‘The Perfect Pioneer:’ Byron Brown could and did do everything in early Vail
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Vi Brown, P.O. Box 547, Vail CO 81657
VAIL — Byron Brown could do anything, which worked out well because in 1964, Vail needed everything.
“He was the perfect guy to come to Vail,” said Vi Brown, Byron’s bride of 56 years.
Byron died Wednesday, Sept. 13, surrounded by family. He was 86.
Byron and Vi moved to Vail in 1964.
“We are so lucky we got to be part of the early years of Vail. We’ve been married for 56 years and lived here 53 years. We’ve met such great characters,” Vi said.
They met Art Linkletter strolling down the street and Jackie Kennedy at the deli … the list is long and illustrious.
“We meet people who you have to pay to see,” Vi said.
Byron’s next trip
Byron’s daughter and son-in-law, Cindy and Rob Crawford, flew home from teaching skiing in Australia this week. After they arrived a few days ago, Byron looked up at Vi and said, “I think it’s time for me to go.”
He was ready for the next trip.
Vi had read all kinds of books after the family lost its son Todd and was telling Byron about how the angels come to get you and take you through a tunnel and how all your friends and loved ones are waiting for you on the other side.
“Don’t tell me any more,” Byron said.
“Why not?” Vi replied.
“Because I want to be surprised.”
When the mortuary crew came to get him, the family made sure he was wearing his Broncos hat.
“He was surrounded by everyone in the family. We all told him we loved him and what a good father and a good grandfather he was,” Vi said. “What a delightful life we’ve had. We have so much to be thankful for.”
Byron liked Vail’s pioneers. People who came later tended to complain, to which Byron grinned and quietly said something like, “Well, people like to do what they’re good at.”
Pete Seibert was his hero. Going to war, coming back wounded, figuring out how to start a ski area — Byron liked all the Vail pioneers, but Pete was his favorite. Byron met Pete at Loveland Ski Area, and Pete invited him to Vail.
“Byron, if you’re interested, come on over to Vail. We’re just getting started,” Pete told him.
Byron and Vi loved to ski, but the drive up and down the mountains to Denver was getting old, so almost before they could say, “Pack the car,” the couple was moving from Denver to Vail, a rough and tumble mountain town with dirt streets and home to 100 hearty souls.
That’s where Byron’s can-do-everything attitude came in handy. He formed a real estate development company and built the first house in West Vail, a home for him, Vi and three children: Mike, Todd and Cindy.
There was the time a pipe broke in West Vail and he fixed it. But before he fixed it, he hauled water from Gore Creek. They boiled it and drank it.
‘The moment he fell for me’
Byron fell for Vi, both literally and romantically.
It was the early 1960s, and Vi and Byron lived in Denver. Vi was at Arapahoe Basin learning to ski. Her first time on the pommel lift, Vi kept “letting go before she got to the top and would slide backwards and knock everybody off,” Byron told the Vail Daily in February, when he and Vi were being honored with the 2017 Vail Trailblazer Award.
Byron advised Vi to not get off until she reached the top. Vi finally made it to the top without crashing, where Byron was waiting. Byron asked her if she’d ever skied before, and Vi told him no.
“Byron said, ‘Follow me,’ skied about 200 feet and then fell flat on his face,” Vi said. “(Now) I always say, ‘That’s the moment when he fell for me.’”
Vi and Byron dated for three weeks, got engaged and got married three months later. That was 56 years ago.
If you were a kid, then Vail was Mayberry with a light Bavarian accent. It still is.
No television, no contrived electronic characters trying to convince children how much better their lives would be if only their parents would buy them the gadget du jour.
“There was only one thing to do, go up and play in the mountains and the woods,” Byron said in a 2013 interview with the Vail Daily. “We’d ski and cross country. Lots of Sundays we’d head up Shrine Pass on cross-country skis. Everyone broke out what they had for lunch, then ski down to Reno’s in Red Cliff for supper.”
Groceries meant a trip to Glenwood Springs or Minturn. Movies were in Minturn, and Denver was light years away.
Byron served more than 30 years on the board of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, where he and other board members helped set the gold standard for workforce housing.
He doubled as a ski patroller, as almost everyone did in those days. Byron and Vi started the Buddy Werner League with Marge Chandler and several others, helped found Ski Club Vail because it was fun.
The ski company donated an acre at the bottom of Golden Peak. The only problem was that the Northwoods condominium association had a deal that nothing would be built on that acre that would block their view. Byron, Ben Krueger and some others dug the foundation and built 3,000 square feet underground.
Byron and Ben became good golfing buddies, calling themselves The Gimpy Grumpy Old Men. Eventually, they couldn’t play with anyone but each other, because their rules were what we’ll call “fluid.”
Locked in Interlochen
Byron and Vi could sit outside their Cortina Lane home and ring the bells for the bike racers, which they did with unbridled enthusiasm.
Byron enjoyed bike racing, but international ski racing was one of his passions, insisting that people should come to Vail because we have such a good mountain.
There was the time Aspen decided to get out of international ski racing, which opened the door for Vail. In 1983, Byron and John Horan-Kates flew to Interlochen, Switzerland. Vail had not had any World Cup skiing in events in a while.
Byron and John went to dinner with the rest of the FIS powers that be. Horan-Kates had stealthily wandered closer to a huddle of Aspen Skiing Co. President Jerry Blann and Vice President of Marketing John Thorback at a corner table with FIS president Marc Hodler and FIS board member Dr. Bud Little. They were talking about the World Alpine Ski Championships. Aspen had been the first American city to host it in 1950, when Europe was still too bombed out from World War II.
Back in the other room, Serge Lange with FIS stood before a room of people and announced that Canada didn’t want a men’s race.
“Vail, do you want it?”
“Yes!” Byron said.
A bit later, a scheduling conflict popped up on the women’s schedule, and a women’s race was suddenly available.
“Vail, do you want that, too?” Lange asked.
“Yes!” Brown said.
When Byron found Horan-Kates and the rest of the Vail contingent, they asked how it went.
“Do we have a race?” they asked.
“We have two!” Byron said.
Byron and Vi were grand marshals for Vail’s 2016 America Days Parade. They also were presented the Vail Valley Foundation’s Hornblower Award and several Rotary Club awards and won this year’s Vail Trailblazer Award.
They said they didn’t know they could get awards for living in and loving Vail.
“We thoroughly loved Byron and got a kick out of him,” Vi said. “It has been a wonderful, rich life for us and our family. We are both blessed.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.