Vagneur: Men who just love to ski
In 1956, I changed the spelling of my name from “Tony” to “Toni,” simply because Toni Sailer, winner of three gold medals at the 1956 Olympics, came to Aspen for a visit and somewhere I still have the scrap of paper with his autograph on it. I never got to ski with him, but on occasion, skied with many of his European friends who always promised to pass along my greetings. My northern Italian heritage paved the way for such get-togethers.
Over the years, we either skied with or talked to a plethora of skiing icons — Max and Billy Marolt, Jimmy Heuga, Chuck and Barbara Ferries, Dick Buek, Buddy Werner, Jean Claude Killy and many more. In the late afternoon, Anderl Molterer used to sit with us at the ski patrol table in the old Sundeck before he took his last run of the day, slicing the fine line between Dipsy Bowl and Dipsy Wall, in any kind of light or condition, on the old, thin skis. Max Marolt and I always took a couple of runs together when he was in town.
There were others, the Norwegian mafia, guys you’ve probably heard of — Magne Nostdahl, Stein Eriksen, Toni Woerndle, Arne Marthisson, Red Soderstrom and many more. Buck Deane belongs to that group because they always took him in as one of their own. Stein used to occasionally catch us on the hill, skiing up behind us and saying, “Follow me!” We always did.
These were guys who captured our imaginations as kids with their flair, talent and grace on skis. But while we were watching them, there were others emerging who, without the flair or pizazz of the “big boys,” were making differences in our lives — and still are. Men who just loved/love to ski, period.
Sometime in the ’60s, I met Red Campbell in The Red Onion, a painter and nice-enough guy who could talk your ears off about almost anything under the sun but preferred to talk about skiing. The upshot was that he invited me to make a few runs with him, which finally happened a couple of years later. He was investigating “trick” skiing before Suzy Chaffee made a career out of freestyle ballet, and we were showing off our Royal Christies, crossed ski turns, 360s and all that other stuff. Gaard Moses, a still-respected ski bum and sign painter in his own right and well before Gaard’s Gulch was named, joined right in, and between the three of us, we put on a pretty good show.
One of the last times I saw Red, he was fighting a losing battle with cancer and wondered if there wasn’t another way up the gondola steps — “I can still ski,” he said, “but I can’t manage those damned steps.” We leaned on the Little Nell Hotel and they found a way to get him up between an elevator and some other contrivance. It would be hard to convey the exultation he showed later that day when he skied up to me at the top of Little Nell and said thanks. We helped him make a few more runs before that fateful day in 2004 when he placed his skis in the rack for the last time. An elevator has since been positioned for guys like Red.
Before I get too deep into this narrative, it might be wise to point out that it doesn’t matter where I go on Aspen Mountain, there are two guys I always see skiing the tough stuff. Jim McPhee likes the way equipment was built before snowboarding made an impact on ski design and skis his reliable old boards like he hasn’t missed a thing. He is bringing up his kid with the right skiing attitude. Mikey Wechsler, who I think would drive to Pueblo if he thought first turns could be found there, hits Loveland and Arapahoe as soon as they crank up for the season. If you don’t know these guys, it’s just as well, because they won’t share any of their stashes with you, anyway.
There’s Dave Resch, a man I met several years ago when he told me he’d left his gloves on a bench at the bottom. It was only about five degrees out so I told him to go get a cup of coffee and I’d fetch his gloves. Nope, he was a hands-on guy and followed me down, sans gloves, without complaint. “Want to warm up, Dave?” I asked. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just keep going.” He had just topped 80 that year, and I’ve seen him back here every year since. He has heart.
There are a lot more guys and girls and a lot more stories, but the field’s too big to cover in one column or even one ski season. Happy New Year!
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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