Local legend Packy Walker is retiring from the Lifthouse
VAIL — Packy Walker … say it out loud and try not to grin. You can’t, nor should you.
Walker, long considered the Clown Prince of Vail, is retiring as general manager of the Lifthouse Lodge in Lionshead.
He isn’t leaving town. Instead, all that retirement time will give him a chance to think up more Walker-esque things.
“Given enough years to think about those things, anyone can do anything. You’re bound to stumble across something that works,” he said.
When the ski season is done, so is he.
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Thanks for the memories
He went to work in the Vail hotel business in the mid-1960s, and stayed with it for 49 years.
“I’d like to thank all the people who’ve helped me over all these years, especially the staff I’ve worked with,” Walker said.
His Lifthouse executive housekeeper, Emily Olquin, has been with him 43 years. Much of his Lifthouse staff has been around almost that long.
“People think I worked hard all those years. The reason I was able to think up all those things was because they were doing everything,” Walker said.
Most employees were fine, although, there was the kid who had the habit of wasting valuable company time in the jacuzzi. One day, he was carrying a bucket toward the lobby when Walker spotted him and asked what he thought he was doing.
“I’m watering the plants,” the kid said.
“The plants are plastic,” Walker responded.
Their first phone system was one of those old school plug-in boards. On a slow night, Walker could make four or five phones ring at the same time, then giggle while they tried to figure out who called whom.
Don Crandall was first guest to stay at the Lifthouse, March 1, 1973, in room 407. The details are a little foggy, but Walker might not have had the permits he needed to house guests. Also, they didn’t have any heat or electricity to the room, so Walker hauled an extension cord up all those stairs and plugged in a 60 watt light bulb.
“I charged him 12 bucks for it, and the room still didn’t have any heat,” Walker said. “I felt kind of bad about that one. If I ever see him, I’ll give him his 12 bucks back.”
Headed weSt, and stopped here
It was 1966 when Packy headed west from his native upstate New York toward Haight Ashbury to be part of the movement out there. His brother was a student at the University of Denver, so he stopped on his way to visit. He and his brother love each other, but before long Walker’s brother loaned him his VW Beetle and suggested Walker check out that new ski area Vail.
Eventually, Walker gave his brother his car back, and it was mostly intact.
In those days, the town of Vail had no TV, no radio and no outside newspapers. Locals had to think of ways to entertain themselves.
“It was a good time to be here, maybe the best time,” Walker said.
The stories are legendary, and true, and just keep coming.
There was the time he shipped himself from Syracuse, New York, to Louisville, Kentucky. Why, you ask? Because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it only cost $16.35 to ship a crate marked “electrical supplies,” with him in it.
He helped found The No Name Golf Tournament, a gloriously irreverent response to the star-studded Jerry Ford Invitational.
Doug Mulrooney wanted them to play golf one day, and Walker politely declined. Walker and a few other compatriots donned camouflage clothes and painted their faces, and ambushed Mulrooney on the golf course, with smoke bombs and toy guns.
That’s when their problems really began.
Mulrooney was playing golf one hole ahead of President Gerald R. Ford.
“We were stormed by Secret Service and all kinds of cops,” Walker said. “The thing was, they had real guns and looked like they were in a mood to use them.”
Shootout at the Lifthouse Corral
Speaking of guns both real and not real, two local plumbers in the hotel and as a prank, started firing blanks at one of their buddies. It was hunting season and everyone was armed in those days. Their buddy didn’t know who the plumbers were shooting blanks, so he started returning fire with live ammo.
“He shot out windows and left bullet holes all over everything,” Walker said.
Cops quickly stormed the building and were not amused when they finally sorted everything out.
Ricochets and rolling Jeeps
There were the two guys who misbehaved to a serious degree. They had already left one other guy tied to the railroad tracks near Minturn. They stalked into the Lifthouse threatening everyone within howdying distance. Walker pulled out a shotgun and blasted the ceiling above them, spraying them with buckshot on the ricochet.
When they appeared before Judge Buck Allen, they called Walker a “bald-headed motherf—–!”
“Judge, I am certainly the former, but never the latter,” Walker calmly replied.
And there was that time when the Lifthouse parking lot was smooth and prepped for paving the next day. However, Jim Cunningham parked his Jeep on it and wandered away. Walker got in the Jeep and rolled it out of the parking lot, and kept it on rolling. He totaled it when it went over an embankment.
Walker hid in an owner’s Lifthouse unit the next day, ducking a livid Cunningham.
Officer Moonbeam and the Great Hotel Robbery
Then, there was the time that naked ambition eclipsed blind justice.
Once upon a time on Sundays, you couldn’t buy alcohol in Colorado liquor stores.
But on one sunny autumn Sunday afternoon, a group of people hanging around Walker’s condo decided that since it was sunny and warm, they’d play strip poker.
That day’s only on-duty Vail police officer wandered by, wondering what all the giggling was about.
The member of Vail’s finest and a guardian of the public safety decided they were having so much fun that he’d join them.
So, he joined them at the poker table, and before long took off his gun, along with everything else.
Those peace-loving people were enjoying themselves mightily, unaware that the police officer might be better served to be found in the active discharge of his duties — instead of in the nude.
While they were becoming one with the universe, a couple bad guys were burglarizing Manor Vail Lodge.
This was long before cell phones, pagers, radios that amounted to much or any of the other gadgets that make modern communication such a miracle.
So the police chief at the time, whose name is being withheld to protect the innocent, was called to the scene at Manor Vail.
This is where the story gets a little sketchy, but the versions we were told said the police chief ended up handcuffed at the top of Vail Pass, persuaded to make his way there by the business end of shotguns being pointed at him by the bad guys. A couple other hostages were released near Pueblo.
And what will Walker do now?
Whatever he wants, except deep sea diving.
Walker used to scuba dive in a tuxedo. Because he’s Walker! But he just had shoulder surgery, so he no longer dives.
“I’d only be able to swim with one arm and I’d just go in circles,” he said laughing.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.