Vail pioneer Ernst Larese dies at 84
VAIL — Ernst Larese’s story nearly ended when he was 9 years old.
After being born in the little mountain town of Bolzano, Italy, in 1931, his family moved to Salzburg, Austria, where he was raised. When he was 9 he was pierced through the neck by a fence post while trying to forage a meal. He stuck his fingers in the hole, ran to a hospital where he was turned away, ran to another hospital and made it just in time to receive the care that would save his life.
He went on to join the French Foreign Legion, fight in Africa, move to Australia, build Perisher Ski Resort’s first commercial ski lodge, move to Vail and father three American children.
On Thursday, he died of natural causes at a nursing home in Glenwood Springs. He was 84.
“He lived a big life,” said his daughter, Simone Larese. “Many people here know him as the founder of the Swiss Hot Dog, but by the time he moved to Vail in the ’60s, he had already lived on four continents and accomplished a lot.”
MARRIED IN A SNOWSTORM
After fighting in the Algerian War, Ernst Larese moved to Australia for a fresh start. It was 1956.
He grew up in Salzburg, so he knew skiing well, but he also grew up during World War II, so he knew what it was like to wonder from where your next meal would come. It gave him a fascination with the food business which he would take, along with his knowledge of skiing, to Australia after serving his time with the French Foreign Legion in Algeria.
In Australia he was showing the sport of skiing to the locals, maybe showing off a little, when he crashed and broke his femur. While in the hospital, he encountered the woman he called the most beautiful girl on the Australian continent. Barbara was a nurse at the hospital and fell for Ernst.
They were wed in July of 1961 in the town of Jindabyne, near Perisher.
“It was the middle of winter, during a very big snowstorm,” said Barbara Larese. “We had to go by snowmobile to the reception.”
THE BLU COW
After 10 years in Australia, Ernst decided it was once again time for a change. Barbara and he packed up their things and moved to Colorado, landing in Vail. Not long after arriving, he started the Blu Cow restaurant in the location where the Tyrolean is located today. It was 1967.
A few years later, they had their first child. Two more would follow.
Over the next few decades, Ernst would start the Swiss Hot Dog shop and move it to several locations between Vail and Beaver Creek. The half pork, half veal, double wiener with curry, sprouts and onions and parsley would go on to become a signature meal in the Vail Valley. Ernst worked in the shop until a few years ago, when he became too sick to work and moved to a nursing home. Simone Larese carries on the tradition today with her restaurant, also named the Blu Cow, in Vail Village’s Slifer Square near The Red Lion.
On Friday, Nov. 6 there will be a celebration of Ernst’s life at the Blu Cow at 6 p.m. Anyone who knew him is welcome to join the celebration and tell stories of their experiences with him.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people who have some pretty entertaining memories of Ernst,” Simone said. “We’re welcoming anyone to come and share those memories.”
He was preceded in death by his son Alexander and is survived by wife Barbara; children Simone and Anthony; and two grandchildren, 15-year-old Mikella and 8-year-old Zoe.