Steamboat Springs A one-legged lady once walked into the ski area's lost and found and asked for a ski. No, it's not the beginning of a bad joke, just the start of one of the many far-out tales that trail the items left behind by tourists.
Cathy Wiedemer, who once worked with the Steamboat Ski Area's lost and found, tells of the time when a one-legged woman came to the lost and found and asked to borrow a single ski. The Colorado skier had made it a habit to check in with ski resorts' lost and founds to see if there where any nice shaped skis that had been left behind by tourists.
And her request at Steamboat had employees rummaging through piles of left-behind ski poles, boots and gloves to find a top-quality single ski a ski the woman used and returned at the end of her visit.
For the Steamboat ambassadors who man the ski area's lost and found, the story stands out among the more mundane black single gloves that get handed in by the thousands each year.
But with more than a million visitors to the ski resort each season, the stories of what they leave behind could fill the huge bins that are used to sort the lost gloves, hats and goggles.
Wiedemer, who now works for the ski area's public relations department, said about 5,000 gloves, 2,000 hats and 1,500 goggles were found unclaimed just this season.
The ski area might hold the upper hand for winter gear collected during the ski season, but they definitely do not dominate in the arena of good lost and found stories.
In fact, the ski area isn't the only place in town that has a tale involving missing limbs. Greg Koehler, manager of the Rabbit Ears Motel, said one of his housekeepers had quite a scare when she found a detached arm underneath a bed.
With closer inspection, the shocked housekeeper discovered the arm was a fake. And the forgetful visiting prankster didn't get the last laugh as Koehler and his co-workers used the arm to surprise a few more people.
But pillows, cell phone chargers and clothes are the more common items left behind at the motel, Koehler said. In fact, clothing seems to be the most frequently forgotten item in most Steamboat businesses.
After rummaging through bags of clothing left behind by visitors at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, manager Tony Counts wonders what people are wearing when they leave.
In the mad dash between the hot springs and warm vehicles, it seems in the cold and dark surroundings, visitors tend to forget towels, swimming suits, shoes and even clothes.
While visitors leave enough towels during the winter months to supply the hot springs' stock for an entire summer, the most unusual lost item was a pair of men's long thermal underwear with a backside flap.
Although long underwear in itself is not an unusual find in Steamboat, the ones left in late October had puffy patches of fur attached to it. But with the thermal underwear disappearing shortly after it was found, Counts can only guess that it was once used as a bird costume for Halloween.
With so many clothes, and at times costumes, left behind, chances are high for a mixup.
Counts said an identical pair of blue Quicksilver shorts were once left behind, both with keys in the pocket. But when the owners came back to claim the shorts, they took the wrong ones.
"I don't know what ever happen to them, but one of them had a car here," Counts said.
Keys, watches and jewelry are the most common valuables that are left behind, but Koehler cited one family who left $4,000 stashed in a Bible in the hotel night stand a few years ago. The distressed coupled called the motel from Salt Lake City asking to have the money wired. And the motel obliged.
One of the most sentimentally valuable items lost at the ski area was a set of 40-year-old wedding photos.
And with a host of young skiers, sentimental items can range from a favorite Beanie Baby to a pair of gloves a youngster paid for with his savings from an entire summer of lawn mowing.
Most local businesses that dabble in lost and found operations said they take what is left unclaimed to local charities such as LIFT-UP and Horizons. They can also go to nonprofits in Denver, and ski ambassador Larry Block even takes leftover winter gear as far as Peru for alpaca herders.
But some items have longer staying power than others. Nancy Pogline of Yampa Valley Regional Airport said travelers often leave bags of groceries they had munched on before boarding planes.
Because travelers never return for their leftover goodies, airport cleaners do not let the unopened food go to waste, Pogline said. But that policy made for an uncomfortable situation when one of Pogline's workers salvaged a bag that had been left unattended for quite a while.
Unfortunately, as she was eating an apple from the unclaimed bag, its owner returned unhappy and hungry.
"We offered to buy her more groceries. But she just said 'give me back what is mine.' The girl that took it is so bashful and
was so embarrassed," Pogline recalled.
The girl's face turned bright red during the incident, Pogline said, but now the tale draws big laughs when retold laughs that are echoed throughout the Yampa Valley from the stories that remain with the items that are left behind.