Resort warms up to Iowa family

Train wreck survivors' vacation back on track


— John Connair of Des Moines, Iowa, thought his family's ski vacation to Steamboat Springs had gone irretrievably off track March 17 when he awoke in the darkness to the unnerving sound of metal grinding on metal. When the night was finally over, they were thankful to be alive.

Now, almost a week later, the haunting memories of the Amtrak train wreck outside Nodaway, Iowa, are still with him. But John's vacation has turned out to be a big success, and his faith in human kindness has been restored.

"People in Steamboat have been great," Connair said.

Connair, his fiance Kim Frees and their three youngsters from other marriages escaped the train wreck with little more than some minor bruises. They were among 210 passengers on the California Zephyr bound from Chicago to California when it derailed. One passenger from Denver was killed in the mishap and 96 others were injured.

As it turned out, the toughest part of the ordeal was getting from Nodaway to Steamboat as Amtrak tried to sort out all of the passengers' travel details. Connair says he was literally in tears after a second train dropped his family off in Winter Park and the promised shuttle van that would take them to Steamboat didn't appear at the train station.

Things began to turn around after the family checked into their timeshare condo at WorldMark

at Steamboat.

Assistant Resort Manager Deborah Armstrong empathized with the family's rocky start to their vacation, and set out to show the Iowans some Steamboat hospitality. The family, including children, Lacey Blayer, 17, Justen Evans, 12, and Jonathan Wirtz, 7, were excited this morning about a complimentary snowmobile trip on Rabbit Ears Pass, courtesy of Marcia and Jason Cobb at Steamboat Snowmobiles. Two nights ago they were treated to a sleigh ride, dinner and entertainment courtesy of Hattie Yeager at Bar Lazy L Ranch.

Although he's permanently disabled and cannot work, John has succeeded in snowplowing down green diamond runs like Why Not this week.

"My physical therapist thinks I'm crazy," John confessed.

Connair says he is accident prone. In 1995 he was riding his bicycle in Des Moines when he was struck by a semi-truck. The injuries he suffered required four months of rehabilitation. He learned to walk and use his hands all over again.

Connair's family had vacationed at WorldMark at Steamboat a year ago and loved it. Their train ride last year had been smooth and the children had slept peacefully through the night, waking up as the train arrived in Denver. So they thought they would enjoy the same spring break again in 2001.

They boarded the Zephyr in Osceola, Iowa at about 10:10 p.m. on St. Patrick's Day. The children went to bed almost right away and John and Kim went to the smoking car to puff a cigarette. When they returned, they too went to bed. Just as they were dozing off, they felt the train jostle.

"It seemed like it never ended," Kim recalled.

"I'd say it sounded like a tornado, but I'm from Des Moines and we say tornadoes sound like locomotives," John quipped.


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