Vail’s ski pass scanners tell amazing stories |

Vail’s ski pass scanners tell amazing stories

Katie Drucker
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyTicket scan supervisor Bryan Heinz, right, takes a break between scanning crowds of skiers Monday at the bottom of the Vista Bahn in Vail Village.

VAIL, Colorado ” It is a powder day. The only thing the skier can think about is carving signature turns into the pristine snow.

Standing gated in the maze, the skier watches the fluorescent clock turn slowly from 8:28 to 8:29 and finally to 8:30. The scanner nonchalantly walks to the rope and fusses to untie it. Before the rope hits the ground the skier dashes for the lift. Inches away from the chair that will lift him to where he is yearning to go, he is stopped again.

“Can I see your pass,” the skier hears in the distance far away from his thoughts.

The skier whips out his pass and is on his way. Not another thought about his ticket or the person scanning it crosses his mind.

A scanner, Liz Hoffman said, “I think that we are just a piece of the process that slows the guests down to get to the mountain.”

Hoffman also stated that the guests have no clue how interesting the scanners are.

No clue that the person scanning their ticket could be capable of operating any vessel with a United States flag, tackling future NFL players, earning the Warren Buffet and Disney teacher awards, or getting their PhD in modern language and literature.

Skiing ashore

Mark Costello is one such scanner.

Growing up on a farm in the flat, landlocked corn belt of the Midwest, Costello kept busy by fantasizing about the vast oceans he read about in books such as “Moby Dick” and “Two Years Before the Mast.”

When it snowed he spent all day dragging sleds up small hills and sliding back down. These activities foreshadowed his adult life.

When he was 18, Costello enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy and spent several decades in uniform.

“When I first went to sea I never had seen water that I couldn’t spit across,” Costello said.

Since then he has become licensed as a “ship’s master of unlimited tonnage” ” essentially, a doctorate in boat driving. This qualifies him to be a captain of super vessels or any vessel that has a United States flag.

Costello has traveled the earth by sea. He was stationed in South America, San Francisco, New York City, the North and South Pacific and the North and South Atlantic. He spent two years in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, running a radio station for the Coast Guard. The radio station was used as an aid to navigation for ships involved in the war.

In 1990 Costello retired from the Coast Guard and started working part-time for oceanographic research. However four years ago, Costello decided that he had to, “settle down from being nomadic.”

That winter Costello moved to Vail where one out his four siblings lived. He spent the winter and all the winters that have followed soaring down a mountain much steeper then the hill he spent so many childhood days sledding down.

Dinner with a billionaire

Liz Hoffman is another scanner who, like Costello, has lived in many locations. However, her two-year excursion to Germany helped pave the way for a $10,000 check placed on her dinner plate.

Soon after Hoffman graduated from college she moved to Germany with her then husband. To keep busy Hoffman decided to become fluent in German, which soon became her passion.

“Language is my life, my love,” Hoffman said.

After returning from Germany Hoffman decided to pass her love of language on by becoming a German teacher. Hoffman also became involved in professional teacher organizations, which included being the president of three national language associations.

Hoffman was one of the first teachers to receive the Disney teacher award. Hoffman also received the Warren Buffet teacher award. This included dinner with billionaire Warren Buffet and a $10,000 check on her plate that said, “Thank you for being a teacher.”

Hoffman and her partner, Mel Nielsen, also a scanner ” who has a PhD in modern languages and literature ” decided to retire to Vail. Hoffman partly attributes leaving her suit and classroom walls behind for jeans and a mountain-view because Vail reminds her of the years she spent in a mountain town in Germany.

Both Hoffman and Nielsen love to use their knowledge of languages in the lift line and can always catch Hoffman interacting with the children.

Football captain

Unlike Costello and Hoffman, Bryan Heinz, a scan supervisor, has not yet had a career. However, at 24 years old, Heinz has already accomplished a major dream of his ” playing college football and getting a scholarship.

Heinz walked onto a Division 1 football team at Northwestern University. By the spring of his freshmen year Heinz was offered a football scholarship. By Heinz’s senior year he was the captain of the team that had five players go to the NFL.

“When I was younger my dream was making it to college and getting a scholarship and playing college football. It was obviously a goal of mine to go to the pros,” Heinz said. “But as soon as the injuries started tacking on, the pros lost its luster. I wanted to walk when I was 50.”

After graduating with a degree in economics and a master’s degree in business communication, Heinz got a job with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network as a financial representative. After three months Heinz decided that job was not right for him. Heinz quit and moved to Vail.

Heinz plans on having more adventures before he goes back to school or re-enters the financial world.

“I think if the guests stopped to talk to the scanners, they would find it hilarious because of all the different experiences,” Heinz said. “We have a guy with a PhD and how often would you think of a ticket scanner with a PhD.”

Underneath the identical uniforms of the scanners, who are employed to perform such a simplistic task, are interesting people with vastly diverse and extraordinary histories.

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