Vail pioneer Christie Hill passes
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VAIL — Christie Hill was the first person to live on Bridge Street, and the first to open a ski shop in Vail. Hill died peacefully June 25 at her longtime home at the top of Bridge Street. She was 100.
Hill came to Vail as Blanche Hauserman and then married Vail pioneer Dick Hauserman. In the 2012 book “Women of Vail,” Hill wrote:
“I moved to Vail because I am an adventuress, and I have skied all my life. Peter Seibert came to me when they were building Vail. I knew him and Bob Parker from the East, and they convinced me to come here and open a store. I had done a lot of magazine covers, so I wasn’t just known in the ski world. I knew an awful lot of people, so when they were trying to raise money for Vail, they asked me to help.”
Help, in one case, was inviting Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer to come to the fledgling resort. Pepi was a pro skier at the time, and skiing with the new resort’s logo on his jacket was one way to spread the word about Vail to the skiing public and press.
In 1961 or so, Dick Hauserman was taking ski lessons from Pepi in Sun Valley, Idaho, and told him about a new resort being built in Colorado.
“Before Vail was even open, they brought Pepi here and he fell in love,” Sheika Gramshammer said.
“If it wouldn’t have been for her, we wouldn’t have come here,” Sheika said. “She gave me the foundation of a home.”
A big risk
All those who came to Vail in the early days were taking big risks. There were no guarantees that a new resort separated from Denver by a two-lane highway and two very high mountain passes could draw enough attention to survive.
“She gave up what could have been a sophisticated, relatively easy lifestyle for Vail,” said “Women of Vail” co-author Carolyn Pope. “And she became a fixture in Vail.”
Even with the risk of a new venture always present, Hill believed that Vail and everything associated with it should be done as well as possible.
Lorraine Higbie and her husband Harley were also among the first people in Vail. Higbie said when Hill and Bunny Langmaid opened Vail Blanche, the town’s first ski shop, that store always had to have the best and latest gear and clothing.
“She started right off at the top level,” Higbie said. “No one had any idea there would be clients to support her, but she went right ahead.”
That dedication to quality was a kind of assurance to those early skiers.
“There was a very small population that skied in those days, and they knew what was good,” Higbie said.
While Hill considered herself a skier first, she was also a model, twice gracing the cover of Life magazine in the 1940s. Her innate sense of style came into play when it was time to design the first Vail ski school uniforms. The white diagonal stripes were inspired by the uniforms of the royal guards during the coronation of England’s Queen Elizabeth nearly a decade before.
“She was an elegant woman who was full of life and health and happiness,” Pope said. “But she was passionate about skiing.”
Vail’s best hostess
In the first days of Vail Blanche, the store at the base of the first gondola was more than just a gear and clothing shop.
Elaine Kelton, who came to Vail in those first seasons and is the co-author of “Women of Vail,” recalled that people who were injured on the mountain were often taken into the shop to wait for medical attention.
“They’d always have hot cocoa with brandy — or just brandy,” Kelton recalled.
That was part of being a good hostess. And Hill was early Vail’s premier hostess, to both neighbors and newcomers.
“She created phenomenal picnics on the mountain, selling Vail to investors or buyers,” Kelton said.
And Hill was famous for her Fourth of July and Christmas Eve parties.
In those early winters, “the house was a gathering place, a way to start your vacation and celebrate Christmas,” Kelton said. “It was lit with family and lit with friends.”
As Vail grew into a community, Hill was among Vail’s women who helped create the community, from its school to its medical center. But many of those contributions were made with little or no public attention, which is just how she wanted it. But she still kept her small circle of friends close.
Hill was surrounded by those friends at her 100th birthday party in April.
Still, news of her passing spread slowly around Vail and came as a surprise to Higbie.
“I talked to her the weekend before last and she was really on the ball,” Higbie said.
Kelton said Hill’s passing is a milestone in the town’s history.
“She was a blessedly serene, dynamic, awesome woman,” Kelton said. “It’s the passing of an era and the passing of a lifestyle.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.