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.
Until I was 22 years old, I attended Catholic women’s schools in St. Paul, Minn., graduating from the College of St. Catherine. Though it was unheard of at the time, I did not attend the graduation ceremony to pick up my B.S. degree from the home economics department, because I was already on a boat to Europe. I worked at International Ranger Camps in Switzerland, teaching waterskiing on Lake Geneva for the summer of 1962.
It was there that I met another staff member, Horst Abraham, from Vienna, Austria. By August, I knew that I needed to hang around Europe rather than return to the States as planned. I interviewed with the U.S. Army in Germany and was hired to work as a Service Club girl on an army base where 10th Special Forces and Green Berets were trained in Bavaria.
I did not snow ski at the time, but the mountain town I was sent to work in was also a small ski area, and I was eager to learn. On my days off, I would go to Kitzbuehl and then St. Anton, where Horst was teaching skiing, and he taught me to ski. We were married in the spring of 1965 in my hometown of Mahtomedi, Minn., and moved to Aspen.
Neophyte skier that I was, I approached living in a ski resort the same way I stepped up to any activity, as if I knew what I was doing and would learn what I needed to know when I did it.
Skiing, hiking and sailing
After the Aspen ski lifts closed in the spring, we would regularly migrate to Vail to ski and get ready for certification. As a result, we knew the mountain and the core village, but had little knowledge of the rest of the Vail Valley. When Horst was hired to work for Vail Associates, we were offered the last vacant lot available to supervisors: Lot 11 in Sandstone Subdivision. We had no idea where Sandstone was located, but we agreed, sight unseen, to buy the lot.
Horst’s ski school office was at Gold Peak on the second floor of the little wood building called the Race Shack. We lived across the street; the town of Vail tennis courts were between home and work. We both played a lot of tennis on those courts; Ellie Manzi was my doubles partner most of the time.
I skied with the original Super Class. We met our ski instructor at the bottom of the gondola at 12:30 p.m. two afternoons a week and skied until the mountain closed. I remember flying along trying to keep up with Carl Dietz, Inga Prime, Gerry White, and Mauri Nottingham, among others, as we barreled down the moguls on Look Ma or did repeated rotations on Prima-Pronto-Log Chute. The days Anne Marie Mueller was our instructor, we knew we were in for a beating.
As a family, our playgrounds, summer and winter, were Vail Pass, Vail Mountain and Piney Lake. We skied and hiked on the mountain, using the snow-covered Piney Road to walk or skinny ski in the winter. All summer long, we camped, hiked and sailed our little sailboat around Piney Lake. Frequent cross-country ski trips to Red Cliff started on Vail Pass, and after 11 miles skiing through the hushed and snowy mountains ended with Mexican food and grande margaritas at Reno’s restaurant.
Many of our Christmas trees were secured on the Pass after a thorough slog in hip-deep snow to find the perfect specimen. This was always a family outing, often with a band of families heading into the forest together and then having a pot-luck dinner at someone’s home afterwards. One year, when Don and Shirley Welch couldn’t join us for the tree cutting, we offered to use their Forest Service permit and cut one for them. When they arrived at our house for dinner, we couldn’t wait to show them their Christmas tree. Everyone gathered around as we proudly held up the tree for inspection. It was the saddest, scraggliest pine tree we could find. They were stunned and silent. We didn’t crack a smile. They thanked us, took it and turned away. Only then did we pull out the tree we had carefully selected according to their specifications and received genuine thanks.
The Happy Hikers
The accomplices who have sustained me for almost four decades are those adventuresome, fun and sturdy women who comprise my hiking group — The Happy Hikers. We were a cohesive band that met early every Tuesday and hiked all day — and sometimes into the night — through rain, shine or snow. On mountain trails all over Colorado, I experienced the wonders of the high country with friends who offered a unique blend of friendship and support; sharing their lives and their hearts with me and from whom I have learned the most about myself. Any gathering of today brings out the stories of yesterday: Celine on the mountainside dressed in black, wearing her golf shoes and carrying an open umbrella; Vi who mothered us all and is famous for telling a television interviewer that the most important item to pack in one’s rucksack is a lunch; the roof snow avalanche that took Alice too early; Wendy’s long legs leading the way until she came to a cliff; Marlene first to the top; Sheika far ahead going the wrong way, darling; Mary Jo who goes her own way; Lucette who drove up early from Denver to join us; Barbara, who is always up for a hike; the Joans whose tales while walking made the climb easier, the miles shorter; Nancy who can always be counted on; Ann Margaret and her mother, Babs, who braved the coldest alpine lakes for a refreshing swim; me, who walked on air to cross the creek and flee a bear; and Flo who saw the humor in it all.
Horst and I divide our time now between Florida and Colorado. My son, Lexi, always calls as soon as we return to Vail each summer to check on our arrival. I always say the same thing, “I feel more like myself when I am in Colorado.”
“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 and editor.