Vagneur: Having our cake |

Vagneur: Having our cake

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

Christmas comes but once a year, and with all the suspense, stress, anticipation, love and good cheer associated with it, you’d think maybe it should stretch out into more than one official day. Although, as I told my daughter the other day, “We lived through another one,” and we both laughed at the irony.

Christmas Eve 2016, my partner Margaret and I saddled up and drove to my ex-wife’s house for dinner. Now, from comments I’ve heard for years in the gondola or on the chairlift, in bars or walking down the street, mixing exes and holidays isn’t really a good idea, but we’ve been doing it for years without a disaster so it just seems to be natural. Instead of “my ex,” which sounds rude, you could say “the mother of my daughter,” but that seems so distant and politically correct as to not count, so let’s just say Francesca and her husband, Willie Fender, put on a great spread for a quiet family Christmas.

Afterward, after exiting from their new house high in a hidden valley and driving down the hill of a thousand switchbacks, Margaret and I had a long ride home and we laughed, relived the evening and talked about a million things, but I don’t think we sang any carols. It was a good night.

Up early on Christmas morning, the first order of business was to try on the new blankets I bought for my horses. I’m not the kind of guy to get into blanketing horses (unless I’m taking them to the Denver Stock Show), believing they’re better suited to the natural world than our anthropomorphic view of how they should live, but I tore the dilapidated loafing shed down this fall and what with finishing up the summer hay harvest and building fence, didn’t get it rebuilt. There’s a little wind up here from time-to-time so I’m thinking the blankets will be appreciated when “the hawk,” old man winter, blows his icy breath across the landscape.

Easy and Django, the two geldings, wondered what I was up to — they never had a blanket thrown over them in their lives and they walked around stilted and stiff-legged like they were expecting the worst. They sure looked good in the bright colors I picked out and soon they were galloping around the pasture, showing off.

Just as life moves on through the holiday for most, tragedy strikes for others, and as my dog Topper and I headed out for our morning stroll, it was impossible to miss the blood-stained snow along the drive, a sure sign of death in the night or early morning. Tracks were uncertain, probably a coyote, and even though the thoroughness of hunger and the wind had scoured away most clues, frantic wing marks left in the snow told the unmistakable tale of the demise of a large, winged creature, just a fraction of a second too slow to escape. Murder in the mountains is as integral to life as is birth in the valleys.

Later, the line at the gondola extended almost over to the door at the Little Nell Hotel, but it seemed that most everyone made the journey up the hill just to sit inside at the Sundeck or Bonnie’s. It was snowing intermittently and cold, just the way we like it, with fresh overnight powder and an almost empty mountain. Summit was as good as it ever gets, and then my buddy Bob Snyder, king of the local Yeti club, figured the dumps might be good and, boy, were they ever. There were untracked lines in Rayburn’s and both Cones and in the top of the Queen getting there.

We ate the west side up like a couple of kids who just discovered hot dogs and then tried our luck on Bell, just because we could. Our favorite lines there were relatively untouched and the smiles were big. It was one of those days that rarely come around — fresh powder, cold and snowy weather and, for whatever reasons, most of the locals stayed home. We fairly well had our pick of what to ski next and it just didn’t seem like there was anywhere that wasn’t about damned near perfect.

And then it was over. Except for the unlucky feathered friend in the driveway, it was a good Christmas, the kind that should come around more than once a year. See you in 2017!

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at