Cardboard Bobby hits slopes |

Cardboard Bobby hits slopes

Wife takes cutout of soldier husband on ski vacation

Melinda Dudley
Niki Kelly heads to the terrain park at the Steamboat Ski Area on Friday with a cardboard cutout of her husband, Bobby, who is deployed in Iraq.
Courtesy Photo

— Bobby Kelly had a fabulous ski vacation in Steamboat Springs last week. He rode the gondola at the Steamboat Ski Area, tried out some new tricks in the terrain park, climbed aboard a snowmobile, and drank aprÃs-ski beers with his wife’s family.

“He’s had a blast, and he doesn’t even know it yet,” Bobby’s wife, Niki Kelly, said Friday.

Capt. Bobby Kelly, an Apache helicopter pilot for the Army, has been deployed in Iraq since summer. He is not due to return to Germany, where he and Niki have been stationed for almost three years, until November 2009.

Bobby introduced Niki to the ski slopes in Europe, and skiing during the holidays has become a Christmas tradition for the couple.

To cheer her up for the holidays, Niki’s family flew her to Steamboat Springs for a ski vacation. And they brought along a life-sized cardboard cutout of her husband so he wouldn’t miss out on the fun.

“They know how important it is for me to do something honoring him this Christmas, instead of staying home and moping,” Niki said. “When it’s something we’d do together, it makes me feel close to him. And it makes me laugh, which is what I think people need in times like this.”

“Cardboard Bobby” – really a promotional cutout of a character from the movie “Twilight” with Bobby’s head attached to it – quickly became part of the family’s activities this week.

“They actually include him in their conversations. It’s getting kind of weird,” Niki’s aunt, Tammy Loux, said with a laugh Friday.

His travels in Steamboat have been extensively documented and photographed, and Niki plans to surprise her husband with an album of their pseudo-Christmas vacation together. He was particularly jealous of the 20-inch powder day his wife got to ski Tuesday.

“He has a ‘spidey sense’ when it’s snowing. He wakes up and is like ‘fresh tracks!'” Niki said.

Because Bobby works a night shift, he slept through his unit’s Christmas meal and had a hot dog for dinner instead, Niki said.

“They’re trying to be festive, wear the Santa hats,” Niki said. “But on Christmas Day, it’s just really somber, because everybody wants to be home with their families.”

Cardboard Bobby sat next to Niki at Bear River Bar & Grill on Friday, dressed up for aprÃs ski Fat Tire pints and nachos with a red and blue scarf.

Jeni Gamble, the niece of Loux’s partner, described Bobby as an “out-of-control ski junkie.”

“He would’ve loved this trip. The whole time, we would’ve been eating his dust,” Jeni said.

In the photograph they chose for his cutout’s face, Bobby has a busted lip and a snow burn on his face from wiping out while skiing with Niki in Austria.

Niki’s family flew Cardboard Bobby from Florida to Philadelphia, where they attended a wedding, and then brought him to Colorado, concealing him from her the whole time. A week of winter weather has not been entirely kind to Cardboard Bobby, who has endured a few duct tape touch-ups. On Friday, his legs were cut off so he could fit on the chairlifts.

“He’s a local celebrity at this point,” Jeni said.

Despite a few odd looks from passersby, vacationers and locals have been interested to hear the story behind Cardboard Bobby, and they’ve been very receptive to his nontraditional ski vacation, Niki said.

“They’ll see us carrying him around, and ask questions. They’re so supportive,” Loux said.

“So many people do recognize that he would be here, but he’s in Iraq. It’s a huge sacrifice on so many levels,” Jeni said.

Strangers helped out, too, from the bus driver who loaned Bobby his cowboy hat, to the kids at the Steamboat Ski Area who helped terrain park novices Niki and her aunt with Bobby on Friday.

“They weren’t phased. They were like, ‘Oh, naturally, she wants to go off this jump with this cardboard cutout,'” Loux said.

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