At home at the top of the world
VAIL – A description of Doug Wooldridge’s home would make a real estate agent salivate.Giant picture windows set among rough-hewn timbers. Sweeping views of the Gore Range and Mount of the Holy Cross. And ski-in, ski-out access – to China Bowl.Wooldridge lives year-round at Vail Resorts’ Two Elk Lodge restaurant, where he is the general manager. The building is at the Top of Vail Mountain, 11,220 feet above sea level, on the ridge above China Bowl.”I’d say a lot of people are extremely jealous,” he said. “I get this question a lot: ‘How do I get that gig?'”Wooldridge is in charge of running the restaurant, a spot to grab lunch for people who are skiing the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin. He takes care of the staffing and scheduling for the 100 employees that are needed to run the restaurant. In the summer, he’s in charge of on-mountain weddings and conferences.He moved into the new lodge in 1999 when it reopened following the arsons that destroyed it a year earlier.Having a full-time resident at Two Elk was part of increased security measures after the October 1998 arsons on Vail Mountain that destroyed the restaurant, along with three other buildings and three lift terminals.Two suspects have recently been named in the arsons, which apparently protested the Blue Sky expansion. One of the suspects, William C. Rodgers of Prescott, Ariz., killed himself in his jail cell Thursday. The other suspect, Chelsea D. Gerlach of Eugene, Ore., has not been charged.
Commuting on skisWooldridge said he usually gets off the mountain a couple of times a week, to do your usual errands – going to the post office, grocery shopping or paying bills.But a trip to the store entails some unusual transportation. If it’s winter and the lifts are running, he’ll ski or snowboard down. If it’s after the lifts have stopped for the day, he’ll snowmobile.And during the summer, the trip to town in a truck takes 45 minutes on a windy, dirt road.”There’s no such thing as running down to the 7-11 for a quart of milk,” he said.Wooldridge said he isn’t a big skier, but he still gets 50 or 60 days a year.Early-morning commutes to town for meetings sometimes entail skiing or snowboarding in a foot of powder with the entire mountain to himself. Occasionally, at night, he’ll take advantage of the immense dining room.”I’ve had dinner parties of four to six people, and it’s like, holy cow, this is awesome,” he said.Wooldridge, who grew up in Chicago, came to the valley in 1996, first working at the Blue Moon at Eagle’s Nest for a year and then for two years at Piney River Ranch.When he has free time, he likes to snowshoe, whether it’s into China Bowl or the Northwoods area. But his work days are long, usually starting at 6 a.m. and working until 8 or 9 at night, he said.
A framed reminderWooldridge lives in an upstairs apartment behind the kitchen. During the summer and offseasons, he’s the only one living there. In the winter, he shares the apartment with an assistant general manager and a sous chef. The living quarters have satellite TV and Internet.”If you didn’t step out the door or look out the window, it’s like any other living situation you’ve ever had,” he said.On Thursday, the sous chef was napping in the living room while Wooldridge’s dog, Moab, growled.The only thing on the wall of the living room was a large, framed photo of Two Elk bursting with flames, its log structure still intact.Wooldridge agreed to move to Two Elk as manager just before the 1998 arsons.He was living in Avon the day of the fires, and could see the plume of smoke coming up from the mountain, he said. He drove into Vail and was taken up to Two Elk, which was still burning. The roof had already caved in. “My first thought was, who would have done this, and how did they do it, and why,” he said.’I feel pretty secure’Wooldridge’s presence is part of the increased security following those fires. He works in concert with the Vail Mountain Security Department. There are security systems both inside and outside the building, he said.
There have been no major security incidents in the years he’s lived there, he said.When he first moved in to the new lodge, the thought crossed his mind that he was living alone in a building that had been a target of ecoterrorism, he said. “You hear a strange noise and you jump to conclusions,” he said.But it’s not something he thinks much about anymore, he said.”We have a good security system in place,” he said. “I have a lot of different people from a lot of different departments watching my back, so I feel pretty secure.”Wooldridge said he’s pleased that the investigation into the 1998 fires is still active.”I’m personally glad that they’re making progress,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado