Dr. Fred Distelhorst, 86, got his 100 days again
VAIL — Dr. Fred Distelhorst smiled as he rode up Vail Mountain on his way to another 100-day season.
Distelhorst is 86 years old.
When we caught up with him Friday morning, he had 98 days and was anxious to get up there, enjoy some fresh snow, and get his 100.
“Usually I make 120 days. That’s my goal,” Distelhorst said.
He moved to Vail in 1975 after retiring as an Army dentist.
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“I betcha more than 30 years I’ve made 100 days,” he said.
Distelhorst has been everywhere and skied everything. He still does.
“I’ve lived all over the world and the best place to live is Vail, Colorado,” he said.
If the snow is soft he can still finish the day with a PPL — Prima, Pronto, Log Chute — and catch a little daffy at the bottom of Log Chute.
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Oldest bump skier
Distelhorst might be the world’s most successful ski bum. He says he’s the world’s oldest bump skier, a moniker he has embraced since Jim Pavelich announced him as such during Pro Mogul Tour events.
We do know he’s the oldest guy to ever compete into Look Ma Bump Off.
“I feel pretty fortunate that I can still get up there. A lot of my friends are under the ground or getting kooky. I asked my daughter Dorothy, ‘Am I getting kooky?’ She said, ‘You’ve always been kooky!” he said.
He doesn’t go all day any longer; three or four hours are plenty.
He skis on old Dalbello boots, K2 skis, and Goody ski poles.
On his 86th birthday in January, his granddaughter got a bunch of his old bump skiing buddies together to take a run with him.
“I showed up in my old faded one-piece ski suit, and I think they were a little embarrassed to be seen with me,” he laughed. “They all chipped in and bought me a top-of-the-line bright orange Salomon ski jacket and black pants. Now I’m in style.”
You’re in the Army now
Distelhorst was born and raised in Wisconsin, and graduated the Marquette University dental school in 1953. He spent 20 years Army as a dentist. For 12 and a half of those years, he was in Europe putting braces on the kids of Army personnel stationed in Germany.
He said he skied 30 ski days a year in Europe.
He joined the Army because the doctor draft was on. In those days, if they needed people, they’d draft them, and the military needed medical professionals to take care of its millions of personnel and their families.
So, instead of waiting to be drafted and ending up God-knows-where, he joined the Army in 1953 with an eye toward going to Europe. Instead, the Army sent him to Fort Polk in north Louisiana.
From there he was stationed in Korea, where his first job as a dentist was watching the Chinese play soccer across the demilitarized zone.
When he was done in Korea, he thought he was done with the Army, and planned to open a practice in Aspen. The Army thought otherwise.
“To try to keep you, they’d give you a deal,” he said.
The Army sent him to Missouri for a couple years to become an orthodontist.
“How about Europe now?” the Army asked when he was done.
Europe, he said, would be dandy.
Kibitzing near Kitzbuhel
The Army stationed him near Kitzbuhel, where he worked with German dentists. One left and a young woman was slated to take his place. Distelhorst said he didn’t think much about it until Ines showed up, then he didn’t think about much of anything else.
It might not have been love at first sight, but it came on pretty fast. He married Ines Distelhorst.
He was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, his only stateside tour. They drove to Vail and Ines said, “It’s beautiful, but if you think you can make a living here you’re nuts.”
He wasn’t nuts. That was 14 years into his Army career. They decided he’d finish his 20 years and retire to Vail.
He was a kid in Wisconsin and he and some of his high school buddies used to go to mountaineering clubs at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. One meeting was a ski film about this new Colorado ski area that was opening with the world’s longest chairlift, built by some Midwestern industrialist named Walter Paepcke in some place called Aspen.
That year they decided they’d join a couple kids from that mountaineering club and go ride this lift and ski Aspen.
They jumped into a 1939 Ford and drove 34 hours from Madison to Aspen, arriving in the dead of night, staying in some small lodge for a buck a night.
“We were used to skiing on 200 foot hill in Wisconsin. We stepped out of that lodge and looked up the mountain and said, ‘You mean we’re going up there?!?’”
Yes, they were.
“We had old Army ski equipment and our first run took us four hours. We skied 30 or 40 yards and fell down,” he said.
He learned about another new Colorado ski area called Vail by reading about it in a 1962 edition of Holiday magazine.
He’d sort of heard about it through Fitzhugh Scott, an architect from his part of Wisconsin, who did all the early design in Vail.
In October 1965 he rushed home from the Army to Madison for a death in the family. When all the details were squared away, he got in his dad’s Rocket 88 and drove to Vail, where he bought an acre and a half in East Vail.
He built a duplex on it. He still lives there.
Still skiing, working
He retired from the Army in 1975 and opened a practice in East Vail.
“I’d get up in the morning, see a couple patients, and then go ski for a while,” he said. “I’d come home and there’d be a couple kids in my waiting room and I’d kick off my ski boots, and work a while longer.”
He saw patients until he was 80 years old.
Jimmy Sanders was his ski buddy for all those years. He treated Sanders’ wife and two kids.
“I won’t hang it up until I finish with your family,” he told Jimmy.
As good as his word, Jimmy’s son Reeve Sanders was his last patient.
His daughter, Dr. Dorothy Distelhorst, runs Streamside Dental now. He helps out when he’s not skiing.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.