Vail’s early days: Lucky to be here
Ryan Summerlin October 6, 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.
Arriving from Florida with my two young children, my mother, and two Persian cats in a new station wagon that kept stalling because of the altitude, we came through Dowd Junction and each one of us said, “Ahhhh,” when we saw the quaint alpine village called Vail. We had checked out Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder and Aspen, but without realizing it Vail was just what we were looking for. We rented an A-frame house in East Vail for $75 a week. Mice and chipmunks occupied with authority, which was worrisome in the middle of the night because the bathroom was downstairs.
We called one of the chipmunks “Jimmy” after my son who seldom came when he was called. One day, Jimmy showed up with surveying stakes in his hand. I gasped. When he saw my face, he said, “Don’t worry, Mommy. I’ll put them back.” They were CDOT stakes marking where I-70 would go. We laugh today at the last wide curve coming down Vail Pass as Jimmy’s doing.
Jimmy and Paul Johnston Jr. used to find loot at the Nu Gnu (the nightclub Paul’s father owned) that had slipped from guys’ pockets when they sat in the booths.
My mother talked me into buying a condominium rather than renting.
“I’m quite sure you’ll get your money back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you make some money,” she astutely advised.
So I bought a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at the Vorlaufer for $37,000. It was the brilliant orange shag carpet and avocado appliances that sold me. There’s a plaque in her memory on the bench across from the Vorlaufer on Vail Valley Drive.
For a never-ever skier, looking up at Golden Peak was frightening, so I signed up for a ski lesson.
“Make one turn and come down to me,” the instructor said.
I did. The 190-centimeter ski bindings didn’t release.
“Don’t worry,” said the doctor. “When you can put your foot in your boot and bang it (on the heel like we all did back then), probably in three days, you’ll be OK.”
Ha! Three months later, after hobbling around leaning on my children’s ski poles, I ventured back on the hill.
Seven to one
People still question if I’m legit when I tell them I came here in 1968.
“I never saw you at Donovan’s,” they said.
With two kids, a mother, a bum knee, and two cats, how could I be guzzling at the bar? Blake Lynch agreed to take care of our cats when we took a family trip to California. Blake kept them in his loft attractively carpeted in deep red shag. Since the cats were what breeders call chinchilla, white with black tips, the carpet sure looked more like a chinchilla than red shag by the time we got back, but Blake has yet to complain.
The kids’ ski passes were a mere 16 bucks if bought through the school, located above the clinic. When they came home complaining of sore arms, I queried them. They simply said they were given inoculations at the clinic. No big deal for them, and I don’t recall permission slips from parents.
I learned I could get a free day ski pass if I helped pack down snow on the steep runs on the front of the mountain. The ski corp wanted passersby on Highway 6 to see just how fabulous our snow and ski conditions were.
I usually knew where my kids were – either ice skating under Chair 6 or sledding down Bridge Street on plastic or cardboard. Mary Lou Davis, who has a great sense of humor and a prosthetic leg, didn’t lose her cool when it detached and went flying down Bridge Street. Instead of hollering, “Ski, Ski,” as we did before bindings had brakes, she shouted, “Leg, Leg!”
Baking was a huge challenge and still is at high altitude. Not that it ever was my forte, but for Lynne’s first birthday in Vail, getting the frosting to stay put was nearly impossible. I kept running down the block to the Deli to buy more confectioners’ sugar. Photos document the disaster, but a sweet disaster at that.
There weren’t separate queues for singles in the early days, so the trick to skiing was scouting out the lift lines. Only when you spotted a good-looking guy, did you shout, “Single?” I tried it at Chair 6 and by the time we reached the top, the guy asked me to dinner.
“Are you married?” I asked.
Hey, I only asked you to dinner,” he mouthed as he skied away in a hurry.
“PMS” – we always went to Pepi’s, Mickey’s and Sheika’s for nightlife. And I remember traipsing through the mud across the Covered Bridge to the VVI for the Melodrama. Dates were easy to come by, and memories of doing the Charleston on a dance floor covered with peanuts where the Left Bank now sits are indelible. Those were the days when the ratio was seven men to every woman. We were so lucky to be here.
“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.