From ski bum to world traveler
FRISCO – Ann Stewart’s condominium boasts little more than a pile of laundry, a microwave oven and a few boxes – fairly appropriate for someone who spends so little of her time in one place.
Stewart, who has called Summit County home since the mid-1970s, was born to travel.
The Frisco woman grew up in Marblehead, Mass., but spent two high school years in Vermont, where she learned to ski. Her first pair of skis was a pair of $25 wooden Northlands. She got a job as a summer camp cook to buy a better pair.
“I wanted a pair of Head skis,” she said. “I wanted metal skis. I wanted real skis.”
She bought them and a set of Cubco bindings for about $100.
She brought those skis to Colorado State University in Fort Collins – chosen because it’s in Colorado, where she could ski. She majored in occupational therapy – work she has never pursued – and graduated in 1969 after doing three-month internships in Florida, California and Arizona.
But she moved to Vail, where she worked as a front desk clerk at the Vail Village Inn and never made more than $400 a month.
“I wanted to live in the mountains and ski,” she said. “There’s no point in skiing if you have to drive. And I didn’t have a car.”
The snow then was more abundant than it is today, Stewart said, adding that some days resort officials shut down the mountain because there was too much white stuff, and it needed to be packed down.
In 1971, Stewart took four months off to travel throughout Europe, climbing mountains, playing on the beaches and sleeping in the woods and in haylofts – or splurging on $1-a-night rooms.
But the Rocky Mountains lured her back; she moved to Summit County later that year and began work as a 911 operator – a far cry from occupational therapy.
“But it was year-round work,” Stewart said. “And it’s near the snow.”
Dispatching has come a long way in the past 30 years. When Stewart started work, 911 operators doubled as jailers.
Stewart left dispatching in 1973 to spend a year biking with her brother to Mexico. At the time, Cancun wasn’t developed; the Stewarts had the beaches all to themselves.
She returned to Summit County dispatching in 1974 – in the days when the communications center wasn’t even a certified base station.
“When you wanted to talk to someone, you were Car 3695 or Car 3696,” she said. “Law enforcement was the chief of police in Breckenridge and one officer, the sheriff, an undersheriff and a deputy. We didn’t have 911. We had no way to check people’s license plates or criminal histories.”
She enjoyed the work, particularly since flexible schedules gave her plenty of time to ski – and travel.
Stewart, who’s been to Ecuador, Mexico, Greece, New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria and scores of other countries, never leaves with an agenda.
“If you’re not on a schedule, you can discover things,” she said. “You can find different places, hang out with people. Everything’s new, new, new. Magic things happen to you when you travel. You’re wide open to everything, and wonderful things happen to you.”
She’s had people give her directions, rides, meals, cold beer on a hot day, and a place to stay the night.
“It’s incredible, if your schedule’s not all set, how life is almost carried on the wings of strangers,” she said. “It’s so uplifting; you can’t be the same after that. You discover the generosity and spirit of everyone.”
The most beautiful place Stewart has visited is Moab, Utah, or Greece.
The most fascinating people are in South America.
The scariest place she’s ever been is the Port Authority in New York City.
She wants to visit Chile and Argentina and learn Spanish.
“If I had one wish in the world, it would be to be multi-lingual,” she said. “Not to be rich, but to be multilingual.”
During her travels in the past three decades, however, her love for skiing has faded; Stewart hasn’t strapped on a pair of boards in three years.
“Something snapped in me,” she said. “It would bother me not a bit if I never saw another snowflake. Skiing’s wonderful, but I’ve done it over and over and over. It’s just changed.”
Stewart currently works as a travel guide for The World Outdoors in Boulder, through which she gets to lead strangers on expeditions throughout the Western states.
She has no plans to leave Summit – except to stay with her mother in Florida in the winters, where she has worked at a florist shop, as an elder care assistant and doing yard work.
“I’ve loved my life in Summit County,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Then came the point I needed to do something different.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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