Vail’s Kurt Keltner’s loving life to be celebrated Friday afternoon at 4 Eagle Ranch | VailDaily.com

Vail’s Kurt Keltner’s loving life to be celebrated Friday afternoon at 4 Eagle Ranch

VAIL — Kurt Keltner fell in love early and often during his fast-paced life: with the mountains, with skiing, with Vail, with Alaska, with Teresa Gregory … and not necessarily in that order.

He was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1954 to James and Shirley Keltner, but moved to Lake Stevens, Washington, and the mountains before he started high school.

After he graduated high school in the early 1970s, he packed his motorcycle and headed to Colorado and Vail.

Topography and adventure made him happy, and after falling in love with the Colorado Rockies, he returned to Washington, bought a Volkswagen Beetle, packed his worldly possessions and made the move to Vail.

His first job was working on the Eisenhower Tunnel, where he met long-time friend Ray Roberge. Their version of employee housing was living in tents in the woods, which was fine with them.

He landed a Vail job as a nighttime janitor and part-time cook at Eagles Nest, earning the princely sum of $2.25 an hour.

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It's good to have friends, and Kurt had many. A few of those buddies taught him freestyle skiing, which suited his go-for-it personality. He started competing and soon was beating the buddies who taught him.

Kurt wanted more freestyle competitions, so he then migrated back to Washington state. That put him at Steven's Pass working as a ski instructor and bartender, while competing as much as he could.

In 1976, he met Teresa. She was a 21-year-old lift operator, and Kurt realized what the term "snow angel" really meant. Kurt convinced Teresa that the snow in Colorado was so much better than the snow in Washington, so they set off in his Metro motor home and moved back to Vail.

They lived at the KOA in Eagle-Vail until he got her a job at the Meadow Mountain dude ranch in Vail's old ski lodge. Kurt went back to work in construction.

In 1982, they made one more serious trip to Lake Stevens, Washington, to get married at his mom's house.

They moved to a place on the river in Minturn and lived there until about 1983, when they found out they were pregnant with their first son. They bought a place in Avon, and Sage Remmington Keltner was born Sept. 10, 1983.

That was also the year Kurt began to scratch his entrepreneurial itch and started his own business, Powder Mountain Inc. In the summer, he painted houses and businesses. In the winter, the business shifted to snow removal.

In the meantime, Teresa had started her own cleaning business, as well as sewing business on the side.

Their second child , Jessica Ruby Keltner was born on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day. They had migrated to Edwards by the time their third child, Melisa Rose Keltner, arrived.

With their hard work in the valley paying off, Kurt built a beautiful four-bedroom house on the hill up Bull Run in the South Forty.

When the kids were older, he spent time in his happy place, Alaska, fishing, hunting and building another house along the Kenai River.

He died this summer in a boating accident on the Kenai River.

Nine lives

Kurt had nine lives, and he made them all count.

While working and living up at Eagles Nest, Kurt and a buddy had access to run the Lionshead gondola. After throwing a nice party at the top, Kurt rode down with his buddies to let them go for the night. Kurt's partner thought Kurt had made it back to the top and shut down the gondola.

That left Kurt stranded on the gondola in the freezing cold, middle of winter, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. As the sun was coming up, Kurt had said his last prayer before considering whether to jump. All of the sudden, the gondola started up again. His buddy woke to start his morning shift and realized Kurt wasn't in his bed.

When Kurt mastered skiing, he decided to get on a snowboard. He was riding in Vail's Back Bowls and made it to the bottom of the chair, when his vision went blurry and he collapsed. He was transported to the Vail hospital. The medical staff thought it might be vertigo, but learned Kurt's heart was in A-fib, atrial fibrillation.

As Kurt put it, "He pert near died."

There was the time he was being charged by a trophy brown bear. He was able to run ahead, turn and shoot that sucker down. It now hangs on the wall of their home, among several other trophies that Kurt was proud to hunt.

In 2015, Kurt was driving back to his house after taking friends halibut fishing in Homer, Alaska. He fell asleep at the wheel, rolled his truck several times across on-coming traffic and down into a ravine. Luckily, there were witnesses who called 911. He suffered a broken back and was airlifted to Anchorage. His seatbelt saved his life.

Kurt lived an adventurous life. When he wasn't working, he was hunting, fishing, camping, playing Santa Clause for friends' children or playing jokes and pranks on friends. Kurt was well known for his mischievous behavior.

Ray Roberge recalled the time he and Kurt were living in East Vail, with Ray's sister, two friends from Maine and Kliff, Kurt's brother. It was Christmas time, and they were drawing names to buy gifts. Ray and Kurt drew each other's names and bickered jokingly back and forth how they didn't want to buy a gift for each other. It turned out that they both wanted the same ski mittens, so they bought them for each other. On Christmas morning, they opened their gifts and pretended to be surprised. Everyone was shocked at the coincidence. One night, a few weeks later, Kurt started laughing, and spilled the beans about the joke. Roberge said he was upset. He wanted to play it off forever.

Another time Kurt and Roberge were living in Wenatchee, Washington, working as apple pickers. Kurt knew the area but Ray didn't. He had just moved there.

They both rode motorcycles, and one day after work, they jumped on their bikes to go home. Ray was ahead and looked back at Kurt for directions, who was pointing to his right. That right turn sent Ray the wrong way down a one-way street in front of a police station.

Ray looked back in fear, but saw Kurt laughing, riding and waving as he rode by going the other way.

Keltner was not the fancy type, said his family and friends. He didn't need money to fulfill his needs. He didn't need fancy cars or fancy clothes. He lived a very easy-going life style, at his own pace. He was never in a hurry to get anywhere or do anything. He would take the long road home and was happy going days without seeing anyone or any kind of civilization. He was an outdoorsman and often referred to the outdoors as God's Country. He was a simple man.

Keltner died in early August in a boating accident on the Kenai River in Alaska after a long day of fishing with friends. A celebration of his life is from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, at 4 Eagle Ranch. Anyone who knew him is welcome to come share memories and laughs.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Celebrate Kurt Keltner

A celebration of Kurt Keltner’s amazing life is scheduled at 4 Eagle Ranch on Friday, Sept. 22, from 2 to 7 p.m.