Pioneers of a new ski area
Ryan Summerlin December 1, 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.
Johnny and Laurie Mack McBride arrived in Vail the evening of Jan. 6, 1964. It was very snowy when we tried to find Rod Slifer, who had been entrusted with the key to the cabin Johnny had built by himself in Bighorn. He had bought the land from Jay Utter in 1963 when he was working for Owens-Corning Fiberglass, and he’d built his cabin after resigning from being a salesman. Unable to locate Rod, we ended up sleeping on the floor of Bill and Gretta Whiteford’s condo, my welcome to Vail as a newlywed.
I grew up in Pasadena, Calif., went to the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, and then to Stanford, a family tradition starting with my grandmother, Class of 1896. After college, I worked on the Strang Ranch in Carbondale while Johnny was building that cabin in Vail. Then I went to New York City to work as a teaching assistant. Johnny finally arrived and saved me from the Big Apple. We married after he nonchalantly presented me with a 9-foot-tall camel; Johnny dressed as Lawrence of Arabia at the bridal dinner. We returned the camel to Jungleland Inc. in Hollywood and flew to Denver to start our new life in a resort that was not yet on the map.
How I loved our cabin in the woods and my dog, Angus, a runt German shepherd that loved to jump in the air chasing butterflies. Johnny arranged for me to work with Joan Carnie in her day care center while he taught skiing. I had grown up playing lots of tennis, so I went into Johnny’s skiing class that consisted mostly of Fitzhugh and Eileen Scott’s friends. We called the Scotts “Ti” and “Unc.” After one particularly heavy snowfall, I almost decapitated an older gentleman with my pole while falling and was asked not to return.
Young and invigorated
By this time, I was pregnant, skiing alone with Angus the dog, who sat on the chairlift next to me. I knew I was improving when I could ski faster than Angus could run and alone I was not a liability to anyone. We were settling into our cabin on a very snowy blowing night. Suddenly, we were kidnapped with Angus, put in the back of John Donovan’s truck and driven freezing to the Red Lion Inn, where we had to buy drinks for everyone. This was apparently Donovan’s Revelry Special, and now we were officially initiated into Vail.
Summer of ’64, John and George Shaw formed a partnership and built Eileen Kaiser’s house and a few other construction jobs. Later, I became Johnny’s secretary while he was trying to obtain a loan to build the Clock Tower Building. Three months later, thinking the loan-interest notification was a bill, I blithely paid it off in full with next to nothing in our account. I was fired immediately (to my delight) while Johnny had to renegotiate the loan.
One starry night, we went up the mountain to help Bill Whiteford build his ice bar that VA was opposed to. We thought we were so clever. We were young and invigorated by making our own rules. Johnny and I ran a movie house in the Vail Village Inn cafeteria, renting 16-millimeter movies and showing them for $1 on weekends. Everyone was trying any kind of new business to make a few bucks.
John McBride Jr. (Johno) was born Dec. 18, 1964, the same day as Pepi’s opening. He was born in Pasadena, Calif., because there was no hospital in Vail. Summer of ’65, Johnny built the Clock Tower Building and then that Christmas, the whole McBride clan arrived for Christmas. I love to cook, so I did the whole dinner and served it up in our cabin on a pingpong table. My mother had sent a huge paper cloth and napkins for the event. We were 18 total. A perfect day, plenty of snow and a lovely sleigh ride was enjoyed by all.
It was a very small community, a population of about 50. There was a feeling of excitement in the air as we were on uncharted territory, pioneers of a new ski era. The Scotts were great friends. We put on a Fourth of July party with everyone, all ages, serving a 1-2-3 rum punch. There was a treasure hunt, golf competition and rubber rafting to town. Amazingly, we all survived. What fond memories that party brings back. Ellie Caulkins and George were great pals. Ellie and I had our first-born boys at exactly the same time. We thought we were originals. Our daughter Kate was born June 30, 1966. I remember Zane Hoyt’s son being the best babysitter ever. Johnny was building the post office next to the Clock Tower at the time.
We received an offer on our cabin that we could not refuse, so we sold it, planning on moving into the post office apartment building. “Ti” and “Unc” Scott let us stay in their house on Mill Creek Circle until the apartment was completed. Bill Janss came by for lunch in August and offered Johnny a job developing the commercial core of a new town and ski area called Snowmass next to Aspen that he was planning. Unsure of our future, Johnny accepted the offer, as it was too good to pass up. We sadly packed up and moved to Aspen in September of 1966 with Johno and Kate, Angus the dog and Alice the cat.
What a busy two years and so many wonderful friends – Heather and Rod Slifer, Gerry and Elaine White who lived up the road from us, Pepi and Sheika, Scotts, Whitefords, Slevins, Schuberts, Kendalls, Gorsuch, Johnsons, Roger Brown, all the shopkeepers, Ella Knox, Connie Meade, and many more. All I can say is, thank you, thank you for the memory trip we had together and all the fun adventures we shared, the mistakes, the naughtiness and the great feeling of camaraderie. It changed and redirected all of our lives.
“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.