Vail’s favorite Buffalo
VAIL – Buffalo Mikottis has a simple reason why he’s stayed on ski patrol for 40 years.”I never made enough money to leave,” he said.Mikottis, 65, is quick with one-liners and long on Vail history. He remembers when there were five lifts, plus a Poma surface lift. He remembers when it took days – not minutes – for Sun Down Bowl to get tracked out. He remembers when 4,000 people a day was a record-breaking crowd.”It was great snow, working with great people,” he said. “Even the ski instructors were nice at that time.”Mikottis started on Vail Mountain’s Ski Patrol in December 1965, after a friend invited him to move to Vail. He didn’t intend to stay for more than a few seasons.”Otherwise I would have saved all my pennies and bought land early,” he said.But a few years turned to 10, and then he figured he’d be staying for a while. Now, he’s going to stay on patrol as long as he can.”Until I win the lotto, or as long as they’ll have me,” he said.His venerable status is embodied in the name of the restaurant beside patrol headquarters – Buffalo’s. Pete Seibert Jr. came up with the idea of naming it after Mikottis.”They gave me free food for a while,” but that deal ended up going away, Mikottis said. “I never took advantage by buying lunch for anyone.”A tragic morningMikottis was working on March 26, 1976, which Vail founder Pete Seibert called “Vail’s worst day.”At 9:18 a.m., Mikottis had just gotten off the gondola when a report came over the radio. He can still recite the exact words he heard: “Eagle’s Nest Ski Patrol, we have a report of two gondola cars on the ground at Tower 5.”He loaded toboggans with supplies and headed down to the accident, on the Born Free run.”I was thinking, ‘What am I going to see when I get there, and what am I going to do?” he said.Mikottis was the second patroller on scene. One car was upside and one was right-side up. Mikottis and his partner, Dave Stanish, found that two people were dead in the upside-down car.He said he remembers that about 100 people were already walking toward the accident in the deep snow. He told them to help pack down the snow.Four people died as a result of the accident.
Forty years on Ski Patrol has given Mikottis a few good stories to tell.One day, Mikottis was skiing with a fellow patroller in Northwoods. They came across a father and son standing on the trail. The son had lost his ski. Just as Mikottis went down to retrieve it, the boy’s other ski came off and slid down the mountain.Mikottis’ partner yelled, “Buffalo! Buffalo!” to get his attention.The father responded, “Is that what you yell when you see a runaway ski at Vail?”Mikottis grew up in Illinois, and learned to ski on highway embankments and then at small resorts in the Midwest. He and his friend wrote letters to ski resorts across the country to find jobs. He ended up working at Mount Hood in Oregon for a couple of years, then served in the Army for a few more years.Mikottis got the nickname Buffalo from a fellow patroller in the ’60s – but he doesn’t tell anyone why he got it. He lives in East Vail and worked for many years in the summers as an electrician. Now, he takes the summers off.Both the town and the mountain have changed quite a bit in his 40 years, he said. The mountain’s gone from a small, intimate ski mountain to a more corporate place, he said. And he doesn’t even know all of the stores that are in town any more.”You have to give up some things when you get bigger,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado