VAIL — You knew the celebration of Anthony Pardee Seibert’s life would be a celebration when, before the opening prayer, people began carefully working their way through the standing-room-only crowd carrying trays of wine glasses.
More than one celebrant noticed that the crowd of more than a thousand encompassed three generations — the three generations Vail has been alive.
“Life is to be lived and celebrated,” said Father Jim Baird — and celebrated it was.
“TONYYYYY!” shouted one of his friends, and the crowd went wild.
The entire celebration was punctuated with shouts of “TONY!”
And somewhere Tony was smiling back and shouting, “YES, BROS!”
And, yes, there were tears, as there must be, especially when thoughts turned to how young he was, and will remain … Tony Seibert, forever young. He died in an avalanche Tuesday. Pat Hamilton’s voice and guitar were crystal clear as she sang “Ave Maria.” Members of his mother Teri’s family read poetry.
But this was Tony’s life, a life worth celebrating. He was born skiing. It took him all over the world and to the emergency room more than a few times. Younger sister Lizzie captured most of the carnage on her camera phone.
He was 24 and of course they would like to have had him longer, but they were lucky to have Tony at all. When twins Anna and Tony were born, Anna had RSV and Tony had been exposed. Instead of taking him home they put him in the hospital.
“That night he stopped breathing, and because he was in the hospital, they were able to revive him,” said Pete Jr., Tony’s father.
He may not have lived long, but, oh, how he lived!
“Anna’s first words were, ‘Where’s Tony?’” Pete said. “It’s a question we asked ourselves his whole life, and there’s a story to go with each of those questions.”
Oh, the stories
There was the skiing lesson when he was about 5 years old and the instructor was waiting when Pete came to pick them up. Tony, it seems, didn’t want to ski in line.
“I told him he had to ski in line, and he told me he’d rather kiss a toilet seat,” the instructor said.
His twin sister, Anna, it now can be told, took Tony’s driver’s test when they were 16 years old.
That winter day when they first drove to school, Pete sat them down and told them to take it slow, that it was slick and dangerous — all the stuff fathers are supposed to say.
They lived in Singletree and in just a few yards, Tony was driving 40 mph.
“About a half mile later we were out of control and did a 540,” Anna said. “We were laughing and high fiving when my dad drove by shaking his head.”
It took two hours to dig the car out when Tony had this revelation.
“You know, we’re two hours late for school anyway. We should head to the hill.”
And that’s what they did.
“Tony would tell you to do whatever you want if it makes you happy. People will either jump on for the ride or get out of the way,” Anna said.
Lizzie was a toddler and she, Anna and Tony were in preschool when their parents got called to the school. Tony had told Lizzie that if she found something high enough, jumped off and flapped her arms as hard as she could, she could fly.
“For a second, I actually flew!” Lizzie said. “Then gravity took over.”
She ended up with a broken collarbone. Tony was happy to take the credit.
Lizzie was attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins and when she came home she always called Tony at the University of Colorado in Boulder to ask if he needed a ride. He always did. They spent the time talking and talking.
“I look back and I wish those rides would have lasted longer,” Lizzie said.
‘THE BEST FRIEND’
“Every time I think about Tony I just start laughing,” said Blaze Heuga. “I envy how much self-confidence he had. You don’t find that in someone 24 years old. Some people live their whole lives and never find it.”
When Blaze’s father, American skiing legend Jimmie Heuga, passed away Tony was the first one to rally their friends.
“Tony was a friend, the best friend,” Heuga said.
“Tony was always causing a little bit of ruckus and having a blast doing so,” said Robert Shearon. “I know you’ll always be there for me, so when I go big, I know you’ll have an eye on me.”
John Ryan Melzer recalled that one of the dads helped them move into their first apartment in college and left them with this sage advice: “Men, after college it’s called alcoholism.”
“In the morning wake up and think, ‘What would Tony Seibert do?’” Melzer said.
The Tony Show
Matt Luczkow is a fellow freestyler and said Tony had the one attribute all the greats have.
“He was never afraid to crash,” Luczkow said. “Tony was a beast. He was so good at breaking equipment. He was incredibly strong and everything he did he did with full-on commitment. He was also the most impressive and skilled person I’ve ever skied with. The support everyone is giving everyone is amazing and a testament to how much he meant to everyone.”
Luczkow edited together a Tony highlight reel, a tribute film featuring Tony’s gravity-defying jumps and incredible crashes.
There’s Tony jumping and spinning off something insanely high, smiling and laughing.
Then there he is riding up a staircase on a lift made for old and infirmed people. There’s that same smile.
And then he flies off a jump and a ski comes off. He hits the powder, flips five, maybe six times and bounds to his feet. And there’s that smile again.
“Tony was the life of any room he was in,” said Pete III, Tony’s older brother.
Pete Jr. thanked Vail Resorts, Slifer Smith & Frampton, the real estate company he works with and especially the Vail Ski Patrol.
“You took great care of Tony, you’re taking great care of Teri (Tony’s mom), and we thank you,” Pete said.
Tony made Pete think of his dad, Pete Seibert Sr., who founded Vail.
“The best days are when I think of him riding up the lift,” Pete said, and that now he’ll think of them riding together.
Tony the fearless
Tony was 4 years old and spent the summer wearing a T-shirt, shorts and his brother Pete’s cowboy hat. He had the brim pulled down and was ready for action, Pete recalled.
Pete took the kids to the petting zoo in Lionshead and while he had his back turned heard a loud hissing. Tony had the goose cornered, and the goose tried to bite him. Tony took a step in and before you could say, “Pete’s kids don’t back up,” he had both hands around the goose’s neck.
“Tony didn’t want to hurt the goose, but he damn sure wasn’t scared of it, either,” Pete said. “That’s how Tony lived his life, and that’s how he wants us to live ours.”
“I grew up camping hiking and skiing. My awe of nature has never lost a shred of its integrity.”