Guest Column | Death of Bill Chambers leaves a void in the Fraser Valley
When I learned that Bill Chambers, longtime Fraser resident, had died, my life felt emptier. I’m sure that many other Fraser residents felt the same way.
Bill and I were competing in the one-time-renowned alpine-skiing versus Nordic-skiing race called Tom’s Terrific Downhill, a one-time annual event dreamed up by Tom Carey at the Resort. This race, now a relic of the 1990s, pitted Nordic skiers against alpine skiers in an interesting contest on the mountain at the Winter Park Resort that had both uphills and downhills, all designed so that both disciplines could have an equal chance of victory.
Bill and I were competing in the Nordic category. We were both on skate skis and were hoping to at least finish faster than an alpine skier although we really had no hope of catching one-time local Nordic luminaries such as Clint Roberts, Todd Wilson and Tom Carey.
As I remember it, the day was warm and the snow was crusty, which meant that our skinny skis were great for climbing and gliding on the crust, but were veritable death skis on the screaming fast downhills where it was very difficult to slow down once a vertiginous speed was reached.
The last screaming downhill was on the outer track of Parkway, where on Alpine skis it’s easy to edge and slow down. Not so easy on Nordic skis. So the best way to ski it is to mostly let the skis run and hope and pray. That was the situation in which Bill and I found ourselves on that bright spring evening.
We were right next to each other screaming down Parkway on little skinny sticks, almost completely out of control and just holding on, our skis rattling and chattering on the crisp snow like chainsaws. I remember looking over at Bill and he looked at me and we just smiled, albeit nervously. I don’t remember exactly who caught an edge first and fell, but it happened.
We both went down very, very hard and at a high rate of speed. In a blink we were just a cartwheeling tumble of limbs, skis, broken ski poles, shattered sunglasses and ski caps. It was a flurry of fear for me because I was sure one of us was going to end up hurt with a broken limb or concussion, or both, and at the least, pain.
As quick as it had started we slid to a very unceremonious stop. It was a true yard sale and we looked at each other and shook our arms and legs and nothing was broken. He had a bloody nose. I had a road-rash scar on my face. But bloodied and intact, we had survived. We just looked at each other and started laughing.
Bill and I limped to the finish on broken, delaminated skis and broken poles. We went directly to the bar and had more than one beer. Bill had been an acquaintance before that day. But starting with that crash, we became friends.
So it was with no small amount of horror and dismay when I learned on a summer day in 2001 of his motorcycle accident on Trail Ridge Road. He was severely injured, emergency evacuated to Denver and was hospitalized in a coma for what seemed like an eternity. I helped to run the Winter Park and Fraser newspaper then, the Winter Park Manifest, and every week we ran updates on his condition. It was like a death vigil. I thought he was likely to die.
But he didn’t. He pulled out of that crash in much worse shape than after our ski crash. He was severely disabled with a major head injury. I was worried that he simply would not tolerate being so incapacitated (couldn’t walk at first, minimal motor skills, no speech, disjointed memory). But the day came when he decided he would tolerate it and he embarked on an amazing rehabilitation.
He learned to walk. He got back his speech. I still remember him studying charts and diagrams in the Rocky Mountain Roastery in Fraser as he was trying to get back his ability to read. It was all somewhat of a public resurgence because he made it a point to get out and go to the Roastery in Fraser where he could see his friends and be in the world, no matter his disability.
He never did get back to the man that he had been, however. That would be impossible after the motorcycle accident. But I’m convinced that he got back to the best place he could be. And his enthusiasm and vigor certainly came back. Yes, he did ride a motorcycle again, much to my chagrin. He drove around in his yellow Volkswagen beetle. He went out Nordic skiing. He did crossfit.
He didn’t complain. He was irrepressibly positive and he was many times anxious to share with me some little bit of Fraser political gossip when I’d chat with him at his home-away-from home, the Rocky Mountain Roastery in Fraser.
Bill’s friend and Fraser local Dan Crenshaw filled me in on the details about how Bill died. As Dan said, Bill came to the Valley in 1983 to work in the lift department at the resort, where his extraordinary manual dexterity and mechanical skills resulted in him moving up in the system fast. He ended up doing lift work around the country. He built his own house in Fraser.
Dan said Katie Soles helped handle Bill when he collapsed in the Rocky Mountain Roastery in Fraser six weeks ago. The call to 911 ended up with Bill landing in the hospital. Blood clots in his legs caused his collapse at the Roastery and they found that he had undergone a stroke. Then he went to the hospital in Denver, where after a short period it was discovered he had liver cancer and, in a matter of days, he was dead.
There’s that table in the Roastery where he used to sit almost every single day. Efforts are underway to put a plaque on that table in memory of Bill. I noticed flowers on the table two days ago. The community misses him, a true Fraser Valley character and inspiration.
A memorial is planned for Sunday, Oct. 7 at his home in Skyview in western Fraser. Bring a chair as I’m sure the stories will be endless.
Patrick Brower is the former editor and publisher or the Sky-Hi News and the Grand County Newspapers, including the Winter Park Manifest. Currently he is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative, offering free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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