Coldest commute in Eagle County
Vail, CO Colorado
FULFORD ” While most locals are still sleeping in warm beds, Eileen Lister is bustling about her Fulford cabin, feeding the animals, putting dinner in the crock-pot, and shoveling a path out the front door.
By 5 a.m., she is already yanking on the recalcitrant cord on her Arctic Cat snowmobile. Then, swinging one snowboot over the seat, she grabs the handlebars and roars off into the woods.
Her workday commute from Fulford to the Eagle County School District offices in Eagle gives new definition to the term “snowbound.” In fact, there are days when she can hardly tell the road from the underbrush, except for the walls of snow-covered evergreens guiding the way.
No snowplow clears these four-wheel-drive roads. Yet, she has no complaints, regardless of the depth of the snow or how low the temperature drops. The only noise she hears is the snowmobile engine, muffled by her helmet.
“It’s kind of peaceful,” Eileen says.
It will take a good half hour to wend her Arctic Cat down the twisting, four-mile road from Fulford to Yeoman Park. Once there, she parks her snowmobile in a trailer, and climbs into her four-wheel-drive car to make the rest of the journey down Brush Creek.
In total, it’s a 20-mile, one-hour journey ” longer if she has to pull another vehicle out of a snow bank. She arrives invigorated, ready to start her job as bus router and substitute school bus driver. In the five years she’s made this demanding commute, she has never missed a day due to weather.
“I really do enjoy it,” she says, explaining that each trip offers her a chance to reflect on how special her situation is. Instead of fighting the same frustrating lanes of traffic, “you see something different every time,” she says.
The old mining camp of Fulford, located high in the mountains southeast of Eagle, is now mostly deserted, except for a handful of summer residents and weekend vacationers ” and Dan and Eileen Lister.
The Listers, Fulford’s only full-time residents, live at an elevation most people visit only to hike or ski. At 9,900 feet, they are about level with Mid-Vail. In the summer, the 25-30 cabins are busy. But in the winter, only snowmobilers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers venture this far; and then only for a day or two.
“That’s the beauty of it,” says Dan, a former Gypsum mayor.
There’s a reason why more people don’t stay during Fulford’s harsh winters. By Feb. 5, the Listers recorded 219 inches of snow. They rely on five snowmobiles for transportation.
Recently, Eileen was on one of their older snowmobiles when it died halfway down the mountain. She had to walk the remaining couple of miles to her car. It was one of the few days she’s ever been late to work.
“You’ve got to be pretty self-sufficient,” she admits, particularly since she often comes back at night. “You can’t rely on somebody else.”
To facilitate Eileen’s daily commute, Dan recently purchased a used snowcat from Copper Mountain. Once a week, he drives the snowcat from Fulford to Yeoman Park to make the road a little more passable.
Winter travel in the high country is never without hazards. Three winters ago, Dan launched his snowmobile off a cliff, dropping 100 yards to the road below. Miraculously, he was unhurt.
Eileen once ran over a mountain lion on her journey to town. The big cat limped off; and on her return trip that evening, she saw it running alongside another lion.
The couple used to vacate Fulford during spring mud-season, which left roads impassible even for snowmobiles. But now they have installed equipment on their four-wheel drive vehicles which allows them access year-round.
Fulford’s mining past is still visible, despite the fact that the mines have been abandoned for nearly 90 years. Among the remnants of the mining camp which once boasted several hundred residents are the old assay office, the former general store and a boarding house.
Eileen has fond memories of playing dress up with old, leftover dresses in the dance hall as a little girl, and of reading the 19th century newspaper articles that used to paper its walls.
Eileen’s father, Dick Turgeon, first began bringing the family to Fulford in 1949, when she was not quite two years old. Turgeon, a carpenter, worked the Western Slope Lumber’s sawmill in Fulford. She recalls the large draft horses that pulled logs up and down the switchbacks. In the winters, the job and the family moved to Taos, N.M.
In 1953, the Turgeon family relocated to Denver so Lister could attend school but continued to summer in Fulford. In the early 1960s, her father and a couple partners built a cabin in Fulford. Later, he became sole owner, and Eileen’s parents lived in the cabin during summers and falls.
It was in Fulford that Eileen first met Dan in 1967. The couple purchased the Turgeons’ cabin in 1979, after her father was seriously injured in a construction accident in Vail.
“It’s home up here. It’s just always felt good up here,” says Eileen.
It’s easy to find the Listers’ cabin. In addition to the smoke curling from the chimney, it probably has the only palm tree for miles around.
“You wouldn’t have guessed you could grow palm trees at this climate, would you?” jokes Dan about the cheery, neon tree outside their home. Their two standard poodles, Trucker and Ginger, routinely greet visitors.
Despite all the snow, the couple stays cozy and warm in their refurbished, 1,000-square-foot cabin. It doesn’t have the 5,000 square feet and six bedrooms of their previous home in Gypsum, but it has other charms, such as gleaming wood paneled floors, and rough hewn walls and ceilings, a pot-bellied stove, and a homey display of family photos and memorabilia.
Here, too, is the family parrot, Laurie, who asks visitors “how are you” and can ‘ring’ like a telephone.
Much of the furniture in the cabin is Dan’s handiwork. There’s a single bedroom, and a bunkroom where the nine grandchildren stay when they visit. All the beds are covered with Eileen’s handmade quilts.
The Listers decided to move to Fulford full-time after their five children were grown and gone, and after Dan was injured in a construction accident. These days, he operates his own trucking business.
“Where else can you look out the windows and see that?” Eileen asks, gesturing toward the snow-topped stands of Engelmann spruce and balsam fir.
“We live in an awfully pretty place,” agrees Dan.
The Listers’ lifestyle is both rustic and progressive. They have a solar panel, which generates electricity to run lights, a computer, their HDTV and home appliances.
There is a backup propane generator. Satellite dishes provide TV and radio reception, and Internet service to keep them connected to the world.
There is no telephone service in Fulford. However, the Listers have found they can catch a cell phone signal at one curve on the road a quarter of a mile away.
Dan says he would prefer to never live in a town again.
“When we can no longer snowmobile, that’s when we’ll move,” he adds.
But he says that prospect is years off. For now, you will probably find this intrepid couple “tearing it up” on their snowmobiles on the weekends near Fulford.
As Eileen says, “It’s always an adventure.”
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