Profile: Virginia Roark

By Dawne Belloise

The bath fixtures in her CB South duplex are “piss yellow,” Virginia Roark laughs, who figures some local must have had a say in the color choices because, “the drugs were really good back then in 1980.” But she happily calls it home and through her many years here, she has worked as a favorite cook at local eateries and as a housekeeper.

Virginia was born and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the heart of the Berkshires, spending as much of her time in the woods as summer would allow. One summer evening, her brother presented Virginia with the epitome of cool—a bike he built especially for her. “It was two-tone green with coaster brakes, a banana seat and monkey handlebars,” she grins of that 1973 memory. “I rode that thing in the woods. I was mountain biking on this thing when mountain biking was being born in Crested Butte.” 

A Catholic schoolgirl from third grade through high school, Virginia was studious with good grades. In high school, she lived on Twizzlers and milk because there wasn’t a food cafeteria in her small school, just an eating area with tables. Her main high school interest was acting and theater. She signed up for every play and was even doing Shakespeare, all of which she says, “changed my life.” She graduated in 1982.

Moving out of high school, she wavered between a career in computer science and becoming a chef. Virginia enrolled in SUNY Cobleskill in upstate New York and received an Associate of Science degree as a professional chef. “Cobleskill was so beautiful. We’d get in the car and cruise the back roads of Schoharie County,” the relatively untraveled countryside where the Catskill mountains meet the Adirondacks. Afterwards, she moved to Schenectady, New York, for a couple years, working in little restaurants before deciding that she needed to get out of the city. “I started thinking, why am I in Schenectady when I could be skiing for free?” Virginia learned to ski when she was 13, in a small Massachusetts resort where there was night skiing. 

She took a job at Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont as a line chef at the Stratton Mountain Inn. In 1986, it was just as difficult to find housing in a ski resort town as it is today, but she finally landed a cozy little one-bedroom cottage right across the street from the West River. She worked and skied for the year-and-a-half she was there and recalls, “It was one of the best jobs in my entire life.” 

Virginia’s then-boyfriend convinced her to move to Cape Cod, but she confesses, “I hate the beach. I hate salt water. If you give me an option of where I want to vacation, it’s not going to be the beach.” But she spent three summers there, longing for the slopes and dreaming about skiing the west for the winters. Virginia sent out resumes to Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Sun Valley and the Grand Butte Hotel in Mt. CB. The latter hired her, and she also got housing for $100 per month. “Okay, it was four of us sharing a two-bedroom.” 

She had never been west of Pennsylvania, but she loaded up her car and drove to Colorado in 1989. She arrived in CB on Halloween. “Driving up the valley, I was still in shock I had made it over Monarch alive. I immediately saw Mt. CB and I was in awe. I remember going in to get a PO Box and my first impression of CB was, these women don’t wear makeup, they dress for function not fashion. I had found my people. My second thought was, shit, this is a small town and everyone will know what you do,” she laughs.

When the job at the Grand Butte just wasn’t paying the bills, Virginia responded to a help wanted sign in the window of the Paradise Café. “Patsy Lucci handed me a napkin and told me to fill out my name and phone number. It was a naplication,” she laughs. She was hired. “And that’s how I met most people in CB. I learned you don’t burn Mac’s cinnamon raisin toast because he could see it through the kitchen and he’ll tell you about it.” 

When her old boyfriend showed back up in town, Virginia married him and they moved to Big Sky, Montana. “My marriage sucked, but my job and the skiing were fantastic. It was an amazing place to be.” After the winter, they returned to Cape Cod, then followed the winter snows to Summit County in 1991 where Virginia got a job at the Outpost restaurant at Keystone at the top of the North Peak. She was working the graveyard shift as a baker. “If you missed the 11 p.m. gondola, you weren’t making it to work. I had to take three busses and two gondolas to work, and we weren’t allowed to ski down.” It was 18-hour days for her but Virginia loved the job, which came with a ski pass to Keystone, Copper and A-Basin. “One of my favorite jobs ever was making these itty-bitty desserts, like cakes and crème brûlée, at 11,000 feet. My favorite dessert to make was a sacher tort,” which she explains was a chocolate bomb. “The ganache had to be perfect, like glass.” 

Virginia stayed on for two winters, and when she discovered she was pregnant that second winter in 1993, she decided to move back to CB. After stopping in at the Paradise for lunch, Leisure Lee asked her when she was coming back to work. “I said as soon as you find me a place to live.” Two hours later, she had a job and a place to live. Dakota Douglas Roark was born November 19 that year on opening day of ski season. 

Virginia had to leave the Paradise after Dakota was born and she began her housekeeping career where the hours worked better for daycare. She later took a job with High Country Resorts which she said was “one of the best jobs I’ve ever had as housekeeper.” She stayed with them for nine-and-a-half years, becoming their head housekeeper. Feeling the time was right, Virginia started her own housekeeping business in 2003, cleverly naming it Virgin Cleaning. “My motto was, clean like the first time.” 

Throughout her 20 years in CB, Virginia had been working for Susan Gardiner. “Going to see her and cleaning her home was the highlight of my week. It was always a pleasurable experience chatting with her.” The work for Susan became full time when Susan became ill and Virginia was there for Susan up until a couple of months before she passed away, “when she needed nursing care.”

Virginia closed Virgin Cleaning at the end of 2019 and went to work as a cook at Tully’s in CB South. “Then COVID hit and once it hit, that was the end of that job.” In 2020, Virginia was severely hit with COVID that continued for eight months and left her disabled. She wound up at National Jewish Health in Denver as they had a long COVID department. “It was August 2021 and COVID had fried my brain. I’m now dyslexic and I had never been before.” Although she has setback days she’s feeling physically better, but she’s unable to work.

Virginia’s deck in CB South is knee deep in white as she looks out her window. Her days are spent playing with her dog. These days, she takes the bus around for shopping, to the post office, and she’s still an avid Pokémon Go player in town. “This is home. I’ve lived here more than half my life. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I don’t care what happens in town, it’s never gonna be Houston no matter how hard they try,” she grins. 

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