I flew to Denver and drove from Denver to Vail in late January. It was the beginning of a five trip series, all in less than 30 days. By the end of the last trip (Scottsdale, Arizona), I was worn out, but smiling from a set of experiences that were great fun. Then I ended up with pneumonia.
The purpose of the Denver trip was to attend a University of Nebraska Omaha alumni event, and to visit with some of our college’s alumni, including a couple who live in Vail. It was the usual stuff in regard to the airports (e.g., de-icing, which smells and sounds weird). As our 737-800 approached Denver, it was apparent that there was not only no snow on the ground, but little of it to be found at the lower elevations of the Front Range. Yes, there was snow on Pike’s and Long’s Peaks, but not at the levels I have observed many times when flying out to Denver in January and February. In fact, we saw virtually no snow until we were about an hour east of Vail. The van from the airport was full of humanity, and some of my fellow travelers, perhaps, had forgotten to shower in the previous few days. The driver seemed unmoved by the sounds and smells filling up the van, and I was happy to be the first one out.
Our hotel was 35 minutes from DIA in Cherry Creek, not far from the dam that holds back the water in Cherry Creek Reservoir. My room was on the tenth floor and faced the mountains (see picture below). Wow.
I made my first trip to Denver (the first one that I can remember) in 1966 to see my father. I had not seen him in 14 years, and as you might suspect I was a bit nervous. That flight from Dallas Love Field was uneventful, but as we approached the Rocky Mountains I was overtaken by the views. Flights landed at Stapleton airport in those days, nearer to Denver than DIA and closer to the front range. In the more than 50 years that have passed since that first visit, I have never lost the sense of excitement at the first appearance of real mountains and all of the promise of adventure that come with the views.
During that first visit, I learned about gold and other ore mining, starting with day trips to Cripple Creek and Leadville (subsequent reading as well). I also got my first introduction to coal mining. I heard, first hand, some of my grandfather’s stories about his days as a coal miner, although I found out about the real exciting stuff in later ventures to his home in Louisville, Colorado.
Our event in Denver went as planned, and I felt a strong connection to our alumni. I heard stories of success and changes from a group of people who greatly value the education that they had received from us. We have a large number of alumni in metropolitan Denver, and many of them have been out there for 30 or more years. We also saw some hockey. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, our hockey team lost to Denver University (DU) 4-2 in the first game of the series. Now I can feel just a bit better about that loss given that DU won the national championship in hockey two weekends ago. We, UNO, were in the Frozen Four in 2014.
We were given a tour of Galvanize by one of our alumni, a start-up business hub in an area of Denver that has undergone significant redevelopment. It’s a very cool place, an old warehouse that has been converted into rental spaces for aspiring and actual entrepreneurs. There are coding classes offered as well. My favorite alumnus visit was with Mike, a former student of mine (in the course, Marketing Research) whom I had not seen since 19887. Hearing his stories about career and family, all good, makes me smile. Meetings such as this one serve as a reminder about how much I have to be thankful for regarding my time in the classroom.
The drive to and from Vail was an adventure. But first, a bit about Vail. It’s a relatively new place, incorporated in 1966, four years after the opening of Vail Ski Resort. Pete Siebert, who had served in the U. S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War Two, and local rancher, Earl Eaton cooked up the idea of establishing a ski resort, and decided to name it after Charles Vail, the highway engineer who in 1940 routed U.S. Highway 6 (it goes east through Omaha) through Eagle Valley. Siebert and Eaton found investor support in Denver, and they began what has become a first-rate ski area, one of the best in the U.S. Vail is now the largest ski area in North America.
Now back to the adventure. The drive to Vail was fairly pedestrian. There was the expected rise in altitude and turns in the highway, but Interstate 70 has taken away most of the really exciting elements that can still be found on highway 6 and other non-interstate routes. We encountered some snow and a bit of wind near the Breckenridge exit, but before long we were settling in for a wonderful dinner with friends (an alum and spouse) at La Bottega in beautiful Vail.
The ride back to Denver after dinner was a bit different. Upon exiting the restaurant, we could feel the extra cold, -1 degree Fahrenheit, and a bit more of wind. As we began the trek back east, there was even more wind and steady snow. From time-to-time the road surface was hard to see, especially as it wound around the beautiful but unfriendly landscape (what we could see of it). Fortunately, the conditions were not too slippery, and the car handled quite well. But, the ride did not feel completely safe. At several junctures I was driving less than 40 miles per hour. My passenger, our college’s development director, felt less comfortable than me. Earlier in the day she had suggested alternative plans that involved not driving at night. I assured her that if the conditions became too dangerous, we would find another hotel for the evening. I also let her know that I had a number of experiences driving in conditions like these. I am not sure that she believed me, but it’s true. The 45 minute drive back to the continental divide and the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels, seemed to take hours. At one point we slowed even more due to lane closings (snow was being cleared). As soon as we came out of the east side of the tunnel, the snow ended and there was much less wind. The mostly downhill ride back to Denver was much less interesting. It was good to get back to the hotel that night. The next day and the return home was uneventful. I was already thinking about my next destination, New Orleans.