Vail’s version of the Big Chill |

Vail’s version of the Big Chill

And let’s be completely clear about that. In Vail’s formative years there was no corporate mandate, no seven-habits training, none of the abject silliness by which modern captains of industry sail (and sale) their ships.

Vail’s Pioneer Weekend celebrates the people who – before shareholders, before marketing departments force fed us the Vail Valley, before the area became the equivalent of a corporate trophy wife – built this place.

We love these people. They are the stories we love to repeat.

It’s been entirely too long since someone (Paul Testwuide) rode a horse into a bar, was screamed at by the landlord (Bob Lazier), grabbed a tourist’s hat and used it to catch the naturally occurring meadow muffins before they hit the floor.

And what about the time the owner of the Rucksack dragged the parts of a 30-foot spire up through the attic and, in the dead of night, constructed them atop the building – flying full in the face of the town’s Powers That Be, who declared that nothing would be higher than the Clock Tower? Those same Powers That Be had to hire a 300-foot crane to pick up that spire and place it on the Vail Interfaith Chapel, where it remains to this day.

Then there was the time John Donovan’s Copper Bar finally closed it doors for good. The party that night, and the hangovers that followed are the stuff of legend. It’s true that Donovan pulled down a couple of bottles and started passing them around. It’s not true that those were the only rounds he ever bought in all the years he owned the bar.

And it’s been entirely too long since a guy walked in on another guy enjoying fun and frolic with the first guy’s girlfriend. The cuckolded character grabbed an ax and chased his wayward buddy, dressed only in his underwear, up Bridge Street at daybreak.

It has been too many years since anyone has faked his own death, then emerged from his coffin in a drunken haze during his own wake because he had to go to the bathroom.

But more than anything else, it was this group of people, working together to build something from nothing, that created the spirit of those early days. Stuff works better now – the water flows the way it’s supposed to, the electricity hardly ever goes out like it constantly did back then.

Still, technology isn’t everything. It wasn’t that long ago that Donovan was scrounging around for someone – ANYONE – to march in Vail’s July Fourth parade, which is sort of how Jo Jo’s Marching Kazoo Band got started. That, and a bunch of beer. A couple of years ago Packy Walker, dressed in the most gawd-awful golf clothes ever worn, pulling a water tank on a pullcart and carrying a sign that said “Save The Links,” was bounced from the July Fourth parade by the Vail cops because he hadn’t registered.

In 1962, Marge and Larry Burdick opened the Red Lion, Vail’s first restaurant. Not long after, they helped Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer build theirs.

Vail then vs. Vail now.

Walker, Rod Slifer, Jim Slevin and few others were swapping stories at the funeral of yet another of their friends. They decided it was wrong they only got together for funerals, which were now coming with alarming frequency. They decided to do something about it.

This weekend is it.

Vail’s version of the Big Chill.

We defy you to name us another community whose pioneers are still living and vibrant, whose memories of their early years don’t include stampedes of dancing elephants being ridden by invaders from the planet Lovetron III – although some of their flashbacks just might.

It’s the place that brought them here. It’s the people that kept them here. Some stayed, many wandered off.

For a few days they’re back.

We’re glad you’re home.


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