Vagneur: A time for celebration and renewal |

Vagneur: A time for celebration and renewal

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

New snow and Christmas go together so well it’s almost sinful. Light, fluffy powder — the kind that blows up in your face and makes you feel invincible. The other day, a guy said he had to reconfigure his breathing or stop in the Highland Bowl to catch his breath — couldn’t breathe with all the face shots covering his head. A few more years of experience and he’ll figure out how to breathe and get face shots all at the same time, maybe.

Jack Rowland, Red’s only son (who died in a tragic accident last March), was one of my best friends back in the day, and we made a bunch of money off of snow and Christmas. Keep in mind we were still in junior high school, but that didn’t seem to be much of an impediment to our money-making schemes. (I had access to two cars, stick-shift Chevys parked at my grandmother’s house, and Jack had his dad’s Jeep and neighbor Dougal Sullivan’s Packard, a beauty of a classic, even back then.)

People didn’t drive any worse in the early ’60s than they do now, but back then they didn’t have the saving grace of four-wheel drive, not unless they were driving Jeeps, Land Rover Defenders or Dodge Power Wagons, not really tourist-oriented vehicles. Cellphones were still a dream of the future and people stuck in snow banks were generally there to stay unless someone stopped to help them or they decided to walk to the nearest pay phone.

We would just drive around town until we found someone in the ditch — and it didn’t take long, not with newly fallen snow on the ground. “Want a pull?” “How much?” was the reply.

We had a sliding scale based on technical factors, such as how stuck they were, whether they had cute girls in the car, or even sometimes we’d just feel sorry for someone and pull them out for free. Our top asking price was usually 15 bucks, but more often than not, we collected $10.

The road to Aspen Highlands seemed to get the most action, at least when it was really slippery — that slow grade just after Highway — 82 always caught a few — and we might pull four or five out of the ditch before we got tired of the game and went skiing.

Jack was a great skier, smooth and graceful, with a style built for powder, a man who understood the mountain and always provided a lot of laughs. We had complimentary ski passes, so tickets weren’t a consideration, but our earnings would buy us a $1.50 hamburger at the Sundeck or Skier’s Chalet, an après-ski Coke and a few rounds of pinball at the Sweet N’ Snack Shop. Later on, we’d head to the Isis Theater, where it’d cost 50 cents for a ticket and we’d spend another 20 cents or so for popcorn or jelly beans. We were making good money.

Pulling cars out of ditches was a trade I never forgot, and years later, sometime in my 20s, my buddy Hugh Slowinski and I got into the same kind of action, particularly up Maroon Creek. By then, there were a couple of towing companies in town who took great umbrage at us infringing on their territory, which they believed to be sacrosanct.

You might remember Hugh, affectionately known as Huck or Huckleberry, a longtime farrier in the valley with a very long, red mustache and a ready laugh you could hear for miles.

Huck could shoe horses, that’s for sure, but perhaps his best trait was his ability to cook, particularly mouthwatering sauces that went exceptionally well with the Chanterelle and Morel mushrooms that he seemed to find with unfailing accuracy. He had learned under the tutelage of Bruce LeFavour, well-known “nouvelle cuisine” chef (and then-owner) of the internationally famous Paragon, located in the Hyman Avenue mall. Huck died near Ennis, Montana, many years ago, a man not always suited to the rolling waves of life, but a man unforgettable if you ever met him.

The snow has been good to us this past week, and for those who like it, we’re having a white Christmas. Skiing is delightful, most of the mountain is open and it’s a time for celebration and renewal with people we love, a time for hugs, eggnog and laughter and for remembering old friends who have left us way too soon.

Merry Christmas, and for those who have an obtuse view of the celebration, happy holidays.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at