Flight for Life paramedic makes smooth landing into new job at Dillon Marina
Special to the Daily
Last month, Kevin Kelble retired from a spectacular 30-year career as a lead paramedic with Flight for Life, but he’s not feeling wistful.
“I’ve kept one uniform and handed everything else in,” he said.
The nostalgia ends there. His last day of work was routine and did not involve a single flight. After teaching a flurry of avalanche safety classes in Silverton, he returned to Summit County this week to begin a new chapter in his life at the age of 54.
“My flight status is done,” he said.
While best known for his work in mountain safety, he is currently learning the ropes at the Dillon Marina, where he just started his new career as operations manager. Considering his connections to skiing, patrolling and search and rescue, it might seem strange to find Kelble on the ground, particularly off the mountain. However, he says that the decision makes a lot of sense for him.
“I have two passions in life and now I’m focusing on one of them,” he said.
GREW UP SKIING
Kelble is no stranger to Lake Dillon and the surrounding mountains. The Denver native grew up in a ski racing family, gradually moving west from his days as a Winter Park Eskimo and an Arapahoe Basin Jet, to skiing Keystone when it opened in 1971, and Copper Mountain in 1972, where he later worked on ski patrol. When he was in high school he started sailing on the lake in the summers. One of his family friends had a boat and needed a bowman. At the time, he admits, he “didn’t know bow from stern.” His family later bought their own boat, which Kelble just recently sold. He says he learned from some of the best sailors on the lake.
What began as a hobby turned into a passion and talent. Kelble began to receive offers to crew for sailing events. Bruce “Popeye” Cochran, who had a strong racing background and worked patrol with Kelble, got him onto his first Bermuda Race, which involves sailing from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda, over 635 nautical miles. Since that inaugural journey, he has crewed in a number of races around the world. The most epic journey involved sailing an 81-foot Maxi boat from San Francisco, California, to Europe, in order to compete overseas. The journey covered some 12,000 miles even before the first race began.
Kelble explains that the Grand Prix racing world is all about connections.
“You see 70 percent of the same people at the events. … First it’s about who you know. Then it becomes about what you know,” he said.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Kelble used his connections and know-how to sail all over the world.
“Someone would call up and say, ‘Can you be in Italy on Wednesday?’ and it’s Monday,” he said.
He would always go. His sailing adventures have taken him to Dubai, New Zealand, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, the East and West coasts and all points in between. He estimates sailing about six figures’ worth of nautical miles in his racing life.
While he has learned to work several positions on the crew, he says that his favorite is the pit. “I love being very organized and OCD. You have 10 to 15 lines coming in, knowing that you are the interface between the bow and the rest of the boat. I like that pressure. It demands that you stay organized.”
That same love for complex multitasking is what has helped Kelble thrive as a ski patroller at Copper, as a flight paramedic and as a teacher trying to communicate risk factors in his workshops. It is what will enable him to transition into his new position at the Dillon Marina.
In describing his first week at the helm, he says, “I could use the word overwhelming at times. It’s all brand new to me.” Kelble says he feels comfortable around boats, but less so around “the computer stuff.” Nevertheless, he is fond of saying that “a good day is a day you learn something.” So after three days in his new position, he declares every day a good day so far.
Bob Evans, the marina’s harbor master and general manager, feels very fortunate to have Kelble on board.
“We advertised all around the country and he was the best out of the candidates we had. His skills and qualifications most closely fit what we were looking for.” On a personal note, he said, “I’ve known him for a long time. … He definitely knows more about sailing and sailboats than I do.”
Kelble is grateful for his time at Flight for Life and all that he learned over three decades, but feels ready for a new challenge. He hopes to maintain a connection to the organization through his educational workshops, and plans to work part-time on Copper’s ski patrol next winter.
“People say this is a retirement job. It’s not,” said Kelble.
He added that in recent years he has been looking forward to working during the day and having a more set schedule. “I couldn’t recover from the night shifts the same way I did in my 20s and 30s,” he said of his work with Flight for Life. While his wife, Julie, will claim that he is still competitive, Kelble says that he notices that even that is easing up. He is thinking about being on boats for fun, not just in a race atmosphere. “There’s a part of me that looks forward to pleasure boating.”
The Kelbles may find themselves bareboating, or chartering a boat without a crew, in the near future — something they used to do in the Caribbean for vacations.
“Water plays a big role in my life and I hope it continues to for the rest of it,” Kelble said.
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