Still skiing Winter Park at the age of 80
May 21, 2009
It’s Springtime in the Rockies, and many people consider it the best time of year to ski. That lush, white stuff that skiers and boarders crave is there for the gliding and riding, and the weather is much more forgiving at this time of year. This man, Dean Thiesfeld, has been there and done that with gusto and love for years. He has skied what he calls “God’s Country,” making the yearly pilgrimage from Lincoln, Neb., since 1977 when he was 49. He has always been an outdoors type of guy who loves nature, family, sports, is never afraid of hard work, and is also a religious man. But beyond that, the rugged mountains of Colorado have always been a passion for him. Climbing, hiking, camping, exploring, rafting, vacationing, and just being in those beautiful, massive hills have been part of him since he gazed upon them in high school. He was on a road trip with high school friends from Nebraska in 1946 when they discovered Estes Park, and it was awe at first sight. The view took Dean’s breath away, and he knew he was in a special, sacred place. He had never known anything this different and magnificent, coming from rural Nebraska. This truly was God’s Country.
His parents moved the family from a farm to Nebraska City when the crops whithered and died during the Depression. Dean went out for sports and later earned a scholarship to Peru State Teacher’s College, where he played football, and earned the name Dynamo Dean. He was mentioned among the list of the Little All American College Football Players. After college, he married the lovely Eilene, who had been a cheerleader in high school and a student at Peru. Guess where they went on their honeymoon? To God’s Country, of course, and Estes Park was included. They both landed teaching positions in Sumner, a little town in the sand hills of Nebraska. Young Coach Thiesfeld witnessed an athlete get hit in the head with a shot put, and both lived to tell about it. Long before the movie Forrest Gump, the gentle Dynamo comforted a young football player when he ran the wrong way with the football, and told the young man it was alright and not to worry. That was years ago. At a High School reunion in Sumner not long ago, that same football player gave a tribute to Dean, saying Coach Thiesfeld did not shame him, but gave him hope, courage, and dignity.
Dean has inspired many to becomes teachers and coaches. But how did he get into skiing at age 49? His daughter, who moved to Colorado, took up skiing and kept telling him to try it, knowing that he would enjoy it. After all, he had hiked and climbed every year in Colorado in the summer months, including two 14,000 ft. peaks, Grays Peak, and ended up scaling rugged Longs Peak 9 times in his life. He took it up at Breckenridge when rope tows were popular and snowboarding wasn’t even heard of. He picked it up quite naturally, and has been schussing ever since. He’s skied most of the major ski resorts in the front range, along with his wife and family. One time at Loveland ski resort, he sustained a small case of frostbite on his face, even thought the ski patrol had warnings out. “I was all bundled up and thought I was OK. After all, I drove 500 miles to ski,” he said. Dean was an educator in Nebraska for 25 years and later changed careers to become a vice president for a crop insurance company. To be sure he maintained his yearly pilgrimage of skiing he started a ski tour by bus from Lincoln to Steamboat Springs, Colorado that lasted about five years. Eilene, who hadn’t skied in awhile, knew she couldn’t stop this love affair with skiing in God’s Country. While skiing at Winter Park with his daughter in 1996, he took a fall, but his binding didn’t release. He knew something had given happened to his ankle. He was taken care of extremely well by the Ski Patrol and by the staff at the Winter Park Emergency Clinic. As he was being wheeled out of the Clinic to the ambulance he waved and promised, “I’ll see you next year.” Unfortunately, the orthopedic surgeon in Denver said he had never seen a more complicated (“worse case”) broken ankle, requiring pins and plates to mend in surgery. His daughter, who is a nurse, was by his side at PSL hospital during the ordeal. He called Eilene and told her not to come out-that he was “fine”. So a loved one drove him back home to Lincoln 500 miles in the back of his Blazer. He returned the next year to his favorite spot to ski, Winter Park, even though friends and relatives thought he was crazy. He has skied there 15 years, and usually has stayed at the Olympia Lodge, where he likes to soak in the warm waters of their hot tub, and swim in their indoor pool. Of those last 20 years, he has been joined frequently by his daughter, Terri, from Littleton, and her husband, Scott, who is an extreme skier.
Last July, it was surprising when the ever healthy Dean underwent open heart surgery for a single bypass surgery. In the ICU room he hazily talked of getting back to God’s Country. He sailed through cardiac rehab and made a trip to Estes Park with Eilene in October-hiking some trails He was on the ski slopes a few months later. He is slower and more cautious now. Dean said, “I’m so glad to be able to ski all these years, and to ski until I am 80 is really something. It’s been a goal. I’m lucky to have been in God’s Country all this time. I’m really happy about it.”
His daughter said, “I want to cry. He and Mom have been an inspiration in my life. I have climbed 19 14’ers, and have been through many hardships. He didn’t have to get me out of the cold tent at 5 a.m. when I was 12 years old to climb a mountain. He could have left me, my sister, and brother in the tent or camper. But he got me up and took me along to enjoy God’s Country with him. I know no matter what, that God will always have that wonderful, strong man in His Country, now and forever.”