Steamboat Springs A decade ago, Chriss Parks thought he might be ready to leave the Yampa Valley.
A physical therapist with his own practice, he wasn't sure he wanted to continue competing with the local hospital. Maybe, he thought, there was another place that could offer the appeal of Steamboat without some of the professional headaches.
So in 1992, he took a number of mini-vacations and traveled around the western United States, from Texas to Canada, on his Harley Davidson. He liked Salmon, Idaho. Whitefish, Mont., appealed to him. Fernie, British Columbia, he said, "almost got me."
But Parks is still in Steamboat Springs.
"Every trip I took that year was an adventure," Parks said. "I saw a lot of places that were awesome. But nothing turned my head enough to say, 'I'm leaving Steamboat.'"
Parks, 47, came to Steamboat Springs hoping to work for ski patrol for a year or two before getting on with his life and career. Twenty-three years later, he is still here.
"My first year here was a bust, just an awful snow year, and I thought, 'I've got to give it another shot,'" Parks said. "Then the second winter was just outrageous, these tremendous conditions. So of course, I had to stay one more year."
Like it has for so many other long-time Steamboat residents, things seemed to fall into place for Parks. "A career landed in my lap here," he said.
He had come to Steamboat as a licensed physical therapist, trained at Columbia University with experience at hospitals in his native Vermont. After his second winter in Steamboat, two doctors -- Ron Lewis and Bill Ferris -- came to Parks with the idea of launching an orthopedics and sports medicine physical therapy clinic.
Parks agreed to operate the clinic, housed in the doctor's offices on Park Avenue, and four years later purchased the practice from Lewis and Ferris. What started as a small business with a physical therapist, two aides and an office manager, now has two locations, three physical therapists, three aides, an office manager and two administrative assistants.
The success of Parks' practice -- The Steamboat Springs Center for Sports Medicine -- can be attributed to his genuine concern for others, those who know him say.
"There are a lot of people he has healed in this town," said Laura Davidson, a longtime friend of Parks who now works at his clinic as an office assistant. "He is a charismatic person. When he looks at you, he looks inside of you. He has a lot of empathy for people, and he knows how to put them at ease."
Davidson said people who know Parks are drawn to him because "he runs deep."
Have a conversation with Parks about his college experience at Johnson State University in Vermont and the depth Davidson referred to becomes immediately clear.
He was, in many ways, a modern Renaissance man.
As an underclassman, he took a course called "the care and prevention of athletic injuries." The professor told him he shouldn't be in the class because it was for upperclassmen. "I told him, 'Well, you haven't lost me yet,'" Parks said. "So he let me take the first test and I scored a 96."
The professor became a mentor of sorts for Parks, launching his interest in athletic training and physical therapy.
But his talents went beyond sports medicine. In college, he was a theater major who traveled with a children's theater as "Xingu the Wandering Minstrel;" he switched his major to dance in order to qualify for an exchange program in France; and he switched his major to music so that he could fill a role for a tenor in the college production of "Trial by Jury."
By the time he was junior, he finally settled on physical education and graduated in 1977. After graduation he went to physical therapy school at Columbia, getting his license in 1978.
Things have not changed much for Parks since graduation. He is as involved in as many or more activities now as he was in college.
He still works with ski patrol about 15 days every winter. He helps as a trainer at the high school. He is a licensed emergency medical technician.
He is the medical director of the Steamboat Marathon and he serves on the community audit team for Soda Creek Elementary School.
He sings regularly with other Rotarians for residents at the Doak Walker Center. He is a motorcycle enthusiast, who rides his Harley Davidson to Sturgis, S.D., for the annual motorcycle rally there each summer. He is a unicyclist who rides in the Fourth of July Parade every year as "Chrome Dome the Clown."
He is also a doting husband and father, something that happened for Parks after more than two decades as a bachelor.
Parks and his wife, Frederique or "Freddie," met in France on New Year's Eve in 1997. Parks was in France as part of a ski patrol exchange program. A student at the State University of New York at Albany, she was home for the holidays.
Eighteen months after they met, Parks proposed on June 25, 1999. Less than a month later, the two got married before Judge James Garrechtt at the Routt County Courthouse.
"The romance part of my life was always a pretty rough road," Parks said. "But meeting Freddie was just a beautiful thing.
"I told her, 'I've been around the block enough. There is no doubt in my mind that you are the one for me.'"
She knew quickly that Parks was the one for her, too.
"He is generous, funny and openhearted," Freddie Parks said. " He is always ready to help someone in need. He is loving. He is caring. He is sensitive."
The Parks now have two children -- 2-year-old Emma and 13-month-old Monroe. They also have a 10-year-old dog, Tonka, a golden retriever-Akita mix who spends his days at the Center for Sports Medicine office in Central Park Plaza where he is a favorite of patients.
It is a life Parks could not have envisioned when he came to Steamboat in the fall of 1980. Then, he just wanted to ski for a little while before moving on. Now, he has deep roots in Steamboat, a place where he is surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. He and Freddie talk about joining the Peace Corps after retirement or going back to France to be near Freddie's family, but for the near future, Steamboat is home.
Parks has no regrets about that.
"Looking at the whole picture, there were certainly bumps along the way, things you just have to sit down and assess and find your way through," Parks said. "But I think the variety of what this area has to offer is just incredible. I just don't know where you could go and find what we have here.
"When I think about where I am and that I have Freddie and my children to share it with me, I'm a pretty fortunate guy."