Early Vail: Danger, excitement, fun
Ryan Summerlin October 27, 2012
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.
On Feb. 3, 1964, my husband Jack Fritzlen and I arrived in Vail for the first time. We had decided to spend a few nights in this “new resort” on our way to Aspen for a ski vacation. We were staying at the Christiania, owned at that time by Nancy and Ted Kindel. It was Sheika and Pepi Gramshammer’s wedding day, the first day I met Paul Testwuide and my ski instructor, Dick Pownall. It was during this first visit that Jack and I decided we wanted to live here. We returned for another visit in March of 1967 with our three children: Lynn, Guerin and Marla. In 1968, we bought a condominium at Riva Ridge South and officially made the move from Kansas City, Mo., to Vail. That was the start of our life in this glorious area. Vail had a very different feel to it in those days. There was a lot of testosterone and a huge amount of energy in evidence. This combination gave way to Vail’s becoming a great town of the West. It had excitement, danger and fun. For us, we found life to be just what we wanted.
The village was charming with its small stores where the proprietors gave their hearts and souls to their success. Pepi’s and Gorsuch’s were favorite places to shop. Many men who worked in Vail would have lunch on Pepi’s porch. It was a gift to me that the children could walk by and see their fathers there each day. There were Bill Whiteford and John Donovan’s bars. We even had our church services at Whiteford’s bar at times. We used The Lodge at Vail as our theater, and Jim Slevin was the “do-it-all” man there. He acted and produced, and you never saw a better play in your life. At the time, we did not have a grocery store in Vail but drove to Minturn. I remember each trip to Denver coming home with a case of toilet paper, a case of coffee and two cases of whiskey.
There were not a lot of options for services in town but you knew exactly who to go to for whatever you needed to have done. There were two photographers, one delicatessen, Barbara Parker was our postmistress, and Father Stone was our parish priest (who sometimes performed services at Whiteford’s bar). There was a wonderful man named Roberto who tended some sheep up on the mountain. He would bring them right down through town to graze, and they brought with them a plethora of flies and a lot of noise. He would ride his horse into Vail and park it at either Whiteford’s or Donovan’s bar to have a nightcap. However, it was said that if it were raining that evening he would bring his horse right into the bar with him so that it would stay dry.
Our children went to school in Vail when they were younger. I would drop them off at school and go out skiing, sometimes even with my hair still damp. My favorite skiing route was Prima, Pronto, Log Chute, Highhine, and Blue Ox. Those runs are where I learned to ski, and this was one of the highlights of my life. Once our children grew older they transferred to Kent Denver Country Day School for high school. At first, they would get rides to and from Denver with Kris Steinberg, Dr. Tom Steinberg’s daughter, because she had a car. This was before I-70 had been built, thus they had to drive over Loveland Pass to get there.
The whole community was extremely welcoming and friendly. In particular, Camille Bishop was one of the kindest to me and made me proud to be part of Vail and her circle of friends. I loved her very much. The social gatherings around town brought us so much joy. We gathered for hikes and wild picnics in the mountains with lots of laughter. We would have breakfast on Corral Creek and pick the chanterelle mushrooms that surrounded us there. Nancy Kindel once hosted a toga party where we all came dressed as if we were in the Roman courts. One of the guests was Bob Parker, who was a huge influence in the skiing world and coined the term “Ski Country USA.” He was the hit of the night because he wouldn’t let us look under his skirt.
Upon coming to Vail, my husband Jack built a factory for his company, CMI Inc., where they made sophisticated law enforcement equipment. This first factory was in Minturn on Pine Street nextdoor to the house of Bill Burnett, the famous plumber. With CMI, Jack developed several of his inventions including the first hand-held radar gun and breath-test device for alcohol in the blood. Jack passed away at age 47. I ran the business and then sold it to a company on the New York Stock Exchange. A few years later, I married Howard Head and was once more in a state of love that gave fulfillment to my life. We lived in Vail part-time. Those eight years were an experience out of a glorious dream. His invention of the metal ski and the oversized tennis racquet changed the recreational world. Howard passed away, and I made the decision to make Vail my primary residence. I married retired Col. John A. Feagin, M.D., and our interests together and love grew with the years. We have many miles to go together before we rest.
I have traveled the world, experienced great things and met extraordinary people, but through it all, I have been blessed to call Vail my home. There is not enough time to tell of all the wonderful times. I want to thank Dr. Jack Eck for his lifesaving gifts and George Gillett for the joy he gave us when he bought Vail Associates.
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.