A cute blond woman puts her arm around Helmut Fricker while her significant other snaps a photo. Fricker yells out in his thick German accent, “Can you do me a favor? Take your time.”
Fricker has been playing his accordion, blowing his 11-and-a-half-foot Alp Horn and entertaining Beaver Creek visitors with his one-liners and shameless flirting since the mountain opened in December of 1980.
“Things can change,” he tells the group of people gathered around him, “I used to be half German, half Austrian. Now I’m half scotch, half water.”
But by the sound of things, little has changed about Fricker. As the group chuckles, he starts to sing and only pauses to talk to a woman passing by, “I lost my phone number, can I have yours?” he says with a boyish grin.
Caramie Schnell: How long ago did you come to Vail?
Helmut Fricker: In 1970. From Denver. I lived for awhile in Denver. Then I had my first job in the Manor Vail Lodge in February 1970.
CS: How did you choose Vail?
HF: I was playing at the Hilton Hotel and the manager from the Manor Vail Lodge saw me playing there and asked me to come up. I put a band together. I had never heard of Vail before.
CS: You hadn’t?
HF: No. It wasn’t even on the map. There was no I-70, it was a little road, Highway 6. I actually passed Vail in a snowstorm, I almost ended up in Eagle.
CS: You didn’t even see it, huh?
HF: Nope. I played several more times, mostly conventions and then weddings and things like that, where they wanted European music, alpine music, you know.
CS: You’re from Germany, right?
HF: Yes. I’m from the Black Forest, close to Heidelberg.
CS: How old were you when you moved to the United States?
HF: 33. We moved first to Oklahoma, we knew some people in the Army there. That’s where I learned my first English. Do you know what it was – “forget about it.” It was 109 degrees when I first got there, but it cooled off at night, it was only 103 degrees.
CS: What do you like most about this job?
HF: Meeting the people, entertaining the people. Everybody has so much fun, especially the kids. And if the kids are happy, the parents are happy, and if the parents are happy, the grandparents are happy.
CS: So from Manor Vail, where did you play?
HF: Well I didn’t move to Vail until ’74, with my family.
CS: You’re married?
HF: Yes. My son lives in Eagle, married and has two children, Harold. My daughter, Suzanne, lives in Denver and has two children. And for me, they’re putting together a big party for me, my 7-0 is coming up.
CS: Where are you going to have it?
HF: I don’t know, it will be a surprise, I don’t have a clue.
CS: How long have you been entertaining at Beaver Creek?
HF: Since day one, opening day, December 1980.
HF: Five days a week on a regular basis. one year I played seven days a week, one season.
CS: And it’s your full-time job, huh?
HF: No, let’s put it this way, my hobby became my job, my job became my hobby. I’m a master book binder by trade. I restored antique books for 55 years. All hand-bound, hand-gilded, marble, leather. I still have a studio in my house. I used to have a studio in the Vail Village.
CS: I had no idea.
HF: Well, you wouldn’t know.
CS: What other secrets are there about you we need to know?
HF: Oh, well you don’t want to know.
No, I do a lot of private parties, in private homes. I’ve played in every state in the U.S.A. Somebody said, ‘you played in Hawaii, too?’ I said, well yes, it’s one of the states, isn’t it? I’ve played on private boats, from Tahiti to Fuji.
CS: And you ski? You said you broke your shoulder four weeks ago?
HF: Yeah, on a catwalk. Don’t go on a catwalk and look backwards. I have a joke for you. I was reading a sign. You come off a catwalk you see the sign, ‘watch for uphill traffic.’ OK. I was standing there, there was no uphill traffic, they all came downhill. Now think about this, that sign is wrong.
CS: Did you meet your wife in Germany?
HF: Yes. Our kids were 6 and 9 when we came over here. We came over on our 10th wedding anniversary.
CS: What’s your wife’s name?
HF: Ursula. She used to have a catering business and property management. No more. She’s retired, I’m retarded. Ha ha.
CS: What’s your most requested song?
HF: “Edelweiss.” I play it 20 times a day. The merchants think it’s the only song I know. You know why? The people, they love it.
CS: Does your wife know you flirt shamelessly with the ladies?
HF: Of course. Yes, I tell everybody, look, she makes a wonderful future ex-wife. She knows me.
CS: Is there anything else we need to know?
HF: Should I call you? VT
Caramie Schnell can be reached at email@example.com.