Skier: Vail gave me second chance at life |

Skier: Vail gave me second chance at life

Special to the DailyLee Curtes leads a prayer at Big Rock Park on Monday, the eighth anniversary of a heart attack that he had at Blue Sky Basin.

VAIL, Colorado ” Lee Curtes knows the last day of his life could have been Jan. 14, 2000. He knows his last step could have been atop Blue Sky Basin, and the last thing he saw could have been the distant peaks.

That day, Curtes’ heart went into arrest during a day of skiing on Vail Mountain.

But Curtes lived to go home to Wisconsin. He lived to see each of his six grandchildren come into the world.

“I was given a second chance,” said Curtes, now 62. “I’m not sure why.”

Curtes credits, in large part, the Vail Ski Patrol with giving him that second chance. Patrollers immediately treated Curtes as he felt the symptoms: chest pressure, shortness of breath and lots of sweating.

He also credits a small contraption that they used: a defibrillator. After Curtes fell unconscious, patrollers put the pads of the defibrillator on his chest and shocked him. His pulse returned.

“No ifs, ands or buts about it,” Curtes said. “That defibrillator saved me from sure death, guaranteed.”

Each year on the anniversary of his near death, Curtes returns to Vail to thank the patrollers who helped save him. On Monday, the anniversary, Curtes met with Kevin Latchford and Mark Patterson, two of the patrollers who treated him.

“I need to reconnect with these guys because I’m eternally grateful,” Curtes said.

They took a few runs. They went to that spot at Belle’s Camp where Curtes collapsed. They went to a spot in Big Rock Park, where they said a prayer.

Latchford said he enjoys reconnecting each year with Curtes, who has become a friend.

“It’s pretty amazing to know that I played a part in saving somebody’s life,” Latchford said.

Latchford was at the Ski Patrol outpost at Blue Sky when Curtes started having chest pains. He gave Curtes oxygen and baby aspirin, but the symptoms worsened until Curtes arrested. By that time, other patrollers had arrived, including Patterson. They immediately applied the pads of the defibrillator.

After Curtes regained consciousness, he was transported by helicopter to the Vail Valley Medical Center, and then a Denver hospital. There, doctors removed a blood clot. About a week later, he went home to Wisconsin.

Ski Patrol has a defibrillator at each of its six outposts. There are seven more across the mountain in restaurants and other public places.

The defibrillators are designed so untrained people can use them on a person having a heart attack or cardiac arrest.

“Anybody can grab it off the wall, put it on the person and use it,” Patterson said.

Curtes champions Vail Resorts for putting the machines all over the mountain.

“In my opinion, having the guts to put them on the mountain was a huge, life-saving decision for me,” Curtes said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User