Memorial service for Vail Pioneer Dick Pownall Wednesday in Donovan Pavilion |

Memorial service for Vail Pioneer Dick Pownall Wednesday in Donovan Pavilion

Dick, Betsy and David Pownall in Vail during Vail's early years. A celebration of Dick's life is scheduled fro 11 a.m. Wednesday in Vail's Donovan Pavilion.
Special to the Daily |

If You Go

What: Celebration of Dick Pownall’s life

When: 11 a.m. Wednesday

Where: Vail’s Donovan Pavilion

Information: Dick Pownall was a Vail Pioneer and a member of the 1963 American Everest Expedition.

VAIL — Friends and family will gather Wednesday to celebrate the life of a Vail pioneer and an American hero, Dick Pownall.

A service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday in Vail’s Donovan Pavilion.

It was May 15, 1963 and Pownall was a part of a team of 21 Americans that ascended Mount Everest’s western ridge. It was such an all-American day that U.S. astronaut Gordon Cooper flew the last Mercury space mission over Everest while they were up there.

Living the dream

Pownall came to Vail before there was a Vail, 1961-62, the same time as Roger Brown and a handful of other pioneers. He landed in Vail because Pownall met Bob Parker while they were both in Austria in the 1950s, following World War II. Parker was working a civilian job and Pownall was in the CIA or some equivalent.

When they returned to the U.S., Parker and Pownall both landed in Lakewood, about two doors from each other.

Parker was Vail’s original marketing magician and sold Pownall on the Vail dream, as he did many others. Pownall found a lot on Rockledge Road, right under Vail’s Chair 1, and Pownall started building his dream house. Pownall had different dreams than a lot of people and built a cabin mostly from recycled material recovered from buildings destroyed when the South Platte River flooded in Denver.

Difficult climbing made easy

He was a Vail ski instructor for years and opened a successful climbing school in the late 1960s in East Vail, near the top of Pitkin Creek.

In 2002, Dick was 75 years old for his final Grand Teton climb near Jackson Hole — somewhere around his 150th climb, give or take a few — beginning in 1947. That made him one of the oldest to ever do it.

Pownall grew up in Iowa. In 1944, the war was winding down and he was still in high school. He spent a summer at Grand Teton National Park, working on a trail crew. Older men were part of the war effort and in short supply.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Pownall pioneered many of the Teton’s most difficult climbing routes.

Pownall was many good things, but all his summits were topped by this …

“He was a great dad,” said Betsy, his daughter.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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