If you were a kid, then Vail was Mayberry with a light Bavarian accent. It still is.
There’s a certain nobility to a place where kids, like a really good dog, are free to roam on the land.
“By the time I was 7, I was allowed to hitchhike into town,” recalled Bart Garton. “I’d stand there beside the road with my little thumb in the air. Vi Brown or someone like that would come by and pick me up. They’d make sure I got there.”
No television, no contrived electronic characters trying to convince children how much better their lives would be if only their parents would buy them the gadget du jour.
“There was only one thing to do, go up and play in the mountains and the woods,” Byron Brown said. “We’d ski and cross country. Lots of Sundays we’d head up Shrine Pass on cross-country skis. Everyone broke out what they had for lunch, then ski down to Reno’s in Red Cliff for supper.”
Shelley Woodworth remembers playing outside — always outside.
“One of the central meeting points in town was the Deli,” Woodworth said. “I remember our family rented an apartment on Mill Creek Circle, and I used to ride my tricycle to the Deli to get milk for my cereal.”
A huge milestone in her life was when she actually rode her bike from Vail to Lionshead.
When the gondola fell in 1976, Woodworth was a fourth grader at Meadow Mountain Elementary School.
That day, Connie Martinez accidentally whacked her in the head with a wooden baseball bat. When they called the hospital to see about stitches, they were told all the doctors were on the mountain.
Groceries meant a trip to Glenwood Springs or Minturn. Movies were in Minturn, and Denver was light years away.
The local school started around Pete and Betty Seibert’s table, then above the medical clinic. Classes were usually four boys and four girls, and their favorite playground equipment was the huge boulders near Gore Creek. The PTA could get together for lunch around one table at Cornuti’s, the bar and restaurant owned by Bart Garton’s father, Dave.
Garton, Mike Brown, Kent Rychel and Bernie Krueger were one of Vail’s versions of The Little Rascals. They skied and they skitched, which led to about the only version of trouble they managed to find. For the uninitiated, skitching is grabbing the rear bumper of a moving car and sliding along the snow-slick street on your boots. No one used gravel or salt in those days, which made streets an elongated hockey rink.
It’s as dangerous as it sounds, and just as much fun.
The local police, though, took a dim view of skitching, mostly because they didn’t want to scrape up kids with a stick and a spoon. They caught the skitchers, took them down to the police station and inflicted the most severe punishment — they called their mothers.
“It’s hard to tell who we were more scared of, the police or our moms,” said Bart, laughing.
Keith Brown was one of Vail’s original investors. His daughter, Susan Brown Milhoan, recalls when she was 9 years old and 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. The Brown clan 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. Kids did the kinds of things that get government agencies involved these days — which means they were not only alive, they lived.
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 Lost Boy got lost. 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, located near the kitchen in the Red Lion.
Lost Boy was a Boy Scout who managed to keep his wits about him. He laid down tree branches, and then pulled more tree branches on top of himself to keep warm, and fell asleep. The next day when he walked out, perfectly fine.
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.
Television wasn’t available, which forced people to do radical things like actually talk to each other.
“When it first came I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen,” Bart said. “Our neighbor had the first color television in town. Saturday mornings, Dad would take me down in my pajamas to watch cartoons for a couple of hours.”
The ancient wheelchair in Cornuti’s sometimes managed to get itself liberated. With Bart at the controls — or lack thereof — he and his buddies would run it down Bridge Street.
“It was a lot wider in those days, so there was a larger margin for error.”
At 50, Vail is now working on its third generation of kids. They ski, they camp, they roam free, much like their parents and grandparents did.
They smile. They live in Bavarian Mayberry.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There was only one thing to do, go up and play in the mountains and the woods.”