Transplanting a Vail treasure
Ryan Summerlin November 1, 2013
VAIL — The Roaring ’20s came to a crashing halt — literally — on Oct. 29, 1929. The decade of seismic changes in culture, literature, aviation and social mores would fast become a wistful memory as the world fell into the Great Depression in the pre-World War II decade.
During that tumultuous year, down under in Sydney, Australia, Joyce Ann Dixon Repetti’s life began. It’s a life that has spanned continents and that Repetti still enjoys in Vail. However, after her near 40-year love affair with the Rockies, this month Repetti will leave the high country for the flatland and warmer climes of Texas.
Although not a Vail “original,” as she often says, Repetti’s life in the community is woven into the town’s rich history, particularly her involvement with the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Until 2010, Repetti taught skiing in Vail, only quitting when health issues demanded it. There aren’t many places on the planet where ski instructors continue teaching until 80. Vail seems to have magical Shangri-La-like powers for many. No doubt, Repetti’s record as the oldest ski instructor in Vail will never be matched.
Life down under
Australia remained on the fringes of the Pacific theater during the early years of World War II. On May 30, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy came calling, bringing the war to Sydney Harbor. Although the Japanese failed to inflict much physical damage on the city, the attack had the desired effect of wreaking psychological trauma on Sydney’s population. Like many of their fellow residents, Repetti’s parents eventually moved the family to a safer location in Melbourne.
The Dixons were well-known in Australia for creating the “O.T. Chilli Cordial.” Repetti’s father ran the family’s business — O.T. Cordial/Kia-Ora, originally the Prahan Ice and Aereated Water Co. her grandfather founded in 1898. The company grew internationally into a large producer of fruit cordials and tomato sauce later sold to the Campbell Group.
As most proper young ladies of her time, Repetti went to finish school. Sometime after completing the Franshan Finishing School “up in the country” from Sydney, Repetti traveled to America with her parents to visit her sister Judith in Colorado Springs.
Before heading to Colorado, the Dixons visited Repetti’s uncle who worked in the movie industry. Los Angeles quickly became the setting of one of her fondest memories. Who wouldn’t find a tour of the Walt Disney studios, watching artists draw characters that animation would bring to life on the silver screen and lunch with the genius himself a great experience worth remembering?
Repetti and her parents continued their journey to Colorado Springs. With her sister pregnant, her parents decided Repetti should remain in Colorado to help Judith. The plan was for Repetti to return to Australia after the birth of Judith’s baby. As the saying goes, “God laughs at our plans.”
For the love of a man
Soon after her arrival in Colorado Springs, Repetti met the love of her life. On a blind date to the Broadmoor Hotel, New York City native George Repetti and Australian Ann Dixon began what Ann’s longtime pastor, Father Brooks Keith of Vail’s Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, calls “a true love affair crossing oceans and continents.” It didn’t take George long to propose to Ann. In early 1950, they traveled to Melbourne for their wedding. Upon returning to Colorado Springs, George continued working in banking until a distant war interrupted their lives.
George, who had served in the Army during World War I, was called up again for the Korean War. Ann took their daughter to Melbourne until George came to take his girls back to America. Although they lived on military bases in Colorado, Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky, the Repettis finally settled where their love had blossomed: Colorado Springs. There, the couple raised their three daughters, Ann, Elizabeth and Susan. It wasn’t long until the Repettis fell in love with a new resort in the central mountains, establishing Ann’s connection with Vail.
In 1964, the Repettis purchased a condominium, putting down shallow roots in Vail. Thus began 23 years of part-time living in Vail and Colorado Springs. After George’s passing in 1986, Ann dug deeper roots in Vail when she purchased a house on Vail Valley Drive, making it her full-time residence.
Bloom where you are planted
Like so many others who heed Vail’s siren song, Ann became a ski instructor. From 1987 until her 2010 retirement, Ann taught generations of skiers to enjoy the sport she loved. After 30 years, she received an award from then Vail Resorts CEO Adam Aron for her service.
Her long tenure as a ski instructor isn’t all Ann is known for in the community. Ann enjoyed a close friendship with Gerald and Betty Ford, who were beloved members of the Vail and Beaver Creek communities. Given Ann’s uncanny resemblance to her, Betty Ford often quipped that Ann was her “stand-in.”
In addition to their looks, the two women shared a love of nature. Ann revels in gardening, and what better place to do so than the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Many species of alpine flora live in the world’s highest botanical garden where Ann served as a volunteer for decades.
In 2000, while weeding in those gardens, newly minted Vail full-time residents Frank and Eve Barborek came to know Ann Repetti. They realized quickly the delightful lady — in every sense of the word — was their ski instructor on a previous visit to Vail. With their hands working the alpine soil, their close friendship began. Soon, the Barboreks joined Ann’s “Monday Night Supper” group and drove her each Sunday to church services in Vail.
At 8 a.m. on Sunday, for the last time before her move, Ann will take her usual seat on the aisle in the second pew — no one sits in the first — at the Vail Interfaith Chapel. With her family, friends and fellow parishioners in attendance, Father Brooks will honor Ann’s enduring spirit and contributions to the community. A farewell celebration the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens staff organized will follow downstairs in the Interfaith Chapel at 9 a.m.
The Vail community has bid farewell to many of its indomitable spirits that wove the fabric of this special high country resort. We will sorely miss the ski instructor who never took “I’ll try” for an answer, demanding instead, “I will do it!” No doubt, she will soon etch her place in the hearts of new friends and fellow parishioners in Houston. She has a good deal of living left to do!