Vagneur: Can’t say goodbye to a friend |

Vagneur: Can’t say goodbye to a friend

Tony Vagneur
Tony Vagneur

Last Monday, he first appeared in a dream in the darkness, around 4:30 a.m. I rolled over and thought that was strange, but he’d been on my mind. Again, a dream awakened me just after daylight, and, this time, we spoke through the pickup-truck window. It was business, but not really; and then, as I started to pull away, he started the conversation again, saying, “One last time.” 

Uneasily, I went through the motions of getting dressed and equipping myself and my dog for our morning walk, taking my cell phone along, so I’d be there to accept the call when it came.

He’d told me once, “We’re gonna die from either cancer or a heart attack. Well, yeah, or an accident.” Damnit!

We first met when he got on the Aspen Mountain ski patrol back in 1976-77. It was his first year, my last. Bright, curious, eager-to-learn face, and I liked him right away. He came with a nickname already, “Mex,” an Iowa farm boy, and I never questioned it. Maybe from playing rugby.

You don’t say goodbye to a friend like that — you put them in your peripheral, always carrying them with you, knowing you’ll not create any more memories together, but the ones you have will carry you through times in your life when you need them.

Years later, how many times as patrol dispatcher for the day did he send my buddy Bob and me down a closed Traynor, fresh with powder, only asking that we call him after each run. Six times we hit it — “Do you want us to quit?” “No, keep skiing it, we need some tracks in there.” His son Kyle and a friend went with us for a couple.

On another fresh snow day, the same for Walsh’s, “Hurry and track it up before we decide to drop the rope!” Three laps. Maybe I shouldn’t tell stories like that on us, but the patrol knew what we were up to. Besides, that’s just a glimmer of how he treated good friends, giving them the best of what he thought they’d appreciate.

There were a few years lately when we skied together quite a bit. He wasn’t a fast skier, not one to make a big show of how he got down the mountain, but he was an unstoppable force, always turning, never stopping, and he’d figured out every short-cut and nuance that kept him going from lift-to-lift. I never passed him, always let him lead because if it was a good day, he’d throw a surprise your way, like taking you down Gaard’s Gulch or Silver Queen Swing. He never told you in advance.

He wore that damned white helmet, oh Gawd, you could spot him from a mile away, and, if you wanted to catch him, you’d better notch your adrenalin up to get it done. It always made my day, catching up to him like that.

We skied Mt. Sopris together — my first trip. He was my guide. He’d climbed Capitol, Mt. Rainier (He and Flint Smith pioneered a first ski descent route on Rainier), Mt. Hood, and others. We did it on the windiest day of the year that spring, purely by happenstance, skiing the Crystal Chute — we were 60 or pushing it, and the only advice he had at the top was, “Remember to look out for rotten snow.” His wife, Jane, picked us up at the bottom, along the Crystal River Road.

He was a damned good carpenter and mechanic, and we often worked together putting up hay crops, fixing house problems, or talking irrigation techniques. He didn’t grow up with it, but he became an excellent flood irrigator. We moved hay machinery back and forth between his place and mine. We cussed the weather together and somehow kept young by throwing hay bales around. Along with Buck Deane and a couple others, we put a new roof on the Blue Mirror Saloon in Ashcroft.

If you ever wanted to see the best smile he had, catch him and Jane walking their toddler granddaughter around the neighborhood. What a wonderful grandfather he was, stripped of the future by the mortal grasp of fate.

The last time I saw him, a few weeks ago, he’d followed me to my Emma horse pasture to give me a Colby honeybee book, a gift from Jane. “I promised I’d get this to you.” He said he wasn’t sure he wanted to bother me because it looked like I might be dressed up to go somewhere, “But then, you always look good.” So out of character from my good friend. That’s not something you would expect him to say in a hundred years, but that memory is what brings forth the tears. We shook hands and he was gone. Ed Pfab 1949-2022.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at