Ryan Graff, Rocky Mountain News
Julian Vogt caught the heel-edge of his snowboard at the top of the Primo chairlift at Sunlight Mountain Resort on a recent Monday morning. The mistake sent him into the air, feet horizontal to his head, above the icy unloading ramp. He landed with an audible "thud" and groaned.
Ordinarily, this would have been comical — a snowboarder with more than 15 years experience falling hard getting off the lift. But not with a 93-year-old – it’s nervewracking.
“Oh, I felt that,” Vogt said as he brushed himself off. “But I'm wearing hockey padding.”
And that was it — no more comment than “feeling” the fall on the ice. Vogt bent over, strapped into his board and headed off for another run down the mountain on a bright blue morning.
The fall was actually a peculiarity for Vogt. Earlier that day, he warmed up on the lower half of Sunlight, cutting round arcs in the corduroy snow and spinning 180s and 360s down the hill. At the base the lifties greeted him by name, and for their effort, Vogt exchanged pleasantries with each in their native language — Spanish, Portuguese, or English. Vogt speaks a little bit of six different languages, including French, German and Russian thanks to a career in foreign policy. His Portuguese, decades later, is “very good,” according to the liftie. His Spanish is even better.
Vogt traveled oversees for the first time more than 60 years ago. He chose Argentina because it was the farthest Spanish-speaking country from San Diego, where he grew up. The distance, he figured, was the best aid to learning Spanish.
After Argentina, Vogt worked all over the world with the United States State Department, Army, Park Service, and United Nations.
Vogt went to Switzerland looking for work with the United Nations, and nearly came up empty-handed. “Instead of a job, I found my wife,” he said as he rode the lift.
He and his wife, Anne, are still married, but she doesn't ski with him anymore because of age and a stroke. So while Vogt snowboards or skis in the morning, Anne snowshoes in Babbish Gulch with their son, Michael.
Vogt doesn't talk much about his jet-setting career, though; he likes to talk about snowboarding and skiing.
Once, his brother-in-law — apparently unimpressed by Vogt's skiing — asked: “Where'd you learn to ski?”
“Out of a book,” answered Vogt, “published by the San Diego paper.”
He skied a bit in the ‘20s, he said, but didn’t ski regularly until he and Anne retired to Glenwood in 1971.
“I wasn't a real good skier, so I thought the best way to learn was to teach,” he said, which he did from 1978 to 1995 at Sunlight.
He switched to snowboarding in 1989 at age 78.
“I almost quit because I fell down so much,” he said. “But then one day I had about 5 inches of powder and it was so easy.”
Sixteen years later, Vogt's seen most of snowboarding's history. He sprained his ankle in some loose-fitting Sorrels riding an '80s-era Barfoot. He rode a Burton Air in the early and mid-1990s and now rides the popular Burton Custom.
Vogt still skis on icy days or crowded weekends, but prefers to snowboard.
“I like to go on my board, because it's more of a challenge. I don't have nearly as much control,” he said, then chuckled.
Vogt’s got a few secrets to beautiful turns on a snowboard — ballet as youngster helped his balance, snowboard lessons as an adult helped his skill, and a good diet combined with crosstraining at the Hot Springs Pool keep him fit.
That exercise might keep Vogt going for a long while longer, along with one other characteristic. “I like to learn,” he said, “like right now I'd like to take another (snowboard) lesson.”
For now, though, Vogt will keep snowboarding, hopefully keeping his heel edge high.