Taking on Tourist Trap at 92
February 21, 2017
VAIL — Dedicating the day to his late friend Jimmy Nassar, 92-year-old Hugh Evans enjoyed a day of skiing on Vail Mountain Tuesday.
The lifelong pals and former roommates enjoying skiing up to the very end, said Evans, who called Nassar his "best skiing buddy for the last 30 years" on Tuesday.
"Skiing was his life, really," Evans said. "He always skied the same, steady."
Evans and Nassar served in the 2nd Platoon of Company C of the 85th Regiment in the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army during WWII. Nassar died in July of 2016.
An annual "ski-in" at various Colorado resorts aims to get the remaining veterans together each year to ski and recognize the 10th Mountain Division's military victories in the Italian Alps, which occurred almost exactly 72 years ago at Riva Ridge and Mt. Belvedere Feb. 18-19, 1945. Each year there are less and less surviving members still able to unite and ski, by 2014, the group was down to just Evans and Nassar at the Vail ski day. In 2015, however, they actually gained a skier when Dick Dirks found himself well enough to join.
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This year, Evans was the lone gun.
"I think (fellow 10th Mountain veteran) Dick Over is still able to ski," Evans said. "But he was unable to join this year because his wife was injured and he needs to care for her."
At Breckenridge, the group would gather and those who couldn't ski would still enjoy lunch together.
"Three years ago, we had maybe about 10, last year I think we had five, and this year I was the only one there," Evans said.
A group of about 10 skiers joined Evans for a cruise down Vail's famous "Riva Ridge" run which was named in honor of that battle. Skiing Riva was Evans' main goal while at Vail, he said.
At the bottom of Tourist Trap, Evans took a controlled fall, disappearing in a cloud of snow spray after carrying too much speed into the flat section following the pitch.
"I did that for the camera," he said.
Evans' often finds himself surrounded by cameras on his ski days, something he says he's getting used to.
The story of the 10th Mountain Division has been retold on camera, fortunately, through oral histories with many of the members while they were still alive. Abbie Kealy worked on the documentary "The Last Ridge," which often airs on PBS, interviewing hundreds of 10th Mountain Division survivors. She interviewed William "Sarge" Brown, who loomed heavy in the minds of those who skied with Evans on Tuesday as the group observed a plaque in honor on Brown on Vail Mountain and dined in Sarge's Shelter, also named after Brown.
Kealy says Brown told her that he remembered her uncle, 10th Mountain Division soldier Stuart Abbott.
"He said he was a tree hugger," Kealy recalls. "He was always measuring the trunk of a tree, or looking for a robin's egg nest."
Kealy was united with her sisters on Tuesday, Erin Green and Meg Kealy. They joined Evans on his ski-in in honor of Abbott, who was killed Feb. 20, 1945.
Also in attendance was Tom Duhs, a 10th Mountain Division writer and historian who wants to see a Hollywood version of the division's story come to life on the silver screen. Originally from Colorado, Duhs didn't learn the 10th Mountain Division's story until 2010, when he came across a notice on the locker room wall in Keystone.
"It said two veterans were going to give a talk at the Vail museum, it was Dick Over and Earl Clark, I listened to their talk and I was enthralled by it," Duhs said. "Everything that they did, I did at the mountain warfare training center in Bridgeport California with the Marine Corps."
Since then, Duhs has become an expert on the 10th Mountain Division and written a movie script and a 10-episode mini series based on the division's story in WWII. During the sk-in with Evans on Tuesday, he took a moment to tell the group a little bit about Evans.
"The night of (Feb. 19, 1945) is when Hugh, and all of the rest of the guys from the division, attacked Mt. Belvedere, Hugh was there as a hero," Duhs said. "Silver Star winner and a real gun fighter."
WORKING ON MEMOIRS
Evans starts each day at about 7 a.m. with breakfast and pills. He then works, has lunch, takes a nap, goes for a walk, has dinner, watches the news, reads a little and goes to bed. Every Saturday he has an Evans' Benedict for breakfast, which is an eggs Benedict without the ham.
He's been doing this routine, "for longer than I can remember," he says, but that's not true, because the working part of his routine often involves him thinking back to a time before this routine for his memoirs, which he hopes to finish in the coming years.
"I'll be lucky if I get to work on them three hours per week," he says.
Evans skied a few runs at Vail before calling it quits on Tuesday. He said he was tired from the day before, where he said skied Breckenridge and skied too many runs.
"I lost count," he said.
He plans to ski Keystone on Wednesday. When asked if he's already looking forward to next year's ski-in, he replied, "I look forward to every day."