Christina Olds: Answering Steamboat’s siren song
December 22, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Three days before Christmas 1968 my father loaded us into the family station wagon and headed to Steamboat Springs for a week of skiing. We left from our quarters at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where he was commandant of cadets.
Normally, we drove to Vail to ski on weekends, and I remember being happy that this trip would not involve driving over Loveland Pass. The vacation would prove to be the best Christmas present of all for my father. He fell in love with Steamboat on a snowy Christmas Eve as we walked along Lincoln Avenue to the Old West Steak House. He told us that night, "We're going to live here someday."
Five years later, in June 1973, Brigadier Gen. Robin Olds retired from the Air Force and made good on his dream. We left Southern California in a convoy of three cars: the same Pontiac station wagon, an old green Jeep painted with the name of all of my father's aircraft "SCAT," and my little Ford Pinto. Behind us by a day was the moving van with all the family furniture and possessions. We arrived in Steamboat on a balmy and lovely spring evening. My sister and I saw our new house for the first time, a three-bedroom A-frame on Après Ski Way, and we were enchanted. There were very few houses on the mountain at that time. The pastoral views of the Yampa Valley seemed like paradise to me. That first evening, my father and I sat out on the front deck with beers. I remember the tears in his eyes as he whispered, "I am home."
That statement proved true for his remaining 34 years. As he settled into home at the base of Mount Werner, I got on with my young adulthood by moving to San Francisco after college. There, for the next 22 years, I raised a family and worked hard in corporate management jobs, commuting daily across the Golden Gate Bridge. The majority of vacations, summer and winter, were spent in Steamboat. We skied, hiked, fished, golfed, camped, went to the rodeo, tubed the Yampa, hung out at Tugboat and Dos Amigos and bashed joyfully through secret stashes of powder. I envied my dad, but his words of wisdom to me during those years kept me grounded: "You have to earn your way to the mountains."
For those of us not born and raised in Steamboat, it makes sense. We are drawn here and united by a common love and appreciation for the lifestyle and the landscape. Once here after life in the "real world," the magic can't be taken for granted.
In 2003, I finally found my way out of the cities of the West Coast and back to Colorado. Lured by the reality of my father's declining years, it was easy to give up traffic and all the cultural trappings of big-world civilization in exchange for the Rocky Mountains and living near my dad. Wanting to give him his space and explore a job with Vail Resorts, I moved to Keystone and then to Vail, traveling often to Steamboat for visits. In late 2006, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and in February 2007, I moved into his house as caretaker. Sadly, he left us that June, and I was left with the heart-felt promise I'd made him to finish his memoirs. Three months later, I moved back to Vail to renew my life there, or so I thought.
The following two years proved to be the most challenging and demanding of my life as I worked to organize my dad's loose notes, letters and bits of writing, all left in no chronological order. I contacted pilots who had flown with him, researched official military records, watched hours of taped interviews and locked myself away from the world to write and edit the book. "Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds" was published in April 2010, and the past seven months were spent promoting the book across the country at air shows, aviation museums and bookstores. When all was done, the Yampa Valley called to me. This tired girl has finally found her way back to Steamboat. It's good to be home.
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