Tim Cochrane is the booming voice behind two important county organizations: the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce, where he is the chief executive officer, and Vail Mountain Rescue, where he’s volunteered in a leadership capacity since he arrived in town. It was 1977 when Cochrane was drawn to Vail, still in its infancy. The idea of bigger mountains appealed to Cochrane, who hunts, fishes and appreciates the outdoors. He’s now spent nearly 28 years here, raising a family and enjoying the mountains. And when others lose their way exploring our mountains, Cochrane leads the search effort, helping to locate the lost.
Caramie Schnell: Where were you born, where you’d grow up, what’s your story?
Tim Cochrane: What’s my story? I have to stick to it, right, is that the deal?
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio; my family moved around quite a bit, my dad was in the hotel business. We went from Cleveland to Milwaukee to Omaha, finally settling in a little town outside of Buffalo, New York called Orchard Park, home of the Bills. Those were junior high and high school years, early ’60s. Those were the good ol’ days for the Bills. You could take the bus downtown, watch O.J. (Simpson) run and Jack Kemp throw the ball. Good times were had by all. It was also the start of the Vietnam War and in 1967, I joined the Marine Corps. I served from ’67 to ’71 as a United States Marine.
CS: Did they send you overseas?
TC: Oh yes. After completing basic training at Paris Island I was quickly absorbed into the South Vietnam campaign, I served two tours of duty with a Marine Corps. helicopter squadron over there.
CS: What did you do when you came back?
TC: Upon my return I went to night school, got a degree from the University of California, Irvine, in business administration and worked in Newport Beach as a restaurant manager. I found my way back east for a short stint and in 1977 I made the pilgrimage to Vail, Colorado.
CS: How did you hear about it, why did you come?
TC: I had grown up in the ski industry in western New York and Vermont area. I was living and working in Vermont and friends that had been out here said, ‘You need to come to Colorado, there’s something unique happening out there.’ They were working in Steamboat at the time and they told me about this tiny little resort just down the road. In 1977 I packed up everything I owned and drove my VW Bus to Vail, Colorado. Been here ever since.
CS: What did you do when you came out here?
TC: My first job was at the Mark Resort; I worked for Kaiser Morcus as his night auditor. That first year I also met my wife, Betsy. She was a reservationist. And in 1978 we were married. We just celebrated our 27th anniversary.
CS: Do you have children?
TC: We do – three daughters. Erin, who is a junior at CSU; Mary, who is a junior and varsity soccer goalie at Eagle Valley High School; and Megan, who is an eighth-grader at Eagle Valley Middle School and plays basketball, volleyball and soccer. All girls – all wonderful athletes, they’re great kids. They really typify the whole lifestyle and why we continue to stay here and be here. We wanted a place where we could raise a family; we both came from considerably smaller towns – core values of honesty and integrity and the small town way of life. That’s what we looked for in Vail and after 18 years in Vail, we moved here to Eagle and built a home and I really can’t imagine being any place else.
CS: What’s your wife do?
TC: Betsy works at the Eagle Ranch golf course during the summer and has a job at the Beaver Creek ski school in lesson sales in the wintertime. I really am very jealous of her lifestyle as I go to work everyday. She really does have the best of both worlds – golf and ski.
CS: How did you get involved with Mountain Rescue?
TC: I served in the Marines and that was my first taste of search and rescue operations. Being trained as a helicopter crew chief, helicopters, of course, are used extensively in Southeast Asia, for search and recovery operations, which was my forte – to locate and extract downed fighter pilots. Upon returning back to the states I was quickly assigned to work for the L.A. and Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Southern California, using the helicopter assets at the Marine base to locate overdue hikers and climbers. In that role, I first met some of the most amazing people you’ll ever encounter. While we would fly the helicopter in to make the pickup, inevitably there were one or two individuals who had spent the night out on a ridge with the injured party. I was so impressed with those people that I started hanging out with them and here we are how many years later. It’s a duty that we have as mountaineers to give back to the mountaineering community. And I just had a little extra special training with the helicopters and that has just kind of snowballed and evolved into today – I’m one of the top search and rescue coordinators in the state. I’ve had the honor of being the president of the National Mountain Rescue Association and just recently we brought 200 of our favorite international mountain rescuers here to Vail just to celebrate. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be a service. For me, it’s a lifelong passion.
CS: I’m curious about Mountain Rescue and how you deal with it when you don’t find the person you’re searching for?
TC: Obviously we’d like every mission to end in a successful find. Even if it’s a tragic ending, bringing people home is an important part. It’s difficult, but it’s one of the main reasons that I stay involved, because the Marines taught me that you never leave anyone behind. It was ingrained in me from day one and it’s the driving force today. People say, ‘Why do you still do this?’ and I’ll tell you that 30-some years later, the call is as strong as it was when I went out to pick up my first wounded Marine as it is today. We want to bring them back; we want resolution. I don’t think there’s any harder task than to sit down with a family and explain to them that the steps you have taken have led you to a point where doing more probably won’t change the outcome, but we still don’t have a resolution and aren’t able to say, ‘this person is here’ or ‘this is what happened.’ It’s extremely difficult – it never gets easy. If it did get easy, that would probably be a good time to stop.
CS: Because you’d be numb?
TC: Yeah. There’s a certain amount of detachment that comes with it. Some of our volunteer rescuers have a tendency to get close with the families. Each person has to deal with it in their own way. In my role as the search commander I’ve learned over the years that I have to maintain a distance – an objectivity.
Most recently here on the (Michelle) Vanek search, on a Saturday afternoon we deployed over 200 volunteers. We had a twisted ankle and a sprained knee out of 200 people. I consider that to be probably my most successful operation ever. Yet, we still can’t tell you where Michelle Vanek is. But the fact that we were able to put 200 people in the field covering altitudes of 12, 13, 14,000 feet, that’s a success. I take the successes where I get them. And I keep that door of hope open that the phone will ring and someone will say, ‘Hey, we spotted something up there, we need you to come back.’ The case doesn’t close for us, but until we get that call or that next clue, we just wait. VT
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