Editor’s note: It has been our honor and privilege to speak with Chris Jouflas and members of the extended Jouflas family many times about many subjects for many years. Quotes from Chris Jouflas in this story are pulled from some of those conversations.
EAGLE COUNTY — Chris Jouflas was an old school man of the land and a man of his word.
The Jouflas family and other local ranching families were pioneers before there were Vail pioneers.
“He was there when everyone showed up and he was nice to everyone who came,” said Steve, Jouflas one of Chris Jouflas and Connie Jouflas’ children. “He was an honest guy, well respected, who gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.”
Christopher Peter Jouflas, 87, died on Thursday at his Grand Junction home surrounded by his family. It was cancer, but he fought hard against it.
No one ever heard him raise his voice in anger, they said.
“He always said, ‘Who could have a better life than this?’” Steve Jouflas said.
Ouzo and other tales
The Jouflas family owns land in Eagle County because they worked for it. In the Jouflas family, “ranch” is an action verb, and Chris Jouflas didn’t act like a member of the landed gentry. He worked for a living.
“You worked at it every day. You ranched,” Chris said.
If you’ve skied Vail, then you’ve skied on some of that land.
One summer day not so very long ago, Chris Jouflas was about the business of tending sheep at the top of what is now Lionshead.
He came across a couple of pleasant young guys wandering around the area, taking notes and pointing at things. This was the late 1950s, when it was impolite to point.
Those guys were Pete Seibert, Earl Eaton and some other early Vail visionaries.
“I asked them what they were doing, and they said they were going to build a ski area,” Chris Jouflas said.
“Well that’s wonderful!” Chris Jouflas said. “Good luck!”
Chris Jouflas and other locals helped Vail grow, pivotal in its success.
A few years later, the fledgling ski company was building Game Creek Bowl, but built some of the lifts on land it wasn’t supposed to, Chris Jouflas’ property. That was about the time Chris Jouflas and his wife Connie Jouflas began to split their focus between sheep ranching and real estate.
They sold the ski company the land for its lifts, although the price is lost to the winds of history.
“When we finished the deal, Chris went up with a bottle of ouzo and they toasted their success,” Connie Jouflas said.
And that, young people, is how that run on Vail Mountain got its name.
“They created the legend. I just brought the bottle,” Chris said. “As I recall, it’s a black diamond run, which works out pretty well because ouzo is a black diamond drink.”
From ranches to the Ritz
Back when agriculture was the king of Colorado, the Eagle River Valley was marked by the ranching families who lived here, not by hotels and starter castles.
“He was one of those people who made a lasting, positive impression,” his daughter Denise Jouflas said.
Speaking of castles, the valley’s first TV tower was on Castle Peak, and Chris Jouflas packed it up there. When it was built, residents could get two channels, which sparked the occasional battle over which of their children got to watch what.
Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White met Chris Jouflas and Connie Jouflas when a mutual friend brought him fishing. He used to swing by the Jouflas ranch house in Wolcott for lunch when he was in the area. Once when Chris Jouflas’ family was in Washington, D.C., and was touring the Supreme Court, White came out and proudly showed his old friend and the family around the High Court’s inner sanctums.
Jerry and Betty Ford were close family friends, and bought a lamb every year for Jerry Ford’s birthday party. Jerry Ford wrote checks for each one, but Chris Jouflas never cashed them.
Chris Jouflas called CDOT to diplomatically point out that while Denver might deserve its moniker as the Mile High City, there was also a Mile High mark on the Western Slope. It’s at the West Rifle exit on I-70, right where Chris said it would be and where the sign stood for decades.
An American success story
The patriarch and matriarch of the Jouflas clan, Peter and Dorothy, father and mother to Chris and his older brother George, both arrived in America from Greece through Ellis Island, Peter in 1907 and Dorothy in 1916. They married on Jan. 25, 1924.
Peter ran sheep in Snowmass and purchased the ranch on the Frying Pan in Basalt in the early 1900s.
He bought land north of the Eagle River around Wolcott in 1924, and Ute Creek in 1926.
He added the basin in the 1930s and 40s, and bought the Holland Ranch on the valley floor in 1945, which included ranging permits for what’s now Vail Mountain and Game Creek Bowl, and later the lower Piney.
When livestock’s too lively
Chris was responsible for Vail’s ban on herding livestock through town, or one of his sheep was.
As Vail started to spring up, real estate development soon followed. Among the favored spots was the real estate along Gore Creek.
It’s pastoral and placid. People liked it. So did sheep.
“Ranching is a fairly straightforward business,” Chris Jouflas said. “Sheep need grass and they need water. They don’t need much else. They aren’t real complicated.”
Sheep do, however, need to be left alone. When they’re facing the business end of a cranky, toothy dog, their sense of self-preservation kicks into overdrive as they run the other direction.
There are a few specific dog breeds you want around sheep. Favorite among them is the kind that can snap a coyote’s neck like a twig. Another is the kind that keeps sheep rounded up and prevents them from forming support groups for future lamb chops.
Then there’s the kind of dog that made one of Chris Jouflas ewes so nervous she jumped through a plate-glass window on the ground floor of Gunther Hoffler’s brand new condo in Manor Vail Lodge.
Some dogs chased that sheep until it leaped through the condo’s huge window. The sheep suffered a cut to its eyelid, and massive amounts of that blood ended up on Hoffler’s powder blue shag carpet — and pretty much all across the rest of the powder blue condo that his interior decorator had said was simply “to die for.”
Hoffler eventually returned to his powder blue domicile, finding it generously dotted with blood stains and other byproducts that any nervous sheep might leave behind.
Hoffler and Chris Jouflas came to an agreement, sort of. Hoffler was furious that sheep had to graze where Vail is. Chris Jouflas was amused Vail is where his sheep used to graze.
Not long after that, Vail’s town fathers decreed that if anything was to be herded through Vail, it would be tourists.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.