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.
My introduction to Vail was with my uncle, Bud Palmer, a few days into the new year of 1965. We bunked at Pepi’s, where we met Rod Slifer and Sheika and Pepi Gramshammer. Palmer was so enamored with the skiing and the beginnings of an alpine village in the Colorado Rockies that he bought one of the first condominiums in All Seasons. Since he lived in New York City at the time, his family could only travel to Vail during school holidays. If the condo wasn’t rented — which rarely happened in those days — my two daughters, some friends and I could crash there most weekends. Living in Colorado Springs and then in Boulder, where I completed my teaching degree, we packed ski gear in my Volkswagen bug, traveled the two-lane winding roads through Loveland and Vail passes (no interstate) and quickly became hooked on Vail as “weekend locals.”
The exceptional skiing, with so few people on the slopes, meant a fresh powder dump lasted days. I had been skiing since the late ’40s at Ski Cooper, Winter Park, Arapahoe, Pikes Peak, Climax and Aspen. Vail’s slopes, with the Back Bowls, certainly trumped my earlier ski experiences. Besides, it was such a safe place for my daughters, Mary Catherine and Barbara, to learn to ski. A Poma lift at Mid-Vail allowed them to practice their turns without Mom’s constant attention. I could then enjoy more challenging slopes accessed by Chairs 3 and 4, checking in with them after each run. One afternoon as I took off for some final turns, the lift broke down. It took a couple of hours to repair, and by the time I skied into Mid-Vail, it was dark. In those days, there was no need to worry about unattended 4- and 6-year-old girls. They were in good hands, drinking hot chocolate and eating sandwiches with a ski patrolman they knew.
My daughters loved “working” with George Knox at his Mug Shop on Bridge Street, which had a handy back hall connection to Donovan’s Copper Bar. My friends and I could join in the raucous, weekend apres ski at the bar, while George looked after the kids. With no radio, TV or movie theater in Vail, the bars (Red Lion, Lodge at Vail, Pepi’s, the Casino, Nu Gnu and the Vail Village Inn) were the gathering spots for everyone from shop owners and ski execs to ski school instructors and patrol, lift operators and trail packers. For a day of foot packing the slopes, you could earn a free lift ticket.
After graduating with teaching credentials, I searched for a way to move to Vail, but there were no openings in area schools. When I met Kris Moser, he was interviewing for a job with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. After we married in 1969, he signed on as a wildlife officer in the Minturn area. We moved permanently in 1970 to one of the first condominiums in the valley developed and constructed by locals. Dave and Rob Garton sold us our first home in Buffehr Creek West Condominiums, with Steve Boyd and Carl Nelson (Closer Than Most Construction) building the project. Sons Michael and Matthew were born there.
The outdoors served as our playground. My family and I all look back at this time as some of the happiest of our lives. We played games, hiked, backpacked, camped, picnicked, inner-tubed down Gore Creek, skied and skated together and in tandem with other families. On Sunday afternoons in the fall, you could find avid football fans seeking a radio signal from Denver to listen to the game. The top of Davos became an accessible and popular hangout. We danced with the Bavailians, skied and coached with Buddy Werner League, and skated and played hockey on the outdoor rinks. Add to that the nonprofit organizations that began with this group of pioneers and remain today: Buddy Werner League, The Eagle Valley Rummage Sale, Ski Club Vail, Skating Club of Vail and Vail Junior Hockey Club.
The memories, the stories, the friendships continue to enrich our lives. What a magical time it was to be living in this fledgling resort. We all experienced firsthand that pioneering spirit — everyone pulling together to survive. There were dirt streets in town, no grocery or clothing stores, television or radio. We lacked many amenities that we had taken for granted where we lived before. But we had the basics and each other. We helped build homes, raise kids, start businesses and we worked as one, big family, while skiing and partying together. Those friendships are treasures that have endured. I’m still in contact with many women who have moved away, but still come to visit, such as Jane Langmaid Smith (we crashed a few times in Bunny and Joe Langmaid’s home), Betty Stiles Stoner, Dorothy Orlosky, Pam Garton, Shirley Ward, Kasey Stanish, Barbara Parker and June Simonton. I mourn those pioneers who have departed too soon - Marge Burdick, Celine Krueger, Judy Nelson, Betsy Robinson, Judy Nicholls, Patty Steinle Grubb, Imogene Doll and Cindy Brennan.
I value the friendships that have survived. They are a treasure trove of support, hilarious stories, memories and love. We fought fiercely to save our water, wilderness areas and to build a hospital, a church, schools and a community in which to raise our families. Our children grew up with wings to launch out on their own but with solid Vail roots. Many have returned after living and working in other places. It’s been said that Vail’s an easy place to leave, but it’s a hard place to stay away from. Vail’s changed, but that pioneer spirit lives deep in our hearts.
“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.