50th anniversary Vail Tales: Testwuide hits the ski bum trifecta
VAIL, Colorado – True ski bums need three jobs, says Paul Testwuide.
• One so you can eat for nothing.
• One so you can drink for nothing.
• One so you can ski for nothing.
Testwuide and a friend left Sheboygan, Wis., in a $250 Ford they bought from the junkyard guy who built it from three other Fords, and headed West. They landed jobs building ski runs in Breckenridge, which had opened in 1961.
Fifteen days after Vail opened in 1962, he and Jim Clark ventured over to Vail, where they dropped into the Back Bowls for the first time and skied and skied and skied all day.
After they were done, Testwuide wandered into the Red Lion and ordered a beer. The choices were limited, and you could ski right to the Red Lion’s front door in those days. An older guy – he seemed older at the time – wandered over and sat down to talk about skiing.
“I just had the best day of skiing I’ve ever had on Milt’s Face,” Paul said.
The guy was Larry Burdick, who had just opened the Red Lion. They talked about skiing, the bar business and life its own self.
Burdick said, “Paul, as soon as I fire that guy behind the bar you can be my bar manager.”
Testwuide was back in Vail the following Monday and landed his three jobs: One to eat, one to drink and one to ski.
Most of his salary came in the form of scenery and skiing. His first check from Vail Associates paid him 64 cents an hour.
He worked at the Red Lion for several years, and one of his most famous waitresses was Sheika Gramshammer.
He lived with John Donovan in the middle of the village, right in the middle of the action.
“A lot of shenanigans went on. It was the nature of the people who came here. They wanted to have fun,” Testwuide said. “People would ride horses right into the bar.”
Testwuide omits the detail from that story that he was the equestrian who did it.
“Ray Romer, Clare Elliott and other early Vail police officers kept a low profile, but kept a lid on things. They’d give people a ride home, or make sure their horse wasn’t tied up too tight,” Testwuide said.
Some stories are legendary, some are just legends.
“Things got a little rowdy at times and I was usually right in the middle of it. As the town and the company matured, it seemed I matured right along with it,” Testwuide said.
By Vail’s second year Testwuide was part of the ski patrol and he rose through the ranks quickly.
“I started at the very bottom and worked my way up. I liked the management, Pete, Earl, Bob Mayne and others. They were the heart and soul of the Rocky Mountains as far as I was concerned,” Testwuide said. “I think it was my love of Vail Mountain and the people who worked there that drove me to do better.”
He was head of ski patrol when Bill Brown was mountain manager. A day started at 6 a.m., but there was no schedule, and things weren’t as sophisticated as they are today.
“Snowcats broke down, lifts broke down, things went wrong. You had to be fast on your feet,” Testwuide said. “It was a real adventure being a ski patrolman in those days.”
Testwuide spent much of his career with the ski company, becoming one of the foremost water experts in the western United States.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.