Vail Tales: Knock and it shall be opened
December 23, 2012
VAIL, Colorado – Vail may be have been sculpted by God to be a ski mountain, but God wasn’t always foremost in people’s minds when they skied here.
Rev. Don Simonton, pastor of Vail’s Lutheran church, lived that almost every day, even at Christmas.
Christmas Eve and Easter are the church attendance equivalent of Super Bowl Sunday, when ministers can expect a packed house.
In the 1970s, Simonton’s Christmas Eve congregation included President Gerald Ford, his wife, Betty, and their children, along with a full contingent of Secret Service.
Vail’s new Interfaith Chapel was packed.
Rev. Simonton wanted to do things a little differently that year and decided he’d work his way up the aisle from the back of the Vail Chapel as the Christmas story progressed.
Here’s where he ran afoul of Ford’s Secret Service contingent.
To come in through the chapel’s main doors and to approach the crowd from behind, Simonton slipped out the side door toward the back and circled around.
The problem was that the Secret Service apparently didn’t want anyone sneaking up on the president of the United States from behind.
When Simonton reached the main doors, they were locked. The Secret Service apparently decided enough people were in the chapel and locked the door. Simonton, who was supposed to conduct the service, had to pound on the door to be let in, and it was cold outside.
Before the Vail Interfaith Chapel opened, the Catholics and Father Thomas Stone held their services in The Casino. The Protestants and Simonton met in a bar at The Lodge at Vail.
“You’d arrive and there were always two or three people there. You were never sure if they were there for the service or left over from the night before,” Simonton said.
Simonton was riding up the lift one day when a young man asked what he did for a living.
“I would say, ‘I’m a minister,’ and people wouldn’t know quite how to react,’ Simonton said.
This young man did. “You’re a minister?!? What the hell are you doing in Vail?!?”
Christmas is for the children, of course, but in Vail’s early days, they had to make a living when they could.
Before Vail, Dave Gorsuch landed a job as mountain manager at Crested Butte – $700 a month and a truck.
They were in Denver for a ski show and went to see “Dr. Zhivago” afterward when John McBride tapped Dave on the shoulder. McBride was one of Vail’s original investors and asked if they’d like to open a shop in Vail.
On May 1, 1966, they moved everything from Crested Butte to Vail and opened a shop across the street from the bus station.
To build that first Vail shop, he sifted through construction trash at Manor Vail, scrounging for bits of wood and straightening nails.
“It was much different than it is now,” Dave said.
Dave ran a backhoe on the mountain for Vail Associates, while Renie and her sister ran the store.
That first year, Renie hauled her son to the store on Christmas Day. Santa came that night. One year, they tried to close on Christmas Day, but their phone rang so much they had to open the store.
Their children must have been fine with it. They returned to the area after college and are involved in the business.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.