Lisa Schlichtman's "Exploring Steamboat" column appears weekly in the Steamboat Today.
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Steamboat Springs Ted's a cool cat. He's not a jazz musician or a rock star but a cat who has become a bit of a legend, especially among pilots and guests who frequent Steamboat Springs Airport.
My husband, Mike, who is a private pilot, introduced me to Ted on one of his first flights into Steamboat with a simple text message: "You've got to meet Ted." The gray and white tabby, distinctively marked with a light brown goatee, is a mellow fellow but definitely an important part of the airport management team. His official role, and the way he earns his keep, is mouser, and he is very good at his job even after more than a decade of service.
Ted also is the official airport greeter. If Ted is outside, he will walk over to any plane that lands. He’s also been known to jump into those planes. Throughout the years, Ted has become famous for stowing away on airplanes. Unsuspecting pilots usually don’t discover Ted until after takeoff, and there are stories of pilots who have had to change their flight plans to include a return trip to Steamboat to drop Ted back home after he’s enjoyed an impromptu joyride.
Gerry Denofsky, a local pilot and airport regular, said Ted arrived at the airport in 2003 after being rescued from the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter. According to Denofsky, the young cat was given to Jim Szabo, the aircraft mechanic for Mountain Aircraft Maintenance. Szabo named the cat Ted in honor of a discount airline operation that United Airlines had launched at the time.
Legend has it that Ted had been shot in the Oak Creek area, patched up by the vet and then brought to the shelter in Steamboat before he went to live at the airport. Ted replaced two black cats — One-four and Three-two were named after Steamboat Springs’ runway identification numbers — who died of old age. When Szabo moved from the area, Ted found his permanent home at the airport.
“Ted’s been here longer than I’ve been here,” airport Manager Mel Baker said.
When Ted is not trying to jump into airplanes, he loves to ride around on the hoods or pickup beds of airport vehicles.
“He’s like Snoopy,” fixed-base operator Manager Don Heineman said. “He needs a leather helmet, goggles and a scarf.”
Ted has become such an airport icon that frequent fliers into Steamboat, especially children, usually begin their visit to town with the inquiry, “Where’s Ted?”
“Ted knows this airport, and people know Ted,” Baker said. “It’s been his life.”
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Ted, Sunday provides the perfect opportunity. It’s Day Two of the Wild West Air Fest at the Steamboat Springs Airport. Members of the public are invited to spend a portion of their Labor Day weekend enjoying a number of activities at the local airport between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. There are vintage aircraft displays, radio-controlled airplane shows, airplane rides and, of course, the chance to meet the legendary Ted.
Send your ideas for future “Discovering Steamboat” columns to Editor Lisa Schlichtman at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or call her at 970-871-4221.