In July 1994 we buried my dad’s ashes under the mid-Vail tree.
My mom, sister, a couple of friends and I boarded the Vista Bahn. As we hopped off at the top, we eyed the perfect spot, just to our left — the lone pine at the base of one of Dad’s favorite runs, the runs leading to the Cook Shack where he had his daily hot dog and beer.
We set out up the surprisingly steep hill leading to the tree. When we reached it, we sat, catching our breath, surveying the surrounding vista. Yes, this was the spot.
The tree, which was then named Henry’s Tree stood alone, as a conductor would, facing a symphony of forest above where Swingsville, Expresso, Cappuccino and Christmas funneled down to Chair 4.
My dad was a conductor, a composer, a musician and a genius. He also loved to ski and called Vail his second home since 1975, when he and my mom bought their condo in the lodge.
His last visit was in December 1993. He didn’t know why he was so tired during that last Christmas, needing to come in early and take a nap instead of waiting for last chair. We found out in February that he had pancreatic cancer. He left us on June 14, 1994.
Returning with his ashes was the right thing to do, knowing that we could hike up to his tree every summer to say hello and wave to him as we ascended Chair 4 on our yearly ski trips.
Henry’s Tree was a permanent memorial to a wonderful father, almost great skier, exceptional composer and truly great human being.
But one thing my father knew was that the only thing permanent is change.
As I go to the mid-Vail webcam on a daily basis, I noticed last week the holes being dug where the towers will be placed to support the new six-pack.
When I first heard about the chair last year, it didn’t occur to me that Henry’s Tree would be in its path. But sure enough, the cam swept over the familiar scene, and I knew what is going to happen. My father’s tree is going to be cut down. Talk about a dagger to the heart.
The cost of progress is sometimes painful, a lesson we learn time after time.
This December, I will probably stand in a shorter line going up Chair 4, but I will shed a tear as I pass the spot where Henry’s Tree stood, and say hello again to the man whose spirit still lives on the slopes of Vail and will forever.
I’m writing this so that whoever holds the saw that takes down that magnificent tree can know what memories it holds and what it represents to our family.
Felice Mancini, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., is the daughter of the late composer Henry Mancini.
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