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.
I was working on my master’s in social work when I met Bob Parker and decided that skiing was more fun, and being married to him would be more fun than being a social worker. I had never had a job. When I moved to Vail, Bob and I had returned from France and Austria where we had lived for six years.
Bob was the editor of Skiing Magazine, and Merrill Hastings was the publisher. At a World Cup race in Chamonix, Merrill told Bob not to talk to anyone of the “opposing” magazine, which was Ski Magazine. This got Bob’s ire up, and he promptly spoke to the people from Ski Magazine and was fired. That left him with no way to get home and not a cent in his pocket. So, he called Pete Seibert. He and Pete had already talked about the possibility of Bob’s coming to work for Vail Associates, and Bob started when it was still just a dream of Pete’s. Exactly what Bob did, I don’t have any idea. He went to work every day, so he and Pete must have figured out something for him to do. We were very much part of Vail Associates before it became a reality.
On Labor Day in 1960, before moving to Vail, we camped on what would later be Forest Road, then just a track on the side of the mountain above where The Lodge is. We put out our sleeping bags and spent the night. We had a little primus stove and cooked our dinner and breakfast on it. When we woke up the next morning, it had snowed a couple of inches. We never did figure out where they were going to put this new resort nor where we were going to ski, because it didn’t look like much when you simply looked up the hill from our campsite.
At the end of 1961, Bob had already gone ahead to Vail. I put my grapefruit tree, my dog, and two children in the VW and went over Loveland Pass in a terrible storm, ending up in Vail on Christmas Eve. We spent the night in The Lodge where Sigi Fowler was the manager and Daphne Slevin was his secretary. We had just gotten to bed when there was a loud knock on the door and somebody said, “The pipes are frozen; there’s a big flood. We need all hands to help.” So everybody got out of bed to help. It was in Daphne’s room. The children slept through the whole thing. The next day, we moved into our house. There was no electricity, and I got water from the stream that flowed into the beaver pond. We had construction power to one outlet and a light bulb on a long, long cord, and whichever room we needed to be in we’d carry the light bulb on the long cord from one room to the next. We cooked most of our meals in the fireplace. It was all kind of jolly, fun and one big adventure.
Lots of construction
Our house was complete because Bob timed it well. The only other house that was visible was the Bishop house; quite possibly, Dick Pownall had started his cabin. There were Kuehn children and three Seibert boys and two Parker children and at least two Shepards. We had decided to homeschool our children, Katherine and Guy. We found very quickly that homeschooling was more complicated and bothersome than we thought it would be because you can’t do anything else if you’re homeschooling your kids. We hired Allen Brown and his wife to come and teach for us, and that worked beautifully. He taught what homeschool directed, and the kids had a good time. They had school up at Betty Seibert’s house. She had a pet goat, and they battled up and down the stairs with the goat, and he was in their classroom. It was all pretty loose, and every year they were in a different place. When the Plaza building was complete, they went there; when the firehouse was complete, they went up above the firehouse. Eventually, it evolved as the Vail Country Day School.
The next thing was the procuring of food. Our nearest grocery store was in Minturn, and I ended up going fairly frequently to Denver. On my birthday in ’63 I went alone to Denver to pick up groceries and heard that Kennedy had been assassinated. When I went home I needed news, and we had no television and just a very crackly radio because we didn’t have a good antenna. I remember Don Almond shimmying up the closest pine tree and putting up a great big antenna so we could at least listen to the news of Kennedy’s burial.
The winter of ’62 they asked me to sell ski school lessons, but VA didn’t ask me back the second year. I could never, ever reckon my books at the end of the day and I swear I didn’t take a cent, but I could not figure out the number of tickets that were sold. The amount of money in the cash drawer at the end of the day never reconciled. They decided I wasn’t a very good bet — “Let’s forget her and send her off to do something else.” So, they sent me off to do something else. Daphne and I ran the Vail Resort Association office one year, after the Plaza Building was complete. Every now and then another building would go up, and it was fun to walk down Bridge Street and see what they were doing. There was always in the background the noise of cranes and saws that construction makes. For years, we never had quiet with only the sound of birds and skiing.
The first year, they needed someone to get the mail. I took my own VW bus to the post office in Minturn, picked up a heavy sack, then drove to The Lodge and hauled that thing into the lobby and upended it on the floor. Nobody sorted it – so everybody came and just helped himself. That’s why they called me Vail’s first postmistress, which was pretty ridiculous because I really wasn’t a postmistress. I was the mail procurer.
Not that easy
Bob was very involved in the sale of Vail. The annoying part was that every morning about 2 o’clock somebody from New York would call. Apparently, their news people worked through the night and they called in the middle of the night, because they knew they could get you. It was always to see what news Bob had to impart to some news person asking for information.
At one point, Joanne Miller and I started a business renting houses in the winter. We never made any money, but we had a lot of fun. I was a relatively avid skier and really loved it, although I was never very good. Bob would stand at the bottom of the slope and yell, “Let ‘em run” (laughter!), and it just made me angry as anything, so I’d try another curve or two.
People think living in a resort is an idyllic sort of life, but it’s not. It’s really quite difficult, because everybody else is on vacation and you’re not. But there were fine friends, and most of the friendships we made are still alive if the people are, and some of those are the dearest friends I have. The first year we were there, John Donovan lived in the little apartment in our house with his dog, Bandit. Diana Donovan (Mounsey) met him in Vail and they married. She and I have remained friends.
We were never worried about locking our doors or having a burglar come in. Once, we went away and couldn’t find the key to our front door because we never locked it, and we just left for our Mexico vacation.
A very important part of our life was summer in Vail. We could go into the mountains and hunt mushrooms, paint, hike, pick berries and do those wonderful fun things that I thoroughly enjoyed. Many friends came along on picnics, and it was great for the kids. Perhaps we enjoyed the mountains more thoroughly than we had the skiing of the winter before.
“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.