Vail pioneers still revel in a day on the slopes
VAIL – Art Kelton first skied Vail in 1964, when the ski mountain and its base village were in their infancy. Kelton still skis Vail, and skis often – he put more than 100 days on his pass last season.
Kelton came to town as a ski instructor, then moved into the real- estate business. Every winter since he moved to Vail in 1965, he’s had an office just a stone’s throw from a chairlift. His office today is in the Wall Street Building, where his south-facing windows give him a prime view up the mountain. A recent appointment had to be scheduled in the morning, because Kelton planned to hit the hill in the afternoon, on opening day.
As the ski resort at Vail nears its 50th anniversary, Kelton and a number of the town’s ski pioneers still get plenty of slope time.
Paul Testwuide came to Vail in 1963 and has been skiing ever since.
“I do a number of things, but I enjoy winter,” Testwuide said. “With the people out there it really feels like home.”
Bill Hanlon came to Vail in 1967 to help start the New Gnu, one of the town’s first landmark bars. More than 40 years later, he still heads up the lifts several times a week, even if only for a couple of hours.
“It’s been tough to leave,” he said.
But the people age 70 and older skiing today probably couldn’t have skied Vail in its first few years.
“I ski because of grooming and the technology in skis,” Hanlon said. “That’s the reason we have more adult-age skiers today.”
Grooming is a relatively recent development. Testwuide said, “It was shovels and sidestepping then. And the skis were longer – they were less forgiving than they are now.”
Then there’s medical technology. Testwuide took last season off because he had both ankles replaced. He’s eager to get back on the slopes this year.
“I think I can get up for quite a while yet,” he said.
Beyond grooming and gear, Vail itself has expanded since its first few years. In Kelton’s opinion, Vail’s biggest step forward came with the opening of Lionshead in 1969.
“It just put a lot more skiers on the mountain,” he said.
Kelton also welcomed the addition of high-speed lifts.
But at an age when many people dream of warm weather and year-round golf, why do these people still bundle up for a few runs on a winter day?
It boils down to passion.
“I just love skiing,” Kelton said. “There’s a freedom to it, and the beauty. You can get on the mountain and just go wherever you want.”
And, while Kelton worries about the collisions and injuries that occur on busy days on the mountain, he said it’s not hard to find spots that provide a little peace and quiet.
“Every year the ski product gets better,” he said.
At 53, Gary Gilman is the youngest person interviewed for this story. Still, he’s been skiing at Vail for more than 30 years. Gilman came to the valley to ski, and started his own carpet cleaning business – SteamMaster – so he could ski and still earn a living.
Gilman said he essentially skis on powder days lately.
“I like sunny days, too, but I’ve got to work sometime,” he said.
“I didn’t want to work until I was 65 and then go skiing, so I’ve done it this way,” Gilman added. “I just hope I’m still going when I’m their age.”
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