Johnson: Fire rekindles memories of a simpler life
February 2, 2013
The flames ignited memories of a few years of my life as I gazed at news pictures of one of my earlier homes being destroyed in a ball of fire last week. Known as the Tiltin’ Hilton, the house in Montezuma was a Summit County landmark distinguished by its odd architecture and for the fact that it was home to many ski bums over the years.Nestled in a steep mountain valley at the end of a road about five miles past Keystone Resort, the home’s character immediately attracted me and my two buddies from South Dakota, Eric Hinderaker and Don Seten. We had followed our college graduations with a move to Colorado in search of skiing and adventure.I had met the home’s owner in 1982 at a massive condominium fire at the base of Keystone. She was a Denver Post photographer needing a renter and I was a reporter for the local newspaper, the Summit Sentinel.In between watching three newly constructed condominiums complexes burn to the ground, we talked about Montezuma, a historic silver mining town at 10,200 feet above sea level. In 1890, about 1,000 people lived there and about 30 people called it home during our stay.The Tiltin’ Hilton earned its name because a previous owner with an imagination turned a one-bedroom A-frame into an architectural wonder, or abomination, depending on your point of view. A tower was added to the back of the A-frame creating two more bedrooms and a fourth-story roof-top deck that overlook the scenic valley.In order for the tilting tower to remain standing, it was supported by stilts that were connected to the original angled roof. Officials would not allow it to be built today.But it wasn’t just the house that made the Montezuma experience unique. Nestled in a steep mountain valley near the end of a road at the base of the Continental Divide, the dynamic place was a unique collection of people united under the town’s motto that spanned the street outside town.”There are no rules above 10,000 feet,” the sign read, and people in town believed it. A remote town, Montezuma appealed to a slightly different type of person.There was no television, unless you could afford a satellite dish, which we could not. Radio reception was impossible. There were no cellphones or Internet for entertainment. There was only one business, the Inn Montezuma, which mostly catered to cross-country skiers since there was snow on the ground from September to June. So we found entertainment in a way virtually unheard of any more. We gathered around dart boards and game tables talking to one another and meeting interesting people from around the world who were staying at Inn Montezuma. We ate meals together without checking emails or texting. And whenever we could, we explored the Arapaho National Forest and the mountains that began out our front door. Cross-country skiing under a full moon was a highlight as the reflecting snow illuminated the path. Fun and adventure was to be found in the woods, not on a computer screen. Abandoned mines and old buildings stirred our imaginations.We were engaged in nature and a type of human experience that is disappearing because of technology.So I was saddened not only by the loss of an old home, but at the loss of a way of life.Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in state and local affairs.