Hang gliding over Vail Mountain
March 16, 2013
VAIL – What goes up must come down, but not always in the conventional sense.
Hang gliding used to be a perfectly acceptable way to get off the mountain, Dave Gorsuch said. For years, ski patrollers hang glided down Vail Mountain after a day of keeping order on the slopes.
Like tattoos and most political affiliations, it started because someone thought it was a good idea at the time.
Ski patroller Skip Gilkerson worked in the Tommy Bartlett water-ski thrill show in Florida. When he migrated back to the mountains in the winter, Gilkerson brought a couple kite fliers with him to Vail from Florida.
The object was for the ski patrollers to teach water-ski guys to snow-ski well enough to get them airborne, while the kite guys taught the ski patrollers to fly. A fair trade.
Television icon and Vail resident Bud Palmer helped the ski patrollers buy their own kite.
Ski patrolman Homer Morgan, who lived on top of the mountain, flew it down every morning and then rode the lifts back up with the patrollers.
“I thought it would be a family sport,” Dave said.
You have to understand that skiing tends to attract a certain sort of adrenaline-loving human being. Dave raced with the U.S. Olympic Team in 1960 in Squaw Valley, as did his soon-to-be wife, Renee.
That 1960 U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets for the gold medal, which Dave calls the real miracle on ice. Dave, Renee and some others sat in Richard Nixon’s box to watch that game.
Anyway, we were talking about hang gliding.
Renee, his wife and the mother of his children, wasn’t so sure, but she didn’t try to dissuade him about that or anything else he wanted to do.
Dave, ski patroller Paul Testwuide and ski school director Roger Staub used to hang glide off the mountain many winter afternoons. They’d drive over to Meadow Mountain just west of town for more hang gliding.
Dave used to take the family to Hawaii and stay aloft for hours, sailing on those consistent ocean breezes.
“We used to fly off the rim rocks on Spraddle Creek,” Dave said.
They’d fly high above Interstate 70 and land on the Vail golf course.
One time he was landing and came in over a group of golfers. As he came in over their heads, he yelled, “FORE!”
They thought it would never end, but then …
Dave was hang gliding down Vail Mountain one winter afternoon when his glider stalled and he plummeted toward some trees. He crashed through a couple aspen trees and, miraculously, didn’t hurt much of anything except his pride.
“Pete Seibert happened to be walking down Golden Peak and saw the whole thing. He thought I’d been killed,” Dave said. “From that day, we could never hang glide on Vail Mountain.”
Staub was killed competing in a hang gliding event. He was flying a new type of kite and what happened is a bit technical, but basically he went into a dive and the glider wouldn’t pull out of it.
Dave finally gave it up in 1976 when he and Renee bought a small ranch in the western end of the valley.
“I enjoyed it, but it was time to give it up,” Dave said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.