‘Women of Vail’ serialization: Vail was a land of opportunity | VailDaily.com

‘Women of Vail’ serialization: Vail was a land of opportunity

Susan Milhoan
Women of Vail
Susan Milhoan's parents built one of the first houses on Mill Creek Drive. In the early years of Vail, the family spent almost every weekend and all summer in the valley.
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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Women of Vail,” by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. Books are available for purchase at http://www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

My parents visited Vail in 1959 to decide if they wanted to invest. We stayed in a little yellow house where Red Sandstone School is right now. I was 10 years old. My parents built, if not the first, then the second, home in Vail on Mill Creek Circle. Dad was a partner with Harley Higbie and George Caulkins; their history is well documented. But ours, as children, and eventual full-time residents of Vail, is different. I arrived as a 10-year-old and am still a permanent resident. I’ve done all kinds of work, from babysitting for the Gorsuch family primarily, working as a waitress at Pepi’s, to selling real estate and working in and owning retail stores. Once you’ve raised a family here and they know this as home, you want to stay and provide that base for them to return to. As a youngster, there really wasn’t much for kids to do except steal lunch trays from the International Cafeteria below The Lodge at Vail, go sledding and fool around on the chairlifts. We also did a lot of skitching, or hooking onto the back of cars and sliding around town. We used to hit golf balls onto the ninth hole, which was just outside our door. One time, the Knox boys and their dad George were out there playing golf and they got pretty upset with us. Growing up in Vail was all about being outside, whether skiing, sledding or horseback riding. I had a horse named Colorado Chief that we boarded exactly where Manor Vail is today. The Red Lion had a hitching post outside, and we’d ride bareback into town, hitch up the horse, and have lunch.

The Red Lion has another significant memory for me because it was also the location of the first clinic. On April 1, 1964, I broke my leg on the Giant Steps run. It was difficult to convince anyone that I had actually hurt myself, since it was April Fool’s Day. I was taken to the clinic, then located in the Red Lion kitchen, and put in a full leg plaster cast. It also happened to be the night that “Lost Boy” was lost. All night long, people called our house (there were only four numbers to dial in those days) looking for him, and anyone who could was out searching with torches. I lay awake in pain watching their lights go by all night. I can remember that day and night like it was yesterday. The next day, the boy, who was a Boy Scout, walked out of what is now Game Creek Bowl after having spent the night in a tree well covered in branches. Manfred Schober, a Vail ski instructor, had come within feet of finding him where he lay sound asleep.

My parents, brothers and sisters and I, spent almost every weekend and all summer in Vail. It took four hours to drive up from Denver. Some of the drives were the most harrowing experiences of my life. Once, we got caught on top of Loveland Pass in a complete whiteout, like the inside of a milk carton, all of us screaming and hugging each other. That brought us pretty close together. Without TV in the early days, we spent all our time as family, playing games and skiing together. Once I turned 18, Vail became my permanent home and where I married and raised three sons; two of them still live in the valley. Vail is a great place to raise a family, particularly when it was so small and you knew everyone.

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Speaking for my parents, Vail was going to be a little ski get-away where we would have a small “cabin.” Never in anyone’s imagination could they have dreamed up what it eventually became. As I grew older, my expectations were that it would always remain the same. Those bubbles of illusion were popped one after the other as they floated down the valley, exposing LionsHead then Eagle-Vail, Singletree, Cordillera, then Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Today, nothing surprises us nor do we have any expectations. But to imagine that what is here now happened in one lifetime is incredible.

Vail was a land of opportunity. With so many directions to go to build a community, it was fun and a challenge to get involved in the growth. My perspective changed as I decided to become involved in these important endeavors. My lifetime of involvement with nonprofits is fulfilling, knowing that I’ve been able to make a difference for the good of the valley, my home.

“Women of Vail” was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer-editor.

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