Vagneur: Life in the slick lane
It’s part of that pioneer spirit, I reckon, doing things for yourself — a trait that’s hard to outgrow. I needed some corral poles from a supplier in Laramie, Wyoming, and figured, “What the hell,” I can pick those up myself and save on the freight. With the help of my son-in-law, Ty Burtard, who loaned me his 26-foot gooseneck flatbed, I made the overnight trip and saved enough to make the trip worthwhile.
My daughter attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and I used to travel up there two or three times a month to have lunch with her, so the snarky Interstate 25 corridor is well-known to me. It’s still a dangerous deathtrap and I ditched it in Fort Collins, taking a pleasant back road the rest of the journey.
The road from Aspen to Denver, which I hadn’t traveled for eight or 10 years, always seemed to have some adventure attached to it, and I remember the early days when it took my dad and me 12 hours to make it home to Woody Creek during a snowstorm. It was still a two-lane expedition back then, but the magic was that Vail Pass was hardly ever closed, not even during the worst storms.
During the winter of 1962-63, my mother and I were on a now long-forgotten mission to Denver, and I convinced her that I should take my own car so that I could stop in newly opened Vail and check it out. My buddy Doug Franklin and I arrived there about 10 in the morning along with a slow-moving snowstorm and my younger brother Steve and his friend, Rob Quinn. Yep, for you sports fans, that’s quarterback Brady Quinn’s uncle.
Anyway, we rode up the original Vail gondola, an adventure-packed proposition at the time for a group of chairlift-educated kids, and found the skiing to be absolutely great, particularly in the midst of the unrelenting storm. By closing time, it had snowed about a foot, and a pleading call to my mother announcing our desire to spend the night was met with cautious acceptance. We holed up in a dorm room at the Night Latch, a bargain basement lodge, and skied the hell out of the back bowls the next morning. It’s never been that good since.
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My brother and I seemed to share a lot of time on the road going back and forth, and I remember a day heading back to Denver after an Aspen weekend. I had to get back to college and I’m not sure what Steve, my brother, was up to, but once again, it was snowing like crazy as we began our ascent of Vail Pass. We were riding in Steve’s 1964 VW bug, the road hadn’t been plowed and soon we were plugging along at about 10 miles per hour, so deep was the snow. Occasionally, the windshield wipers would ice up and with the energy of youth, I’d run alongside the car, clearing off the wiper blades. Cars were stranded on both sides of the road and we figured we’d never get going again if we stopped.
There was never any concern about getting stuck, or even how stupid we might have been traveling through winter storms. On another occasion, Steve and I headed back to Aspen about the time the sun dropped behind the mountains. In Denver, my dad had given me an old, worn-out Pontiac coupe, white, black leather interior, automatic with bald tires, and I was due to work on the ski patrol the next morning.
About the time we hit Silver Plume, it was snowing hard and the road was icing up but we were making good progress. Until just before the Seven Sisters avalanche zone on Loveland Pass we were stopped by the highway patrol. A couple of the chutes had slid and we needed to wait while crews unblocked the highway.
There were only a couple of cars ahead of us, and I told Steve if we didn’t have to stop again, we’d make it over the pass. We dug some frozen dirt out of the road bank, scattered it in our path, and prayed for good luck. As I gently nursed the beast forward, Steve pushed and we got going without too much trouble. As soon as we cleared the avalanche chutes, I managed to pass the cars in front of us and we made it home without further incident.
The next morning, I parked on the hill just below the Lift One ticket office where the Aspen Mountain patrol locker room was. By afternoon, the car had slid down to Deane Street, blocking the entire access. That’s how slick the tires were. Nobody said anything and I went looking for new tires.
Four-laning and magnesium chloride took the adventure out of the winter road to Denver.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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