50th anniversary Vail Tales: A dream in the making
Ryan Summerlin December 15, 2012
VAIL, Colorado – Thousands of stars had to align for Vail to become Vail, and this is one of our favorites.
It really was a dark and stormy night in the early winter of 1958 when young Pete Seibert stopped by Max Dercum’s Ski Tip Ranch, just down the mountain from Arapahoe Basin ski area.
Dercum is the founder of Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas, and Ski Tip Ranch. Dercum had carved A-Basin out of the mountainside about 15 years earlier with a military surplus bulldozer and the spirit that won the West.
Dercum’s Forest Service permit for Arapahoe Basin cost him $2. He picked it up in the Dillon office and fired up his bulldozer.
Pete had been running the Loveland ski area, which is how he came to know Dercum.
Pete, as we now know, had a dream about building a ski area. Like all good ideas this one just wouldn’t leave him alone.
Pete wanted to chat about it with his old friend, Max, and also find a little shelter from the storm he was driving through on his way from Denver to Aspen. Pete parked his mother’s car that he had borrowed for the trip, knocked on Dercum’s door, and walked into the middle of a group from Wisconsin staying at Ski Tip Ranch.
That guest list read like a Who’s Who of early Vail and included architect Fitzhugh Scott, who came up with Vail’s American Bavaria concept. Original Vail stockholders and homeowners Pauline Armstrong and Wally Teipel were in the room.
Pete never saw an opportunity he wouldn’t seize. He exchanged pleasantries with Dercum and asked if he could show them something he was carrying in the back seat of his car. Dercum agreed, and a few minutes later the entire group was looking at that now-famous scale model of Vail Mountain, the one that’s currently on display in the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail.
“He was a little shy about bringing it in. He was trying to finance his dreams of Vail,” Dercum said. “He came in and that model was about 3-foot square. They all had a chance to look at it, and as they did he explained what his dream was.”
What happened next was straight from the story of Pete the Pied Piper.
“The next day they all followed him to the site that would become Vail,” Dercum said.
Seibert was trying to line up investors, 20 for $5,000 each.
“You have to remember that $5,000 was a lot of money in those days,” said Dercum. “They were all promised a building site in Vail for their investment.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Early in Vail, during the construction of the original gondola, I was there with a guest from Ski Tip Ranch visiting with Pete,” Dercum said. “He invited us to take a ride up the gondola.”
They took the ride up, wandered around the Mid-Vail site, then rode back down.
“When we got down, Pete grinned at us and said, ‘Well, I guess now it’s road tested,'” said Dercum. “Apparently, we were the first people to ride that gondola.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.