Vi and Byron Brown honored with this year’s Vail Trailblazer Award | VailDaily.com

Vi and Byron Brown honored with this year’s Vail Trailblazer Award

VAIL — You don't help build a ski area and a life together from the ground up without some great stories.

Vi and Byron Brown are one of Vail's sweetest stories. They're this year's Vail Trailblazers.

"Byron and I didn't know you could get an award for living in and loving Vail," Vi Brown said.

'Oh they're all fun!'

“Byron said, ‘Follow me,’ skied about 200 feet and then fell flat on his face. (Now) I always say, ‘That’s the moment when he fell for me.’”Vi Brown

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There was the time in the early 1970s Vi Brown was volunteering in the Vail information center when a young guy came in with a question.

"Do you have any gay hotels?" he asked.

"Oh, they're all fun!" Vi Brown said excitedly.

It wasn't until later that she realized he may have been asking about something else.

"We could be a little isolated up here," Vi Brown said.

Locked in Interlochen

Or the time Aspen decided to get out of the international ski race business, and it opened the door for Vail. In 1983, Byron Brown and John Horan-Kates flew to Interlochen, Switzerland. Vail had not had any World Cup skiing events in a while, and they were missed.

Byron Brown and Horan-Kates went to dinner that night with the rest of the FIS Powers that Be. Interlochen is a chain of huge Swiss lakes and the dinner was on a boat. That's not important to the story, but it's a pretty great detail.

The abridged version of the story goes like this:

Horan-Kates had stealthily wandered closer to a huddle of Aspen Skiing Co. president Jerry Blann and vice president of marketing John Thorback, FIS president Marc Hodler and FIS board member Dr. Bud Little. They were talking about the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Aspen had been the first American city to host it, 1950, when Europe was rebuilding from World War II.

Back in the other room, Serge Lange with FIS stood before a room of people and announced that Canada didn't want a men's race.

"Vail, do you want it?"

"Yes!" Byron Brown said.

A bit later a scheduling conflict popped up on the women's schedule.

"Vail, do you want that too?"

"Yes!" Byron Brown said.

Byron found Horan-Kates and the rest of the Vail contingent and was asked how it went.

"Do we have a race?" they asked.

"We have two!" Byron Brown said.

'The moment he fell for me'

Then there's the way the Browns fell for each other.

Vi and Byron Brown lived in Denver in the early 1960s and Vi was at Arapahoe Basin to learn how to ski. Her first time on the pommel lift, Vi Brown kept "letting go before she got to the top and would slide backwards and knock everybody off," Byron Brown said.

Byron Brown advised Vi Brown to not get off until she reached the top. Vi Brown finally made it to the top without crashing, where Byron Brown was waiting. Byron Brown asked her if she'd ever skied before, and Vi Brown told him "no."

"Byron said, 'Follow me,' skied about 200 feet and then fell flat on his face," Vi said. "(Now) I always say, 'That's the moment when he fell for me.'"

Vi and Byron Brown dated for three weeks, got engaged and got married three months later. That was 55 years ago.

Give Vail a try

They loved to ski — still do — but got tired of driving up and down the mountains to and from Denver on the two-lane, often-hazardous U.S. Highway 6. They decided to give living in Vail a try.

That was 1964. Vail was a rough-and-tumble mountain town with dirt streets, and was home to 100 hearty souls.

Byron Brown formed a real estate development company and built the first house in West Vail which became home to the family and three children: Mike, Todd and Cindy.

Byron Brown served more than 30 years on the board of the Vail Water & Sanitation District and doubled as a ski patroller.

Vi Brown introduced the children to skiing and other wonders of the outdoors, while also working as a small business owner and in various retail shops. She was a familiar fixture in the Vail information booth, taught Sunday School at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, served on the Eagle County School Board and has been a familiar presence at town hall while serving as an election judge during decades of municipal elections.

Bavarian Mayberry

If you were a kid, then Vail was Mayberry with a light Bavarian accent. It still is.

There was no television, no contrived electronic characters trying to convince children how much better their lives would be if only their parents would buy them the gadget du jour.

"There was only one thing to do, go up and play in the mountains and the woods," said Byron. "We'd ski and cross-country. Lots of Sundays, we'd head up Shrine Pass on cross-country skis. Everyone broke out what they had for lunch, then ski down to Reno's in Red Cliff for supper."

Groceries meant a trip to Glenwood Springs or Minturn. Movies were in Minturn and Denver was light years away.

The local school started around Pete and Betty Seibert's table, then above the medical clinic. Classes were usually four boys and four girls, and their favorite playground equipment were the huge boulders near Gore Creek. The Parent Teacher Association could get together for lunch around one table at Cornuti's, the bar and restaurant owned by Bart Garton's father, Dave.

They started the Buddy Werner League with Marge Chandler and several others, helped found Ski & Snowboard Club Vail because youth skiing was getting more serious, and it was fun. The ski company donated an acre at the bottom of Golden Peak. The only problem was that the Northwoods condominium association had a deal that nothing would be built on that acre that would block their view. Byron, Ben Krueger and some others dug the foundation and they built 3,000 square feet underground.

One of the Brown's sons, Mike Brown, started with Buddy Werner League, and eventually became Vail's first member of the U.S. Ski Team in 1981.

The big deal

The Eagle Valley Community Rummage Sale started in 1964, two years after Vail did.

Some local women were raising money to pay Vail's first schoolmaster, back when the town's first school, the Vail Country Day School, was above the fire station.

Eventually, after they raised $50,000 to launch Vail's first public school, they decided to channel the money into the Eagle Valley Community Fund. The annual sale has become one of the area's most beloved institutions.

Volunteers work on behalf of an organization of their choosing, and that organization gets a share of the profits.

Some folks volunteer more readily than others.

Judges will occasionally assign volunteer hours to those who've run afoul of the law.

"Those are the best volunteers and they work so hard," Vi said.

Vail Trailblazers

For all of that and so much more, Vi and Byron Brown are being honored with the Vail Town Council's Trailblazer Award. It's for the people who helped build this place. Dr. Tom Steinberg, Vail's first full-time physician, received last year's inaugural Trailblazer Award.

"Vi and Byron have done it all," said Vail Mayor Dave Chapin. "They've served on boards, they've fundraised, they've raised their family here, they've been champions of Vail's big ideas and they continue to offer their support in Vail's ongoing endeavors. As we celebrate the accomplishments of Vi and Byron, we also celebrate the spirit of all of our community members who have found ways to rise to the occasion when called upon."

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

Vail Trailblazers

The Browns will be formally recognized at the March 7 Vail Town Council meeting. Recognition will also take place during the Town of Vail Annual Community Meeting on March 14 at Donovan Pavilion.

For more information about the Vail Trailblazer Award and the nomination process, visit the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/trailblazeraward.