Roger Brown started filming Vail before there was a Vail and it’s those stories that make his locals’ version of Vail’s video history so hilarious and touching and inspiring.
“Vail: The Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort,” is Brown’s 50-year history of North America’s largest ski resort.
Sure, there are essential pieces of Vail history — the 10th Mountain Division, Earl Eaton, Pete Seibert and dozens of others. Brown put together the original version as a made-for-TV movie — 750 hours of footage condensed to one hour – so lots of amazing tales were left out.
This version is made for locals, not TV. It’s 2 1/2 hours so it contains some amazing local legends.
“It’s much funnier,” Brown said.
There’s some of the stuff about Dr. Jack Eck and some of those early Vail medical escapades.
Some ski patrol stories capture what we’ll call the swashbuckling nature of those crews.
There’s the one about Bill Whiteford and the stripper. Whiteford built and opened the Casino, a nightclub in Vail Village. Once upon a time a group was in town on business and Whiteford hired a woman who made her living through her exotic tendencies and enormous physical gifts. Her name, she said, was Bo Peep and Whiteford hired her to be featured attraction of the evening’s entertainment.
“They were hauled before the town and made to answer for lewd and lascivious conduct,” Brown said.
There are Packy Walker stories, because no collection of Vail’s tales is complete without them. Like the time Packy was dressed as an elk and one of his buddies was dressed as a hunter. Legend has it that Packy strapped the hunter to the hood of his car and drove up to a local game warden.
For Brown the project is personal. The people who created Vail are his friends and fellow Vail pioneers. He remembers what it was like before 1968 when the first of Vail’s streets were paved. In fact, he has footage of it.
Stop and stay
Like so many of us, he was on his way to somewhere else — Aspen, in his case — when he was struck by the beauty of the Gore Creek Valley and stopped.
Bob Parker, Vail’s original marketing master, hired Brown to film the upstart company as they pitched their dream to potential investors. Time and time again when clients were driven to the top of Vail Mountain in a tiny Kristi Kat, Brown rode along.
When Pepi Gramshammer first skied down Vail’s Back Bowls in 1961, Brown was there. In fact, Brown fetched Gramshammer and loaded him into his VW microbus for the ride to what would become Vail.
Brown stuck around to help promote Rocky Mountain skiing around the world.
He remembers a pristine ranching valley so beautiful that you just wanted to “stop and get out and go trout fishing,” he says.
“Pete and Earl had their mountain, and they had a really beautiful valley, but they didn’t have a town, or lifts or trails, and they only had a summer to put it together — the summer of 1962,” Brown says. “They knew what they were up against, and they were incredibly optimistic. Anybody in his right mind would have said, ‘No way, you can’t do this, you can’t build a whole resort in five months.’ But they did, and it worked.”
Brown is an accomplished filmmaker and has a roomful of Emmy Awards to prove it. His son, Emmy Award winning producer and director Nicolas Brown, is accomplished in his own rite. Brown created the 50th anniversary film along with partners Garrett Edquist and Vail Resorts videographer Satchele Burns.
The movie magic happened mostly in Brown’s home, just off Cottonwood Pass Road in Gypsum. They spent countless hours in front of an Apple computer editing 50 years of footage.
The footage comes in all forms — film reels, videotapes, slides, and of course, Brown’s own memory.
There’s a 1981 clip showing Parker, one of Vail’s pioneers and the resort’s first marketing guru, talking about the attitude that built Vail, and that was it as much as anything that built Vail — with the possible exception of George Caulkins’ and his buddies coming up with most of the startup money.
“The pioneers had adopted a point of view that anything was possible — that they could handle anything,” Parker says. “We’ll do it, there’s a way to do it, and went ahead and did it and got it done, and that’s why Vail got built and that’s why it turned out the way it did.”
They built all the stuff, but they also built a lifestyle, Brown said.
“Fun permeated the entire place — if you weren’t having fun, you weren’t gonna stay. People who came to Vail really liked to ski and the skiing was fantastic, it is fantastic — deep powder, wide open slopes. The joy of skiing never goes away. It hasn’t gone away now; it’s still there. It’s exciting harnessing gravity, flying down the mountain, and somehow staying in control while you’re at it. You strap a couple of boards on your feet and head down and you get going — and the faster you go the easier it is to turn, mostly, until you go too fast. Yeah, it’s a wonderful experience. That hasn’t changed a bit. That’s why Vail is still successful. No matter what happens you can’t take that experience away.”
Brown has been telling Vail’s story for 50 years. He created the first promotional film about Vail in 1963, using footage he shot in the summer of 1962 as the resort was taking shape and during its first winter as a ski resort. He created the 25th anniversary film, “Vail: The First 25 Years,” in addition to other works featuring the region.
The story of Vail will go on, Brown says, but this film is where it ends for him.
“Fifty years later, I’m kind of wrapping it all up,” he says. “This is it.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.