Locals remember Old Dillon Inn’s Buddy Nicholson
September 30, 2010
The Old Dillon Inn died a few years ago and owner Buddy Nicholson died two weeks ago. It’s a darn shame on both counts.
Following a motorcycle accident on Ute Pass just before Labor Day Weekend, Nicholson had been in St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver where he was flown by Flight for Life. He passed away there Sept. 18.
Nicholson, 63, sustained serious injuries when he lost control of his Harley Davidson and crashed.
Nicholson and Trish, his wife of 19 years, called a Frisco Terrace log house their home and had been traveling in their RV and on their Harleys since selling the Silverthorne establishment that Buddy, Dave “Wabs” Walbert and Dick Klaudt started 35 years ago..
Always together, Trish Nicholson was riding her motorcycle behind Buddy’s that day on Ute Pass, but had a limited view.
“I was a bit behind Bud and didn’t actually see what happened. But what I saw and with what he said later in the hospital, I was able to piece together in my mind what happened, but we’ll never know for sure,” Trish said. “The Flight for Life chopper crew arrived, which, along with some amazing volunteers from Henderson Mine, were fabulous. They were great.”
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Word of Nicholson’s accident sent shock waves through long-timers in our mountain community. That was followed by reports it would be a lengthy battle, but he was expected to make a comeback.
Buddy successfully fought other battles. The popular saloon and restaurateur had a hip replaced some years back and also battled cancer a couple of times.
Later, doubts were beginning to set in among those close to the situation: Buddy probably would not make it back home.
Back in 2008, when the sale of the ODI was announced, locals were disheartened. Summit County was losing a hallmark of its character. The ODI still sits vacant today.
Buddy Nicholson was one of those leading characters among a large cast.
In that closing story, Nicholson said of the ODI and the structure:
“We’re not a historic building, but you know as well as I do, I mean this place is a landmark. People know it from everywhere and, you know, it was a wonderful run. This place has treated us wonderfully. I couldn’t have asked for better in my life.”
Of his life, Nicholson would likely echo those words today if he could.
Now it takes others to tell of Buddy.
Close friend Gary Bergman, owner of Meadow Creek Tire, started his Import Auto in 1973 about the same time Buddy and Wabs bought the Old Dillon Inn, a steakhouse then. Bergman said they had to learn to from a Vail chef named “Shirkey” how cook the Mexico food that would become famous.
“I was there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Bergman recalled. “I’d eat the mistakes – it was hilarious.”
Bergman’s first import repair shop was adjacent to what is now the Frisco Historic Park, and not far from where Buddy and Wabs shared a house at the base of Mount Royal with Dickie Esser and Freddy Woods.
“Buddy had a hell of a good life,” said Bergman. “I bet if he’d do it all over again, he’d do it the same.”
Buddy’s passing brought Bergman’s philosophy to the forefront: “We’re here for a good time – not a long time.”
Bergman praised the Nicholsons’ many close friends for “stepping up to the plate; what support.”
Another longtime friend of Buddy’s, Mark “Capt. Smitty” Schimd, recalled Buddy in two locations: Here and down in the Virgin Islands.
Locally, Smitty was a bartender at the ODI back in the mid-’90s, but he’d known Nicholson for nearly two decades.
Capt. Smitty was working charter boats down in Frenchtown on St. Thomas, near Charlotte Amalie when Buddy and crew would rent a big boat from Avery’s Boathouse. Smitty would be the captain for the visiting Summiteers, capping their ski seasons back in the late ’70s with a sailing vacation.
Accompanying Buddy were good friends Wabs, Bernie Murphy, Mike “Weister” Weise, Jack Ruby, and Eli Robertson, remembered Smitty.
“Whether it was work or fun,” he said, “Buddy was always a pleasure to be around.”
Fellow restaurateur Bobby Kato of Tuscato, The Incline Club, and the Island Grill, said, “Buddy was a great, great guy who had huge heart, who was very quiet, but helped a lot of people. He was a mentor to a lot of us.”
Big Jim Conder, formerly of Tumbleweed and Tennessee Hat Band, said, “Buddy/Pablo was a friend to all the musicians who played the ODI. He made us all feel special, and no matter how crummy we sounded – he always complimented us. What a bar! What a time! What a guy! We’ll miss you, brother.”
A band mate of Conder’s, Alamosa musician Donnie Richmond, started playing at the ODI around 1976 with Tumbleweed and continued performing with subsequent bands until about 2000.
“It was like home away from home,” Richmond said. “We played there every four to six weeks, (it was) a place we always looked forward to going to. There was such a sense of family and camaraderie at the Old Dillon Inn, both with the staff and the patrons and everything else. It felt good, you just walked in the place and you felt good.”
That good feeling and Bud’s life will be celebrated at Loveland Basin Ski Area on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 2 p.m.
That ski area isn’t far from where, in 1971, while riding in a Ford Falcon, Buddy and his buddies flew off Loveland Pass. They all survived to create the stories that will be retold in celebration.