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Adventurous doc looks at retirement as curve in journey

Dr. Dan Smilkstein is retiring after a 40-year medical career. He is sure to continue his lifetime of athletic adventures.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

After a 40-year medical career mostly serving rural Colorado and the Yampa Valley, Dr. Dan Smilkstein views his retirement this week not as an ending or beginning but rather as a curve in a lifetime of adventures.

Steamboat Springs residents Smilkstein and his wife, Mo, a retired nurse, are planning their next adventure to the Patagonia region in South America, as their lives have always been full of such adventures and athletic challenges. The couple has traveled on seven, monthlong trekking adventures to such places as India, Greece, Italy and Spain.

With the physician’s retirement from South Routt Medical Center, the couple, who are parents to four grown children combined and four grandchildren, will continue their journeys that Smilkstein said keep him excited and curious about life.



The medical center in Oak Creek will host an informal retirement meet and greet 4-5:30 p.m. Friday, in honor of Smilkstein, who has served as the medical director there since 2012.

Dr. Dan Smilkstein and his wife, Mo.
Courtesy photo

“Dr. Dan has been instrumental in establishing the South Routt Medical Center as a thriving medical practice,” said Ken Rogers, district manager of the South Routt Health Service District. “He understands the value of having a community-based health care center in South Routt and has been key in the success of our clinic. Dan has been a friend to everyone, and he will truly be missed.”



Smilkstein worked as a partner at Steamboat Medical Group from 1985 to 2015. During that time, he helped cover the Oak Creek and Hayden clinics until 2005 and served as medical director for North Park Medical Center in Walden from 2005 to 2012.

“The one thing that everybody loves about Dan, whether as a doctor or a friend, he always has the time to talk to you and listen and be patient. The things that make him great as a friend are what make him great as a doctor, too,” said longtime friend Bob Dapper, who described Smilkstein as low-key but committed, caring, adventurous and passionate.

Longtime friend Matt Tredway said Smilkstein is “unphased with what the rest of us lose sleep over,” which was tested on many challenging adventures with friends.

“He is so freakin’ all in on whatever he does, whether it be his medical practice or ice climbing,” Tredway said. “He just is able to keep his cool at all times, and it’s a very inevitable trait.”

The doctor finds the biggest changes through his four-decade medical career are the transitions from generalists to specialists. When Smilkstein started as a Steamboat doctor in 1984, following training and work in Los Angeles, Fort Collins and Lamar, Steamboat was home to about a dozen local full-time doctors. Early on, the doctor would treat local heart attack victims, then fly on the plane with the patients to provide care on the trip to Denver.

“You could do anything that you were trained to do and could demonstrate proficiency,” Smilkstein said. “It has become more and more specialized, either over specialized or under primary care.”

Smilkstein has been a family and emergency medicine doctor, yet he estimates he has delivered some 600 babies in his career. Among his interesting memories, he delivered two babies in one night from the same ranching family, when a mother and daughter both happened to go into labor on the same day. He also was the delivery doc for three infants who later grew up to work with him as nurses.

The physician also is an elite endurance athlete. He is an avid bicycle commuter, often riding to the Oak Creek clinic from his home in Steamboat. At times, he commuted to work in Hayden, and rode his bike a few times from Steamboat to work in Walden. The doctor has participated in a multitude of marathons, ultra-marathons and endurance races, such as the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, a 100-mile marathon mountain bike race, where he placed first in each age bracket in his 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

The many sporting interests of the doctor, 71, include running, cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, snowshoeing, rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, backpacking, ice hockey, off-road unicycling and more. He was instrumental in helping to establish local racing events and trails, such as creating the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council and helping create Emerald Mountain cross-country trails.

The doctor said he enjoys small-town medicine and the ability to help patients across many years.

“What excited me was the opportunity to follow people over a long period of time and to get involved with families. I enjoyed those long-term relationships, the opportunity to be involved in cradle to grave,” he said.

Whether as a multitalented physician or a well-rounded athlete, Smilkstein took on challenges, explaining, “I like to see what is possible.”

“I practiced what I would do in retirement for decades,” he said. “I tried to incorporate adventure and activities into my life all the way along.”


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