It started with two airlines, ski racing, a party and a kiss.
Jim Cox was on Continental Airlines’ ski team. Toni Ray was a racer on TWA’s ski team. Both were flight attendants and were in Park City, Utah, for an airlines ski week in January of 1979.
It was a week filled with skiing and parties. At the last party, the one where awards were given out, Ray was listening for the names of other TWA racers but kept hearing Cox’s name instead — Cox took third in giant slalom, first in slalom and first in combined.
When Cox went to collect his trophies at the end of the evening, Ray introduced herself.
“I asked him if he made a habit of this,” Ray said, referring to his victories. She also asked if he would be at the February airlines ski week at Lake Tahoe.
Cox said he would, and then “he planted a big, sloppy kiss on me,” Ray said.
Cox, who admitted to being a “bit tipsy,” claimed the kiss was justified as New Year’s Eve wasn’t too far past.
“I thought he was the most interesting thing I had met all week,” Ray said.
Since then, there have been more airplanes, skiing, parties and even better kisses — the Palisade couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on Feb. 7.
Leading up to that day, Cox posted on his Facebook page a series of stories and photos to tell their love story.
It is sweetly unique, as all good love stories should be, and since it was Cox who was doing the writing — editorial approval from Ray, of course — there was a fair amount of skiing in the story as well.
Cox, 71, started skiing when he was 14 at Crystal Mountain, about 90 miles from his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. Despite falling flat on his face while trying to grab the rope tow lift the first time, “I fell in love with the sport,” he said during an interview he gave with Ray last week.
Cox was involved in ski racing in high school and college and, more recently, as a coach for eight years with Powderhorn Racing Club’s Buddy Werner program.
Ray, 77, started skiing when she was 25 at Heavenly Mountain Resort in California. She already was a flight attendant — it was the job she had wanted since she was 13 — and also was taking flying lessons.
“I couldn’t afford flying lessons and skiing, so I wound up just skiing,” she said.
When TWA was looking for women to be on its ski team, she was recruited.
“For me it was just fun. I never won anything,” Ray said.
“Well, she won my heart,” Cox said.
The two met up again at the February 1979 airlines ski week at Lake Tahoe. After the first day of skiing, Ray distracted Cox with apres-ski drink and he missed the bus back to his hotel and had to accept a ride in her car.
She definitely had caught his eye and when he got back to Denver, where he was based for Continental, Cox sent a Valentine’s Day card to Ray in San Francisco, where she was based.
“She called me a few days later, saying she had sent me the same card I had sent her,” Cox wrote in one of his Facebook posts.
He asked her to visit him in Denver. Then she asked him to come along on a helicopter-skiing trip she had won. So in March they were in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“We had an amazing day of powder! We were guaranteed 12,000 vertical and we had that by noon!” Cox wrote.
After that trip, Ray and Cox saw as much of each other as they could as they flew around the country.
Because they were both flight attendants, “we were able to have a long-distance relationship that worked, basically,” Ray said.
Unlike Ray, Cox hadn’t planned to become a flight attendant. After college graduation in 1971, he was working in a sports shop in Tacoma. One day, a woman came in because she wanted to learn to play tennis. When he asked why, she said she had a job with too much time off.
“I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but the light went on,” Cox said. Since he spoke German, he easily got a job in the airline industry.
In August of 1979, Cox bought a new townhouse in Vail, and Ray decided to become one of his roommates. They skied Vail in the winter and spent time at Ray’s place in San Francisco in the summer.
During a layover Cox had in San Francisco in late summer of 1980, the couple were out for a drive in the hills, and Cox was looking for just the right spot.
When he found it, “I picked a red wildflower, got on one knee and asked her to marry me!” Cox wrote on Facebook.
“She said, ‘Are you sure?’
“The reason she said that was that we both at different times in the past asked the other to marry, but time went by. This time I assured her I was serious, and she said YES!” Cox wrote.
They settled on Feb. 7, 1981, for their wedding since they were trying to avoid Valentine’s Day and, Feb. 7 worked with both of their flight schedules.
Cox’s mom and friends took care of nearly all the arrangements for the small wedding in Tacoma, with the couple taking care of the bills.
Their wedding day “started off with me being really upset with him,” Ray said.
There had been a bachelor party the night before, and as the time ticked down to their 2 p.m. ceremony, Cox was nowhere to be found.
“I wasn’t even sure if he was going to be there,” Ray said.
“But I’ve been there ever since,” said Cox, who arrived just in time to change clothes so they could leave his mom’s house for the VFW hall where they were to be married.
They decorated the hall before the guests arrived, then ended up delaying the ceremony for a half hour while waiting for a best friend to show up.
When the ceremony finally started, it was interrupted several times by a giant overhead furnace “that sounded like a jet engine,” Ray said.
And when they got to the part where those assembled were asked, “‘If anyone objects to this union, speak now,’ the phone on the bar started ringing!” Cox wrote in a Facebook post.
Thinking it couldn’t possibly be anyone they knew, the wedding photographer picked up and immediately hung up the phone’s receiver. After a lot of laughter, the wedding continued followed by a celebration.
Unfortunately, that best friend never arrived, and Cox didn’t hear from him until early evening when he got a call at his mom’s house while he and Ray were opening wedding gifts.
His friend, who lived on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound and had to take a ferry to get Seattle, had left the wedding invitation and directions at home. When he got to Tacoma, he started calling all of the VFW halls, looking for the wedding. “Yes, it was him calling on the phone during our service,” Cox wrote.
Ray and Cox postponed their honeymoon, returning instead to Colorado to ski.
“It was the winter that Beaver Creek first opened,” Cox wrote.
They took their honeymoon in May, and it was supposed to be a trip to Athens, because “Jim had never been there and I had, and I really, really loved Greece,” Ray said.
But being flight attendants, they flew standby, which meant they weren’t assured of seats, and the Greece plan went haywire. It took a few more years before finally making it to Athens.
As their love story has continued, there have been good times as they worked and traveled. Along with skiing, Cox took up scuba diving, which is one of Ray’s favorite adventures.
They traveled Europe, floated through the Grand Canyon on wooden boats, jumped off cliffs and Cox jumped out of airplanes.
But the years also have come with airline strikes and layoffs. Cox found out that he was out of a job with Continental in 1983while the couple was spending a week with one of his brothers stationed in London with the U.S. Navy.
As Cox read about the airline strike in the newspaper, Ray was out buying crystal wine glasses at Harrods department store.
“We called it our unemployment crystal,” Ray said. “I made payments to Harrods for two years on our unemployment crystal.”
Cox tried to stay away from flying for a couple of years, but by 1987 he was back, this time as a flight attendant with American Airlines.
The late 1980s also was about the time the couple began traveling to Powderhorn Mountain Resort to celebrate a number of their wedding anniversaries. One of Cox’s siblings had a timeshare at the mountain, and Cox and Ray would fly in from the San Francisco area, where they were living at the time, or from wherever work had taken them.
By the time they moved to the Grand Valley after retiring in 2007, they already knew the area and a number of residents from those ski trips.
For their anniversary this year, Cox and Ray planned to have a dinner at Il Bistro, their favorite Italian restaurant. But as Cox was putting on his sneakers to go to the gym the morning before, “snap, my back went out of whack,” he said.
They stayed home and watched the Super Bowl instead, and later in the week Ray picked up dinner at Il Bistro and brought it home.
As Valentine’s Day approached, they weren’t sure how they would mark the day.
Another year would likely have found Cox skiing at Powderhorn, but he’s battling bladder cancer, and it’s keeping him off the hill for now.
“I’ve dramatically missed skiing and coaching this year,” he said.
After a bad fall on Bill’s Run about four years ago, Ray has foregone skiing for scuba diving and is planning a dive trip for later this year. She won’t be flying stand-by, though
“Now we travel like regular people,” she said. “To this day, I have the travel bug.”
“You just have to jump at every chance you can. That is what we did. If someone said do it, we did it,” Ray said.
As Cox’s Facebook posts showed, “It’s been fun,” Ray said of their love story. “That’s the important thing, to keep a lot of fun in your relationship.”