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The Town of Vail recently issued the following press release on Dr. Jack Eck being named the 2024 Town of Vail Trailblazer Award recipient:
In recognition of his pioneering contributions to the safety and health of Vail’s residents and guests, Dr. Jack Eck has been named the 2024 Town of Vail Trailblazer Award recipient by the Vail Town Council.
The annual Vail Trailblazer Award honors those who contribute their time and talent to make Vail an extraordinary community. Dr. Eck will be formally recognized at the Town of Vail Annual Community Meeting which will be held on March 5 at Donovan Pavilion.
Dr. Eck arrived in Vail in 1971 after having served as a flight surgeon in the Vietnam War. A native of Pennsylvania, he had skied Vail during a medical internship in Denver in the 1960s. He was immediately hired by Vail’s first physician, the late Dr. Tom Steinberg.
By the late 1970s, Dr. Eck became the first Medical Advisor for the Vail Ski Patrol, as well as the first physician to serve on the patrol. He established the basic medical qualification criteria for the ski patrollers, and many of those he trained became the core of the local paramedic community and the Eagle County Ambulance District.
One of Dr. Eck’s innovations was a mobile cardiac program which consisted of a defibrillator in an old Samsonite suitcase. He developed medical first responder techniques that were modeled by ski patrols throughout the U.S. and adopted by the U.S. Ski Team.
In his Vail Trailblazer nomination, Walter Olsen lauded Dr. Eck for training patrollers to perform skills on the mountain that were not yet common, helping to save lives. “He spent many hours (providing lectures) and training the ski patrol. Vail Mountain had the first portable defibrillator and cardiac drug kit on a ski mountain in the U.S. thanks to Jack.”
Dr. Eck was also instrumental in establishing the practice of tracking mountain injury statistics, including the locations of those injuries. This data led to better skier traffic control and improved safety measures in ski mountain management, in addition to safety innovations in ski equipment. Eck was an early medical promoter of ski brakes, which replaced the arguably dangerous safety straps. Dr. Eck continued as Medical Advisor to the Vail Ski Patrol until 2015.
During this time, he was also an advocate for comprehensive health care options for the entire community. Dr. Eck founded Vail Internal Medicine in 1980 and helped establish a cardiopulmonary program and Vail’s first intensive-care unit (ICU) at Vail Valley Medical Center, now Vail Health. In the early 2000s, Vail Internal Medicine merged with a family practice group to form Colorado Mountain Medical.
“Early on, he would do rounds at 6:30 a.m. in the fledging hospital, see office patients all day, and do rounds again in the evening before leaving. There were many 12 to 14 hour days…7 days per week were not uncommon in his practice ,” wrote Olsen.
Alongside Hal and Mary Lou Shaw, Dr. Eck was crucial in the establishment of the Shaw Cancer Center, a state-of-the-art regional cancer center which opened in 2001. In a surprise celebration in 2007, he learned that Jack’s Place, the cancer caring house developed as part of the facility, was named in his honor. Jack’s Place provides patients and their families with a short-term, nominal-cost place to stay during their cancer treatment.
“With the international reputation of Vail, Jack’s vision has helped our community to have the medical facility and staffing to go along with our world class ski mountain. Modern advanced medical facilities (used to only be) available in Denver or possibly Grand Junction. His tireless efforts have made this town and Vail Health a leading example of excellence in rural health care. His medical knowledge and performance have saved countless lives in our rural mountain town ,” concluded Olsen in his nomination.
“We are thrilled to honor Dr. Eck’s trailblazing legacy of providing excellent medical care both on mountain and throughout the Vail Valley,” said current Town of Vail Mayor and Ski Patroller, Travis Coggin. “I have had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Eck first as a scraped up kid in need of medical care and then as a Ski Patroller learning lifesaving skills. As we looked through the many deserving nominations this year, his name rose to the top for the profound impact he has made locally as well as to Vail’s continued reputation as a health care leader in mountain communities.”
Dr. Eck was named Vail Valley Foundation Citizen of the Year in 2008, and was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Museum Hall of Fame in 2015. He served as a board member with many organizations such as the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado, Home Care and Hospice of the Valley, Quality Committee of the Vail Health Board and of the Vail Valley Medical Center. He retired from the Vail Health Foundation in 2020. He currently serves on the board of Eagle County Paramedic Services.
The Vail Trailblazer Award was established during the town’s 50th birthday celebration in 2016. Dr. Eck is the ninth recipient to be honored and was selected by a Town Council committee from a number of other commendable nominations.
Dr. Eck’s early life and history in Vail have been documented in the Vail Public Library’s oral history collection available at www.vaillibrary.com. To read or listen to this history, go to the Catalog tab and search using the Local Digital Archive drop down.
For more information about the Vail Trailblazer Award and the nomination process, visit www.vail.gov/trailblazer.