Remembering Dave Gorsuch: Friends, family reflect on the legacy of the Vail icon following his death at 82
VAIL — Dave Gorsuch was one of Vail’s founding fathers, and a leader in the business community. But he was also ‘papa’ to any number of Vail kids in the 1960s and 1970s.
Sitting Wednesday in the Vail home Dave and his wife, Renie, built 50 years ago, Renie, along with sons John, Jeff and David, talked about the patriarch of one of Vail’s founding families.
Dave Gorsuch died June 26 at his home in Vail. He was 82. A service to honor Gorsuch’s life is set for July 19 at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.
Dave and Renie had been married only a few years when they sold their small ski shops in Gunnison and Crested Butte. The young couple, with young sons John and Jeff in tow, in 1966, decided to cast their lot with the other pioneers of the still-new ski area at the western base of Vail pass.
The store grew over the years, eventually taking over the bulk of Vail’s Clock Tower Building. But no one was thinking of growth at the time.
John Gorsuch, the eldest of the Gorsuch sons, said his parents “had no plans” early on.
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“They just wanted a life together,” John said.
That life together started early. Dave and Renie were 15 when they met in Jackson, Wyoming, during a youth skiing event in the 1950s. She had grown up skiing in the East. Dave was the son of a mining family, born in the now-submerged town of Climax, near the top of Fremont Pass.
Dave and Renie both earned spots on the the 1960 U.S. Olympic Ski Team.
Married 60 years
The couple married in 1961, and Dave went on to college, first at the University of Denver, then at Western State College. While there, the couple started a ski shop in an old gas station in Gunnison. The couple opened another location in Crested Butte, where Dave was soon hired as the area’s mountain manager.
The couple moved to Vail at the suggestion of John McBride.
Renie recalled that the move to Vail seemed heaven-sent at the time.
“We came here, and things were much more organized,” Renie said. Vail was also a ski town, while Gunnison County’s economy was far more focused on ranching.
The Gorsuches moved to a town where imagination and hard work could be rewarded. The town also had a group of kids about the same age.
Typical of a small town 50-plus years ago, the kids couldn’t get away with much.
John Gorsuch recalled a day when he, Jeff and a few other local boys rode the first gondola and Chair 4 up to ski patrol headquarters for a bit of hiking. The boys rode the lift down into town and, on a dare, decided to do pull-ups off the chairlift as it headed down past a cliff.
Mountain manager William “Sarge” Brown spotted the stunt, and called Gorsuch, who was waiting for the boys when they returned to Vail Village.
John and Jeff still turn a little pale telling the story.
Renie recalled her late husband as “the most honest man I’ve ever known.” You didn’t want to lie to a man like that.
Lucas Gorsuch, Dave and Renie’s eldest grandchild, said his grandfather instilled his own values in his family.
“Papa was old breed,” Lucas said. “He taught me three things: Do what you say you’re going to do; take care of your gear and it’ll take care of you; and pay your bills.”
Beyond his own family, Dave Gorsuch was “papa” to any number of Vail kids, as well as people who worked in his store.
John recalled that on his way to Vail from Las Vegas, he spoke to a young woman at the airport who said she had wrapped Christmas gifts at Gorsuch.
When told of Dave’s death, “She started to cry,” John recalled. “She told me ‘he was like a father to me.'”
The Gorsuch home was often filled with kids, and Dave was often the dad on ski team trips and other activities, helping with equipment, coaching and whatever else needed doing.
At one point, Bob Lazier offered to sell the Gorsuches his houseboat.
“What the hell would I do with that?” Renie recalls Dave saying. After a quick look at Lake Powell, the Gorsuches bought the boat and owned it for several years. Family trips — all the trips, everywhere, were with the family — usually had other Vail kids in tow.
Investing heart, soul, being
“Like all of us, Renie and Dave invested their heart, soul and being in Vail,” fellow Vail pioneer Elaine Kelton said. “Their life was directed in three directions: their kids, bringing up Vail and bringing up skiing.”
Kelton recalled that when the Gorsuches opened their shop, “they brought a phenomenal level of excellence to the village of Vail.”
Rod Slifer noted that Gorsuch always had “top of the line products … For a little town like Vail in those days, that was really something.”
Kelton recalled that the town at the time was “eight or 10 buildings, dirt streets, no (Interstate 70) … it was a winter wonderland. We were lucky enough to be here and lucky enough to stay.”
But staying in that winter wonderland took a “mythological” level of work, Kelton recalled.
“We worked hard, we played hard and we skied hard — probably in equal portions,” she said.
Slifer came to Vail during its first season, 1962-1963.
“Dave was really a rock-solid guy,” Slifer recalled.
But, he added, adventure was never far away.
Slifer recalled that Gorsuch was one of Vail’s early users of hang gliders, little more than glorified kites. Gorsuch, Larry Mullen, Roger Staub and others would sail down the cliffs in East Vail. The flying crew would don skis and fly down Vail Mountain, until the ski company put the brakes on that.
Renie confirmed Slifer’s recollection that Dave gave up hang gliding in exchange for the purchase of a ranch in the valley.
“That only took 25 years” to find the right spot, John said.
But, Renie said, she trusted Dave in his adventures.
Echoing through generations
That combination of hard work and hard play has echoed through the Gorsuch generations, which now include 10 grandkids.
Before going to college at Bowdoin College in Maine, John wrote an essay about growing up at the same time a town is being established.
“It was the (1960s); there were people from all walks of life … it didn’t matter what your background was — it was a young spirit, a progressive spirit.”
Slifer agreed, noting that business owners and lift operators were often neighbors in those early days.
“If there was a problem, people jumped in,” Slifer said. The Gorsuches, he added, “did a great job.”
All Dave asked in return was honest effort.
“He was endeared to so many people,” Jeff Gorsuch said. From downhill racing to tennis camp and other activities, Dave would help anyone.
“You had to show up with intention and purpose, and he’d be with you,” Jeff said.
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