Steve Zorichak, of Vail, 1936-2009 | VailDaily.com

Steve Zorichak, of Vail, 1936-2009

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Special to the DailySteve Zorichak
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One of the men who provided Vail with the kind of character it has been losing ” a man lovingly called a “brilliant pain in the ass” by his friends and family ” has died.

Steve Zorichak, a petroleum engineer by training and master blacksmith by choice, died May 11 at age 73.

He was an intensely intelligent man who wasn’t afraid to issue an opinion ” many of the readers of this paper may remember his frequent and insightful letters to the editor.

“We called him ‘Storichak’ because he always had a story,” said blacksmith Ben Eaton of Crested Butte, who spent a three-year apprenticeship with Zorichak in Vail in the mid-1990s. “He had a restless intellect.”

Eaton, a sculptor, met Zorichak in 1994 just a week after Zorichak was rendered partially disabled from a lightning strike that occurred just outside his home and shop on Elliot Road in Vail.

“He had trouble getting around his shop,” Eaton said. “I became his hands, and that’s how I learned to blacksmith.”

Many of the decorative wrought iron doors and gates adorning the resort homes and gardens in Eagle County were built by Zorichak and his apprentices at his Iron Creations Blacksmith shop.

Zorichak was born May 29, 1936, in Tulsa, Okla., the youngest of four children. His family later moved to the Denver area, and he graduated from Wheatridge High School and later attending the Colorado School of Mines in nearby Golden and graduating in 1959 with a degree in petroleum engineering.

He landed a job at Coors but didn’t get to use his degree much and became the master brewer for the company. By age 33, he became the youngest master brewer in the country. Along the way, he invented ice beer, something that became popular after he had left the company and moved to Vail.

Eaton recalled a brewery trip to Coors that he took with Zorichak in the mid-’90s.

“He knew the plumbing of the place better than the tour guide, who was awestruck,” Eaton said.

At Coors in the lead-up to the energy crisis of 1973, which choked supplies, Zorichak was tapped by Bill Coors to develop a source of natural gas for the company and ended up securing leases to a natural gas field and helping lay the groundwork for a pipeline to a field nearly 300 miles away in northeastern Colorado. That two-year effort required numerous trips to Washington, D.C.

When that task was completed, he wasn’t able to return to his old job at the company and decided it was time for a new challenge, said his sister Helen Risley, of Denver.

“He ended up working for someone he didn’t like, so he quit and moved to Vail,” she said.

Shortly thereafter, he purchased a half-duplex on Forest Road from his sister Mary Ethel.

It was here that he demonstrated another of the elements of his persona that made him such a character, Eaton said.

Zorichak purchased the Malta Depot, south of Leadville, from the railroad and used the materials from that to redecorate his home on Forest Road. With the energy crisis in full tilt, Zorichak demonstrated how energy efficient it was, and then worked with then-Gov. Dick Lamm to create tax credits for homeowners who saved energy with such projects.

The depot project also demonstrated another Zorichak trait ” one that will probably become the source of story if not legend ” he was a packrat of the highest order. His home and shop on Forest Road is crammed with memorabilia of every stripe. He even has a notebook brimming with clippings of every newspaper article he wrote or of which he was the subject.

“He loved having a forum to speak to the whole valley,” said Eaton. “He had a serious opinion about nearly everything, and he was pretty eloquent at conveying it.”

He also has hours of reel-to-reel tape recordings of the budding balladeer and songwriter Michael Johnson (“Bluer than Blue” and “This Night Won’t Last Forever”) and performer and songwriter Ted Sherman, who, in the late 1970s, were regulars on the Vail circuit. The family is making them available to the artists.

Zorichak’s tenure at the home on Forest Road lasted until 1994, when he sold his Forest Road property and purchased property on Elliot Ranch Road in West Vail. That residence, which hosted a constant parade of apprentices and others, was never quite finished, said his nephew Chris Zorichak. The Malta Depot also made the move. Eighteen years later, the roof still leaks, he said.

And he had some health issues that plagued him, too. One was Bell’s Palsy ” a partial paralysis of one side of his face. Zorichak took to wearing an eye patch to compensate for the imbalance, and even turned into a pirate on occasion after discovering his niece had a parrot that would perch on his shoulder.

Zorichak was preceded in death by his parents, Helen Agnes Stone and Joseph John Zorichak; his sister Mary Ethel; and by nephews Mark Zorichak and Wallace Chambers.

He is survived by his brother, J.J.”Bud” Zorichak of Boulder; his sister Helen Risley of Denver; uncles Charles Chambers of Georgetown and George Chambers of California; nephews Chris and Mike Zorichak of Boulder, Steve Risley of California, Eddie Risley of Santa Fe, N.M., and Mike Chambers of Denver; nieces Sue Zorichak of Boulder, Mary Lynn Risley of California, Linda Zorichak of Red Bank, N.J., and Christy Chambers of Denver.

Eaton stopped by the week before Zorichak died and was unable to connect with him that day. But he retains something from his friend and mentor that he’ll always keep: “He gave me my profession,” said Eaton. “The knowledge to do what I do every day.”

A memorial for Steve Zorichak will be held on Saturday afternoon at his home on Eliott Ranch Road.