liked to leave the kids alone and go down to Pepi's for a drink, so that option soon was eliminated. Next plan: I would plan my ski time for Erik's nap time, take him to Bob (if his clients didn't mind), and Erik would nap in the backpack while Bob taught and I skied. Timing was important: Erik woke hungry, cranky, and unwilling to be in the backpack, so I had to stay fairly near Bob's group. It was a little like being a stalker but more fun and colder.
As we neared spring, it became evident that we needed more space; sharing a house with a bachelor wasn't the ideal setup. We contacted Will Miller and started looking at real estate, finally buying one of the new Chamonix Chalet condos. We paid a sum that my father assured us would purchase a large home on 10 acres in Montana if we would just come to our senses and return. Having proven that we had no sense several times in the previous six months, we plunged on with our plans to buy the condo. It turned out to be a great place for us because we finally had neighbors like ourselves. You know, those rare few living in Vail at that time - parents. It is also likely the main reason that we ended up staying in the valley.
We loved our first winter in Vail, and after a brief visit to our families, returned to our little condo and never looked back. Our two grown children Erik and Heather live nearby and are raising their children here. Hopefully, our grandchildren will learn about the pioneers that made our town unique and will know that they come from a tiny mountain town where we knew every single resident and counted them as friends.
"Women of Vail" was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer-editor.