Vail beginnings |

Vail beginnings

Rouene Brown
Women of Vail
Rouene visited Vail many times throughout the '60s, and eventually met mountain manager Bill "Sarge" Brown, her future husband. They married in 1969.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Women of Vail,” by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. Books are available for purchase at, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

For Christmas the year I was 6, I got a little pair of skis. They were probably ordered from Sears & Roebuck, since that’s where most of our stuff came from. They had a leather strap through a slot in the center of the ski through which one could put a foot clad in a shoe and rubber overshoe. We lived on a ranch so there were pristine snow-covered hills down which to slide. Trudge to the top, get the feet securely through the straps and slide down in as straight a line as possible, hoping the ever-present dog wouldn’t playfully attach its jaws to a mitten or some loose part of the snowsuit and cause a fall. This would be done again and again until hopefully, a nice, icy track was developed creating a speedier and speedier descent. There were no ski poles involved in this get-up, which was probably just as well as that would have been another target for the dog’s jaws. We also had a couple pairs of very long hand-hewn wooden skis with the same kind of crude strap. Some of the adults (my dad, or an uncle or cousin) would occasionally come out and help develop some of the icy tracks and have a few falls and a little fun in the process.

Skiing was already being enjoyed elsewhere as a sport and competitively but not in that part of Wyoming and certainly not in my world. Although I continued to slide down the hills around the ranch until after high school, I never really skied until I was living and working in Denver in the ’50s. I skied at Winter Park, Loveland, A-Basin, and Aspen and then Vail when it opened. I came to Vail whenever and however I could get there and as often as possible.

Although I didn’t live in Vail until late 1969, I was involved in its infancy, as I started skiing there the first season it was open. At that time, I was working in Denver for United Airlines at the City Ticket Office in the Brown Palace Hotel. Since airline employees were in a good position to promote ski areas, Bob Parker, Vail’s first marketer, established a relationship with the airlines with special rates and enticements. “Airline weeks” were a big time, with lodging, parties, lift tickets, parties, ski lessons and more parties all made very attractive and affordable. There were a limited number of passes to exchange for a lift ticket, available to Denver employees if one was able to get one’s name on the list in time, as they were a hot item and in demand. After all, a daily lift ticket went for $5. Elaine White probably arranged some of the above-referenced parties. According to my diary entries, in January ’67, there was a “Paul Masson” party at The Lodge, and the very next night the “Old Crow” party at The Lodge. The next night, UAL gave a party at the Black Bear, next night a party at the Casino and during the final night of that airline week, there was a ski school party.

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Early trips

On one of the trips to Vail during the very early days (February 1963), we stayed at the Vail Village Inn; the night desk clerk was a guy we knew from Denver by the name of Charlie Gersbach. There was some kind of foul-up with our reservation, and one guy and we three ladies had to share a room, definitely had not been in the plan.

On another early trip after Pepi and Sheika had built the Gasthof Gramshammer, there was a similar foul-up with reservations, and they accommodated us in the basement in what must have been the furnace room.

I became acquainted with Jim Slevin during the time he was making a decision to move to Vail. He had come into the UAL ticket office one time with a handful of pictures and the enthusiasm of a child with a new toy. These were all pictures of various scenes in and around what there was of Vail Village at that point. He announced that he was going to live there. Sure enough, by what was for me the start of the “summer Vail” experience in July of 1965, we enjoyed eating at his restaurant called La Cave in the basement of The Plaza Lodge.

By the winter of ’66, Manor Vail had been built, so a friend and I stayed there for a week in February. There still wasn’t much between Bridge Street and Manor Vail. I still have the confirmation letter from Manor Vail and the receipt for payment made on Feb. 27, 1966. The letter was typed and signed by Mrs. Irene Westbye, reservations secretary, and the room rate was $20, double occupancy. We just had a bedroom (this would have been the lock-off belonging to one of the suites). The three-bedroom deluxe suites (with three baths, kitchen, living room, stone fireplace and balcony) went for the whopping sum of $65 — way out of our range.

As new places were built and opened for business, I stayed at, ate at, or partied at all of them. In February of 1967, I was at a party at The Golden Ski in The Lodge and, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the night of Rupert Oberlohr’s arrival in Vail, and there was great jubilation among the rest of his family already living in town.

In July of 1966, there was a strike at United Air Lines; we weren’t working, so what better to do than go to Vail? There was a pool at The Lodge and Dick Hauserman was very generous with rooms at The Plaza Lodge. We had become well acquainted with him as he flew back and forth to Cleveland during those years and was frequently at our office. I believe that was the summer that Jim and Jan Cunningham built the Valhalla, so we checked their construction progress during that stay. I was driving a VW Bug, and when staying at The Plaza, could park on the little hillside between the Lodge pool and the Plaza.

The rest is history

In late March of 1969, a friend, by some stroke of fate, invited me to join him and his wife for a weekend in Vail. They were to be guests of an Army buddy of his and could I go along and be his blind date for a party? Well, could I ever! As it turned out, the old army buddy was Bill “Sarge” Brown. The trip from Denver to Vail that evening involved spending several hours trying to get over Loveland Pass in extreme weather conditions. When we finally did arrive, Bill had a wonderful dinner waiting. We went to the party the next evening after a fine day of skiing. It was a party given by Ski Club Vail, and I had my first meeting with Flo Steinberg, who impressed me when she recognized the fragrance I was wearing (Joy) and commented on it. I later learned she had a sort of obsession with perfume.

I could say that “the rest is history” but will elaborate just a little. Bill and I continued seeing each other frequently. Winter came to Vail early that fall of 1969. In October, there were a number of snowstorms that left a great base for the season, scheduled to start in mid-November well before Thanksgiving. At the end of a wonderful ski day on Nov. 25, we had to be evacuated from Chair 6. I remember that specifically because about the same time the next day we met Don Simonton at the Vail Chapel where he performed our wedding ceremony. The new chapel was dedicated on Nov. 28, 1969, by Rev. Don Simonton and Father Thomas Stone. The carpet had been laid earlier on our wedding day, and Don asked Hans Weibel, who was there vacuuming it, to turn off the vacuum while he conducted our wedding. Some years later, Don told me that when Hans saw who was being married, he said, “Vell, I be Gott-damned,” and promptly left his vacuuming job to spread the word around town before we left the church.

We lived in a Sandstone ’70 unit, and I worked for Rocky Mountain Airways who provided daily service between Denver and Eagle. My ticket counter was at the back of the Manor Vail lobby. Although I was equipped to handle reservations and ticket changes for any and all of the airlines, it was difficult to get people to “come all that way from their lodges around Bridge Street to Manor Vail,” which they considered to be out of the way.

“Women of Vail” was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer-editor.

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