Snow keeps Vail Valley doctor young
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –It is the end of a powder day on Vail Mountain. Fat snowflakes fall steady. Thick and wet, they land on our jackets and helmets in an endless pitter-patter. The cushion of surrounding snow swallows most sounds and time seems to fall away, as if a single moment stretched across a span of hours like a pair of ski tracks winding through the woods.
Perhaps this is the fountain of youth, the golden path to longer, happier life. That idea seems very plausible after spending a day in the moguls with 75-year-old Dr. George Platt.
In the veil of weather, figures near and far seem more like shadows moving along in a dream than real people. I can’t see Platt’s face – as he leans on his poles at the top of a run, looking down the fall line between his skis – but I know he’s smiling. I bend down to snap a portrait. Flakes dance like laughing fairies and settle on the lens of my camera. Only then do I see what a tall figure the man is before me. Platt’s shadow looms above, full of life, as if it took just the right lighting to finally see his true size.
Platt doesn’t claim to be more special or interesting than anyone else. However, he is living the life many Americans would like to live. He still works on call as an equine veterinarian, which is one way to say he’s a horse doctor who doesn’t think twice about answering emergency calls day or night, rain or shine. He’s married to an artistic woman he met in seventh grade who writes country songs such as “You Can’t be a Real Cowgirl ’cause you can’t Keep your Calves Together.” And he skis every day he can, often getting in around 100 days a year.
Those ski days aren’t necessarily slow laps on groomers, either. Two weeks ago at Mid-Vail lodge, Platt told me he likes to ski bumps. I dutifully wrote it down on my pad at the table. As a Colorado boy, I know that mogul size is often relative to a skier’s perspective. The balding, white-haired, blue-eyed man before me seemed like many senior citizens I’d met: a little hard of hearing, a little hunched over. I didn’t doubt that he skied bumps. I just guessed he did so a little slower than most. Instead I learned the doctor skis bumps – big bumps – quite fluidly.
I suppose I should qualify my own perspective a little bit. I’ve been on skis and snowboards since I was 3 years old. I’ve done a number of top-to-bottoms on famous long, bump runs, such as Drunken Frenchman, Outhouse and Railbender. I enjoy riding tight trees at high speed and dropping cliffs at the same time. Rails, jumps and halfpipe are fun, too. I also ice climb and kayak. In other words, I’m a typical, 27-year-old Colorado native. With those credentials in mind, I hope people believe me when I say Platt is one gnarly dude.
“For his age, George is a power pack. He is very strong, very agile and just a joy to ski with,” said Sharon Bell, one of Platt’s ski buddies who we ran into in the lift line. At 65, she’s been a Vail ski instructor for over 10 years.
Platt didn’t start skiing until he was 42. Originally, he grew up in Texas, New Mexico and Boulder playing football. That was back when players still wore leather helmets and Platt has the missing teeth, broken fingers and broken vertebrae to show for it. He has other injuries from horses and a car accident, but no screws, rods or metal plates in his body came from skiing.
“It takes me a while to get through airports,” he said of all the metal in his body.
Besides football, Platt’s first passion while growing up was horses.
“I love horses,” he said. “Horses and dogs are exactly the same, because if they smell ya’ they know what you’re thinking.”
That passion guided him through higher education. He started college at Colorado State University but couldn’t afford more than one semester so he joined the U.S. Army in 1954. The Second Airborne Division proved to be a good way to earn the G.I. Bill. It was just after the Korean conflict and Platt said he would have jumped out of an airplane every day if he could. Plus, he got to keep playing football. When he got out, he went back to CSU.
After eight years of school, Platt eventually started a family in Texas. He lived in Lubbock for 30 years before moving to Edwards and then Eagle.
A trip with his first wife and their kids to Ruidoso, N.M., introduced Platt to skis at age 42.
“I skied with the kids because we skied the same way,” he said. “We just laughed and kept truckin’, didn’t try the black diamonds. It was on a rope tow. There were about 16 of us in the ski school. The instructor never said a word. He just picked up the ladies that were screamin’.
“About noon, my wife at the time came down and said, ‘Come with me.’ She told me to push on my left foot to go right and push on my right to go left. From then on we’d take the kids skiing around Christmas time. We did that for years and we all became better skiers.”
Platt himself came to be a ski instructor at Vail, as did his daughter and her husband, who still instructs there. Platt taught adults for three years.
“I wouldn’t start with the snow plow,” he said. “I’d first tell them, ‘Push on your left foot to go right …’ They’d ask, ‘How do we stop?’ and I’d say, ‘Keep pushing on the foot until you turn back up into the slope.’ I’d teach the snow plow once they got on a steeper hill.”
Bell said she was influential in getting Platt into ski instructing.
“I encouraged him to instruct,” she said. “He’s very personable and knowledgeable.”
Platt acknowledges that learning to ski as an adult probably helped him teach later.
Most people in Eagle County who know Platt know him as a dedicated veterinarian.
“He’s very good with horses,” Bell said, who has a 27-year-old horse. “Two or three years ago, on New Year’s Day, my mare was having problems. He came all the way to Edwards at 7:30 a.m. with no hesitation.”
An emergency call such as Bell’s is pretty much the only thing that gets in the way of Platt’s skiing. He said a lot of days are cut short by a call.
“I only had about 55 days of skiing last year because it was pretty busy,” he said.
“He’s a good vet. He has a way with horses, he understands them,” said Platt’s current wife, Cornelia.
In fact, Platt gave a speech in February about Founder’s disease at the American Farrier’s Association convention in Portland, Ore.
Although Cornelia is Platt’s second wife, they first met in seventh grade. They dated in ninth and 10th grade and then life took them their separate ways. About 30 years later, they met up again at Platt’s “first-grade reunion” in Arizona.
“I wasn’t even in first grade with him,” Cornelia said. “I had some mutual friends who were and they invited me to come.”
Platt said there were “a bunch of gals and a few guys” at the reunion. “I was one of the few guys and she was one of the gals,” he said.
This summer will mark 20 years of marriage for George and Cornelia Platt. Their family now consists of five kids and 10 grandchildren. The grandkids range from 2 years old to 25.
“George has had a big influence of both our families,” Cornelia said. “My grandkids started skiing with him at 3 and 4 years old.”
The only pills Platt swallows when his body starts to ache is Tylenol.
“Nothin’ really bothers me,” he said. “You can’t sit around. I have no intention of retiring.”
So he keeps on doing what he loves. The activity helps his body more than it hurts, he said.
“I certainly have worried about George,” said Cornelia, who quit skiing after breaking her ankles. “He’s fearless. I’ve seen huge draft horses lean on him to the point where it looks like they might fall over on him.”
She laughs, though. He wouldn’t be the same if he didn’t do everything he does.
Earlier in the ski day I shared with Platt, a man thought I was related to him as we were sitting in the gondola. I didn’t say anything but I liked the thought that we were off the same block of wood. I want to be that tough and vibrant when I’m his age, and took it as a good sign for me that he seemed to share my views on a go-getting lifestyle.
At the end of the day, as I look up at his dark form amid the swirling flakes, I almost see my future self there in his boots: happy, still in the sweet spot of life. I like to think he saw something similar to his old self in me, crouched in the snow at his feet.