I had the good fortune to take the first chair and run of the season at Copper with Mountain President Gary Rogers and Frank Walter. Frank’s a bit of a ski legend at Copper. He’s been a regular fixture there for years, logging 100 to 160 days a year, tracking his vertical feet (he skied a record 6.2 million in 2006), and frequently being the first and last person up the lift in any weather – all as a senior citizen. Frank’s signature bright yellow jacket can be seen coming down Copper’s front side, many yelling greetings from the lift, he often waiving back as he streaks by. He’s been profiled in local newspapers, featured as “Father Time” in a Warren Miller film, and started a new season at 89 years old. Last season Copper renamed a run after him, “Frank’s Fav.”
Beyond being a great skier and cool guy who describes himself as a “retired ski bum,” Frank holds an even higher distinction for me as my grandpa. This year my Uncle Larry joined us and we three made Copper’s first chair as three generations of skiing. Larry and I have been skiing with Frank since young ages. My uncle as a racer when Frank was an assistant coach and me since my teens when grandpa took apart and built up my skiing, making me spend days doing drills and drawing stick figures on graphing paper to better illustrate angulation and inclination until my “technique was sound.”
When skiing with grandpa and watching tourists pull him aside for photos, I often wonder how much people actually know about “the guy in the yellow jacket who skis every day.” As an insider to the Copper legend, I can share some biographical brushstrokes. Many hear from his accent Frank’s originally from Boston, where he went to Tufts and then MIT. Grandpa was also a WWII Marine Corps fighter pilot, serving in the Pacific and flying one of the most venerable planes of the war, the F4U Corsair. He fought in the Battle of Okinaw, performed fighter escort to B-29 bombers to Tokyo and administered a reconstruction zone in Japan. Grandpa later moved to the Midwest as an engineer and auto executive, where he designed many of Chrysler’s most collectible cars of the muscle car era. He first skied Copper when Larry was on the ski team at University of Colorado Boulder, telling Frank and my Great Grandfather Ted “we have to try this new mountain.” He retired there in 1987 and has been skiing ever since.
Frank often speaks of the merits of skiing: friends, families, and many generations all doing something healthy outdoors in the mountains. Grandpa and I have made buzzing around all parts of Copper our shared past time for many years. We’ve skied sun up to dusk, hiked the back bowls, gone tree bashing for fresh powder, and inspected race courses together. It was pretty special to add to the mountain experiences shared with my best ski buddy taking the first chair and run of the season with my uncle and Copper’s President. What made it even better is that my best ski buddy is my grandpa. I look forward to sharing vertical at Copper with Frankie for many seasons to come.