‘Women of Vail’ serialization: ‘It was all starting then’
Ryan Summerlin December 8, 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. Kelton and Pope will be at the Vail Public Library for a book talk and signing at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.
My sister and brother-in-law Doris and Dick Bailey came on a ski trip to Vail in 1962. They walked up Bridge Street and saw Fitzhugh Scott’s beautiful blue door; Scott was an architect, as was Dick. He telephoned Vail’s first architect, who called him back, and asked, “How soon can you start?” Doris and Dick moved to Vail soon after that. Then I came to visit and never left.
Fitzhugh Scott owned the Vail Bridge Chalet, and it had the first toilet. I started to work for Vail Associates in 1964-65. I was a junior in college, but I’d stopped and ski bummed in Killington that winter and drove to Vail with a friend in June. She did not stick around; she didn’t love skiing as much as I did. Summer was gorgeous. I lined things up for the upcoming winter. My first job was with VA, but I only worked part-time. Filmmaker Roger Brown and Perry Willett also had work for me. I used to transcribe for Roger. Loyette Goodell was Pete Seibert’s secretary. We were in the old Plaza Building – Pete and Chuck Lewis were upstairs with Al Bridges and ski patrol. We only had 25 ski patrol and instructors, and they came in each day after the lifts closed to check out. It was the post office, too.
Oh, those early years. We all fell into a bar at night. What else do you do? There was no TV; you had The Red Lion, La Cave, the Casino, Nu Gnu. Pepi’s was just a bar and restaurant, not a lot of rock ‘n’ roll there. That first summer I worked at the Vail Resort Association; Doris was there at the beginning of VRA. Gaynor Miller wanted to start the Vail Valley Camp for Girls. So he put me in charge of it; it didn’t go very far, even though it was a perfect place for a girls’ camp; it was wilderness here. We had the sheep drives go right through town and up the mountain because it was the best grazing.
I lived with Doris for a period of time. Then I moved over the liquor store. I met George Ward at The Red Lion, where he bartended. We married, and I had four kids in three years. You didn’t have anything, including your mother, at your disposal for a birth. The plan was to use a doctor in Denver for the first child. I was at Norge by George Laundromat, and my water broke in my car. I went to Dr. Steinberg down the street, and he said, “You won’t make it to Denver.” So I told him I’d go to Glenwood, and he replied, “But go now!” I was smoking and drinking through all of that.
My wedding was in 1967. Bridge Street was just being paved that day for the first time; it was a Tuesday in October, and The Red Lion was closed, so we had the reception there. Whoever was in town that day came to the wedding. It was Don Simonton’s first wedding in Vail. We were married in the little white church in Minturn (now Holy Toledo consignment store). We sent George to Glenwood Springs to pick up the flowers. He ran into a sheep drive on the way back. Everybody was already at the church. Cissy Dobson ran out of repertoire to play, and Don Simonton wore his white robe with cowboy boots sticking out. I wore my sister’s full-blown wedding gown. I just sat with my father and lit up a cigarette. Larry Burdick’s comment was “villainous to the end.” George used to be the villain in the town melodramas. Finally, he showed up at least an hour late; people were still listening to the same music over and over. After the ceremony, the German girls kidnapped me according to an old German custom, and the groom had to look for the new bride. They took me to different places.
After the reception, they handcuffed George to a bar stool at Donovan’s. He was attached to a bar stool and had to go get the car key. They took me to Jeff’s Cafe in Minturn for bumper pool with guys who frequented the place. I won a bumper pool game with some guy. Helga Rein will never forget that one. George appeared, and he retrieved me.
Snowed like crazy
The tourists would ask, “Do you really live here?” Tourists became your best and lifelong friends and came to live here, too. Everybody knew everybody else. People worked different hours; we had instructors who didn’t stay up all night, but bartenders that did. Instructors worked all day long, and they could only stay up so long. You’d have early crowds, late crowds and shifts. There was no gender bias. Most of the women in Vail were jock types, more aggressive and independent. My sister carried the development torches; I avoided town politics. I was aware but never quite got into it. I probably played and drank a lot, but you were fairly safe because your car was buried in snow. You didn’t go many places; it snowed like crazy up here. You were “here,” and the trip to Denver was long. People with businesses might have done it differently, but ski bums had no real need to go. If you needed a bra, for instance, you’d go to Frisco. You couldn’t buy things like that here. Leadville was at higher altitude, so it was safer to take the two-lane to Frisco. I didn’t have a car then, so I went with friends.
I worked for Gunther Hofler at The Red Lion. He and his wife were second parents to me. Once I started there, I made a lot more money. VRA was booking conventions. I even remember corn and sheep conventions, and a firemen’s convention. Whatever went on in Vail on a given day, everybody did it. I remember Christmas in July at the Slifers’ house and making nose warmers as a surprise gift. You had one street in town, with a cross street. We had a sense of adventure, and the core thing was a love of skiing. I don’t think anybody who didn’t love skiing came. Anne Staufer came with Josef, who loved skiing. It was all starting then. Men were looking for more mountains to tame. Women who came on their own were more rugged. And I think everyone liked everybody. I missed my friends when I left, but they are long-lasting friendships. I never thought I’d made a mistake coming to Vail. I miss it.
“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.