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Steamboat Springs Tim VanWyngarden has regained his Concentration, and next time around, he just might nail it down.
VanWyngarden, a resident of Old Town Steamboat, was surprised but grateful this week to receive a phone message from a food server in a downtown restaurant informing him that he could come pick up his classic Steamboat Ski Area trail sign. VanWyngarden reported the sign as stolen from the front of a storage shed in his yard in late April.
I wrote about the disappearance of the significant piece of ski history in an April 29 column, and neither VanWyngarden nor I really thought the newspaper piece would result in the return of the sign denoting the black diamond trail, “Concentration.”
The old sign presumably had been replaced by ski area employees in the normal rotation that keeps ski trail signs looking fresh and up to date. It turned up years ago in a garage sale, and that’s where VanWyngarden, a former longtime ski instructor, latched onto it.
I noted in my column in April that taking a piece of historic memorabilia from someone’s property in Steamboat was a piece of monumentally bad ski karma. Apparently, some of the newspaper’s readers agreed.
“Since the article came out, I have probably had 30 people ask me if I have gotten my sign back, which is pretty cool when you think about it," Van Wyngarden wrote in an e-mail this week. “I did think I might get a call after the article came out, but those thoughts disappeared after three weeks went by, and I was pretty sure I would never see it again.”
But VanWyngarden’s faith in human nature received a boost last week when a food server at a downtown restaurant that VanWyngarden frequents called him to say that a friend of a friend had dropped the missing sign off for him to pick up.
“I was at a TIC retirement party and someone asked, ‘Hey did you get your sign back?’ I said ‘No,’ but after the party, I checked my phone and there was a message: (The food server from the restaurant) said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but somebody turned your sign in at our restaurant.' I went straight down there, and there’s a little sticky note on the sign with a note: 'Hey, I’d love to talk to you about the sign, with a phone number.'"
The note was from a man named Adam Smith, who told VanWyngarden he originally had found the sign in late February in a dumpster near where he works, at the ski area’s slope maintenance facility just removed from the bottom of the Thunderhead Express chairlift.
VanWyngarden said that after talking to Smith, he was convinced Smith hadn’t played a role in the sign’s disappearance.
“I know this guy didn’t take the sign,” he said.
Reached by phone this week, Smith told me he never read my original column and was unaware of the reported theft until his buddies gave him a really hard time when they spotted the sign laying around his house.
“I work up at slope maintenance. I’m always jumping in the dumpster to see what people have thrown in there, and one day (in late February), I was walking down the snow road, and I saw the sign in there,” Smith said. "I thought, ‘awesome, this is cool, and I threw it in my buddy’s car, and we went skiing.’”
Three hours later, Smith broke his leg in a fall and didn’t think much about the sign for some time after.
“It sat next to my front door for two months,” he recalled.
Then a friend, who recalled the April newspaper column, stopped by for a visit.
“My buddy said, ‘You’re the thief of the sign!’ and I said, ‘Oh no, I didn’t.’ Apparently, I need to read the paper more," Smith said. "But once I found out about it, I knew I needed to get it back (to the owner). I couldn’t just hang onto it.”
As it turned out, a woman friend of Smith’s had heard about the missing sign from a colleague at a downtown restaurant, the same one that VanWyngarden frequents. Because Smith was working seven days a week, he arranged for her to act as his intermediary in returning the sign.
When he finally caught up to my original column, Smith said the observation about bad karma struck him as the possible explanation for why the person who originally took it might have disposed of it.
“Something bad must have happened to them,” Smith said. “I didn’t even steal the dang thing, and I broke my leg.”
VanWynGarden wrote that he intends to put the Concentration sign back on his shed, but the attachment will be more permanent this time.
“I am grateful that it was returned and plan on giving it some fresh paint this summer as it lost a little paint during its journey around town over the past four months,” VanWyngarden wrote. “I do feel that Steamboat is one of the best places to live in the world, but I also feel that Steamboat is different now than when I moved here 29 years ago. If I do put the sign back up, it will be bolted on and maybe also glued on with some industrial wood epoxy.”
Going forward, let’s all concentrate on good karma.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1