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June 14, 2013
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Trek to Vail always special

With summer vacation coming fast, I wanted to share with you a story about the exciting vacations I had as a kid in the 1970s. So here we go!

First off, we didn’t have the modern conveniences kids have today; No iPods, no CD players ... a Walkman wasn’t even invented yet! No kicking stereos. Thank God we didn’t. Who knows what our parents would have made us listen to. No, we didn’t have the luxuries of today. The air conditioners were useless. No matter. We didn’t even have summer back then, so I’ll tell you about our winter ski trip.

OK, so here I am packing for my trip to Vail. Living in Chicago, I knew cold — really cold! So I got my down coat, my parka, astronaut gloves, long johns (two pair) and, by the way, nobody had figured out how to make a long-sleeve shirt with that long john material yet. This wasn’t the thermal PJ soft stuff we had today. This stuff was like 60 grit sandpaper, and you could use it to refinish furniture. Our skis and boots weighed as much as a zamboni.

My Dad came to check my packing, a footlocker packed perfectly to make a Marine sergeant proud. He said there was way too much stuff. (“What do you think, you’re moving to Alaska?”) He just shook his head slowly so as to not to spill his sixth martini.

He gave me an old Samsonite briefcase. You know, the one the gorilla threw around in the commercial? Yes, that one, that exact one. And there I was, trying to pack in as much life-sustaining protective gear as possible. Though it really wasn’t protective since we didn’t have helmets. Really, if you wanted a helmet back then, it was assumed you were being shot out of a cannon at the circus. I mean “not freezing to death” protection.

So I pile enough stuff to barely survive in this briefcase and call my sister in to stand on top of it and then jump up and down to compress it so tight that when opened, it could be used as an IED in Afghanistan.

“When is our flight? Are we flying Continental?” Nope, we’re driving, Dad said. “Great,” I thought, “It will be cool cruising in his Eldorado, buzzing from the thick cloud of cigarette smoke.” Then Dad said we were caravanning with Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie.

“Well,” I thought. “This is going to be an adventure!” You see, Marie and Joe had a 1970 Volkswagen van, bright orange with a camper package. A whopping 50 horsepower. That was going to keep up with the Caddy’s 500V8?

So off we went, through the frozen tundra of the empty cornfields of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado — 1,100 miles at 55 mph, 20 hours of driving. By the way, I’ve since done this drive in 10 hours in my 1996 Firebird. Things were different then.

Joe got on the interstate, and the van gave all its might to slowly accumulate the necessary inertia for forward motion: 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 47, 52, 54, 57 mph at last! Wait, why were we slowing down? We needed gas. The van’s 8.75 gallon tank had given its all.

Driving 14 hours the first day and 10 hours the next day, we reached the Front Range. The sight of Stapleton Airport in Denver was the end of my rope. Exhausted from two long days on the road, I fall into a deep slumber. I had strange dreams of Santa’s sleigh bells jingling while Santa himself is firing a muted M1 carbine set on fully automatic. I awoke to find my disturbing dream was inspired by that little 50 horsepower engine rat-a-tat-a-rat-a-tat-jingle-tat-rat a-tat-a-jingle-tat. Anyone who has pushed an old VW motor to the limit will understand. I opened my eyes and witnessed the pure adrenaline of 7 mph and we were just starting up the hill. The last 90 miles was going to take forever. We all pulled over and decided to put as much as possible in the Caddy to take some of the load off the van. I got to ride in the Caddy, and my second-hand-smoke-deprived body couldn’t have been happier.

After the switch, Dad got after it and the pure g-force smashing me into the plush leather seats was exhilarating. I felt like Starbuck being shot out of the Battleship Galactica. Then there was the sudden feeling of driving into a molasses pit. No, what happened? We’re waiting for Joe and Marie. “Now settle down,” Dad said through a thick cloud of smoke.

Seven hours later, we finally reached our destination. Being late, we had to look for the owner of the duplex we were renting. It’s 10 p.m., so we knew we would find him at one of the local bars. After a couple of stops, we found him and almost carried him to the car. It was party time! Well, at least for the adults. Us teens had to fight over the bunk beds and couches.

Suddenly it was 6 a.m. and the sarge, Aunt Marie, said, “We’re leaving in one hour, so get up and pack a lunch. You will eat on the chair lift, and we will be there from opening to closing.”

“And you will like it!” my dad contributed.

We drove into town, clunking away in our gravity boots, got our tickets and hit the lift. “This is what it’s all about,” I think as I try to wedge my hand like O.J. Simpson into my well-worn, 5-year-old gloves. Let’s take the gondola! There is no line.

“Great,” I thought apprehensively, “hanging 7,000 feet up in a sardine can sounds awesome to me.”

The old gondola stopped more than a school bus, so 45 minutes later we were halfway up the hill. Eighteen minutes later, we reached the top and were ready to get to some skiing!

As we tried to find our legs, I fond snow skiing is awesome! Freedom, speed, beautiful scenery, control.

And then I caught an edge and realized gravity is a huge part of skiing, and snow is sharp at 35 mph. And you know, you need snow, and to have snow you seem to need, or should I say not need any British thermal units. Heat is a distant memory by 3 p.m. Dad was still at Pepi’s from lunch and said he’d meet us for the last run. Riva Ridge from top to bottom is over 2,000 feet vertical and a great run.

Full of martinis, Dad showed up late. We were freezing and the promise of warmth was driving my skis with determination. Back to the pad, into the hot tub and out to dinner, and then we teenagers got to go to the hi-tech arcade. Wow, they have pong! A TV screen with this amazing tennis simulation! Technology had reached its peak. Our roll of quarters depleted, we hiked through the snow back to our makeshift beds to get some sleep before being awoken to reveille.

Oh, the memories! Ski pole fights, family bickering and close quarters with one bathroom for 14 people. These were good times. Times our parents worked hard to provide. They will always be my finest memories.

The magic of the Vail Valley drew me to move here and open my first practice. My father also moved close and will always be on Riva Ridge sharing the joy of family and the generation after generation of memories formed there. If you’re near Pepi’s, take a seat on his memorial bench. He’d like that.

Richard Ochsmann, D.C. , spent a lot of time in Vail as a kid and had a chiropractic practice inside of City Market for five years in the 1990s.


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The VailDaily Updated Jun 15, 2013 03:32PM Published Jun 14, 2013 10:18AM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.