Christmas Eve ride with Santa
Steele Rickenbach has been on the receiving end of some pretty cool Christmas gifts in his 11 years, including a go-kart and a four-wheeler.
A seat behind Santa Claus on board a helicopter that swooped over the canyons and deserts of Mesa County now ranks right up there alongside them.
The fifth-grader at Wingate Elementary School and 6-year-old Chloe Wayt of Fruita got the ride of their young lives Saturday, thanks to Gateway Canyons Resort and its new Air Tours chopper.
Pilot Mike Gullotti, assisted by Santa as co-pilot, flew Steele and Chloe from Grand Junction Regional Airport to Gateway, where they ate lunch, toured the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum and decorated cookies. When they arrived back in Grand Junction, Santa presented them each with a gift — a teddy bear for Chloe and a Matchbox toy set for Steele.
Kindra Mazurek, sales and marketing coordinator, said the resort wanted to reach out to the community during the holiday season and had originally planned to simply fly Santa into the resort on Christmas Eve. But Miffie Blozvich, marketing and development director for Gateway Canyons Air Tours, suggested taking a couple of kids along for the ride.
With the help of Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado and Colorado Discoverability, the resort gave early Christmas presents to Steele and Wayt.
Steele, the youngest of four, arrived in Grand Junction from Utah in May with his older sisters. The three now live with his aunt, Anna Rickenbach, and her husband after their parents died last year.
“This has been an amazing opportunity,” said Anna Rickenbach. “It’s an opportunity of hope and a chance for these kids to move forward and learn how to cope with loss.”
The best part of the day for Steele? When Gullotti “floored” the helicopter taking off from Gateway and flying back to Grand Junction, he said.
For Chloe, who has cerebral palsy and speaks through a speech communication device, it was simply the helicopter. The Rim Rock Elementary first-grader deboarded in Santa’s arms, a big smile on her face and Christmas bows in her pigtails.
“As a parent, you want the best for your child,” said Chloe’s father, Bryan. “It’s just great that, within the community, there’s people thinking about her.”