While most people move to Vail because all they want to do is ski, ski, ski, Gerlinde Debie, in addition to her free-heeling, tele-skiing passion, is on an organic crusade. Recently moving her organic co-op out of her Edwards garage and into a warehouse in Minturn, now known as Purple Sage Organics, Debie has expanded the reach of her healthy influence. Not only has her ordering group grown from around 12 families to over 120 people, but she is piloting schools, creating grocery lists for second home owners, supplying hotel rooms, and helping Trail Wise with picnic lunches. Add this on top of raising two kids and spending the rest of her free time on the hill mastering the art that is tele, and it’s amazing she even had time to do this interview.
Megan Mowbray: How did you come to Vail?
Gerlinde Debie: I came to Breckenridge from Belgium in ’91, and met my husband two years after that. So I moved to Vail in ’94 to relocate with my husband. I wouldn’t have picked it though. It was too frou-frou. It seemed not me, I am more down-to-earth, and I loved Breckenridge. But I love it now.
MM: What changed?
GD: I like the community. They put on great events. When something happens, the community comes together. I love the mountains and the beautiful landscapes. There is a diversity of people, too. There are Europeans and people from New Zealand. It’s just an interesting place.
MM: Is it hard to live so far from the rest of your family?
GD: I am really fortunate to have such great family support here. My kids, Gavin, who is 9, and Mara, who is 6, get to see their grandparents and aunts and uncles all the time, so that’s really nice. We travel back to Belgium some, but mostly I e-mail. When I first got out here with snail mail it took forever, not to mention my phone bills were a couple hundred dollars a month. I don’t miss them too much, I am pretty independent.
MM: How did you get into tele-sking?
GD: I started it when I moved to Breckenridge. I had brought my alpine gear from Europe. But I started dating a guy who tele-ed. I was fresh out of high school, so I had to try. I started out on 198s like the old skinny skis, just like a cross country ski. And with leather boots. I loved it so much, I sold all my alpine stuff. I was sold. The equipment has come a long way. Now I ski on 168s and shaped skis. Oh, when I first put on plastic boots I was like, ‘oh my, I can ski!’
MM: Why do you like it so much?
GD: For me it was the physical. It’s like doing lunges all day. It hurts at night, but it is fun and you look better. In the beginning, before I had kids, I liked that it was a different kind of group. A different social group, the are really down to earth people. I don’t think I can label it, but it’s people who really love the backcountry. You can go put skins on and go to the huts. There was a time I didn’t have a pass and I skinned up through the backcountry, and skied down, like Loveland Pass.
MM: Would you ever go back to alpine?
GD: There was a time four years ago. I broke my ankle on Peregrine, because all we do are bump runs, and I just went left, right, left, caught an edge and my ankle snapped in half. My doctor told me it would take six weeks to get better, and it had already been a month. So I tried alpine because it didn’t hurt because of the movement. But really, no I wouldn’t go back to it. I am 100 percent tele-sking. It’s my true passion.
MM: Have you ever tried snowboarding?
GD: I tried it one time on a hard pack day, total ice in Copper Mountain. I tell you, I have never seen bruises that big. So I said, I think I’m done. Maybe I’ll try it again if we have 4 feet of snow or something. I will try anything, but I really just love to tele.
MM: What’s the difference between skiing here and in Europe?
GD: The tree line is different, it’s lower there so everything looks bald. Here you can ski in the trees. Also, people are rude in Europe. People will ski over your skis, just coming through, it’s a totally different scene. The night scene was great though. Little bed-and-breakfasts that smell like farmhouses, but I really enjoyed playing cards into the night. The apres here is OK, but again this is 20 years ago. But really you can’t compare Vail to anywhere else.
MM: Your store, called Purple Sage Organics, where did you get the idea?
GD: I started it out of my garage as a co-op. I had probably a group of about 10 to 15 families where we shared whatever we ordered in bulk. But we had to pick it up at the Edwards rest station and had to carry it up my steep driveway with man power and so we just got tired of it. Then I found my warehouse, which used to be Bonjour Bakery. I found out from a girlfriend of mine that they were redoing it and I jumped on it and I got moved in March. So now I have about 120 people ordering from me.
MM: Where do you order your food from?
GD: I work with a lot of local farms like from Hotchkiss, and a local lady who offers grass-fed beef from Eagle. I get my eggs from a farmer in McCoy, so I try to keep it local. Of course I work with United Natural Food from Denver, who Whole Foods orders from as well.
MM: Why did you choose to go organic?
GD: I grew up organic in Belgium. For me, it is a way of living. I used to have to go to Denver and spend $600 a month at Whole Foods. So I just got sick of it and that’s why I started to sell out of my garage with my other hard-core organic families. I have made a lot of great connections through it, actually.
MM: Do you strictly sell food?
GD: No, I have really nice gifts and candles. The candles are soy candles without dye and fragrance, which are usually toxic. I have a line of baby shower products, I do baby baskets and healthy baskets. A baby shower basket would have baby wipes, diapers, little cute outfits. I go to all the gift expos in San Francisco and Denver and pick out the newest lines. I have a very wide variety of gifts. Like right now I have elf ornaments made of felt. Fun stuff. And I can order anything.
MM: Where does the name come from?
GD: Actually I had a dream one night and purple sage came in it. So I started thinking about it and while it is of the earth and organic like sage brush, it also means like a wise one, or like a wizard. It has two meanings. So it became Purple Sage Organics.
MM: Is there anything you hope to accomplish with the store?
GD: We are working on a lunch program. We are piloting with the Red Sandstone Elementary School. We are taking all their Cheetos and Lays and crappy snacks out and replacing everything with organic. We are launching it the first week in January. I have been working on it like crazy trying to get all the pricing figured out, because you know if it’s too expensive the kids won’t buy it. Getting all the hydrogenated oils out will be a lot better for the kids.
MM: Do you think the kids will benefit from eating oraganics?
GD: There is a list of fruits and vegetables that are definitely worth buying organic. I mean, strawberries can have up to 65 chemicals on them. So buying seasonal is important, too. My kids don’t fight me on it, they tell me, ‘Mom that’s a bad food and I don’t want to eat it.’ Its all about giving them the opportunity to make up their own minds. Because if you tell them that’s the only way to do it, they will rebel. Just present them with the possibilities. VT
Megan Mowbray is a regular contributor to The Vail Trail. E-mail comments about this story to email@example.com
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