Lorraine and Harley: A Vail love story
February 13, 2013
VAIL, Colorado – Harley Higbie was one of four guys skiing in Zermatt, Austria, when they spotted Lorraine and offered her a ride down the mountain.
It might not have been love at first sight, but it came on pretty fast.
They met in March, were engaged in September and were married in October in Woodstock, Vt.
Lorraine got to go to Europe skiing only because she agreed to bring her mother her along. Her mother approved of Harley and so did Lorraine. She still does.
Life happens; so does love
Our lives are a product of the decisions we make, and in the 1950s Harley was offered a job in Grosse Point, Mich., and another in Oklahoma City with George Caulkins’ oil company. When he and Lorraine decided to try Oklahoma, their future was set.
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George Caulkins was single at the time and bought a house in Aspen, and in the late 1950s Harley and Lorraine would load up the kids and drive all day and all night from Oklahoma to Aspen to ski. When they headed back to Oklahoma, Lorraine would get a kink in her neck looking back to the mountains they were leaving behind.
One day, as fate would have it, they skied Aspen with Pete Seibert, who worked in Aspen and lived in Aspen up the street from Caulkins.
They first heard about Vail in 1958 when George returned from Oklahoma City from Aspen, and announced he was getting involved with building a new ski area in Colorado.
In 1959 Caulkins moved his Caulkins Oil company from Oklahoma City to Denver, and Lorraine and Harley headed to the Mile High City. One day Pete said, “C’mon I’ll show you the mountain.”
They rode up the mountain in a yellow jeep, Pete and his wife, Betty, Harley and Lorraine.
Harley took one look at the Back Bowls and said, “That’s it. I wanted to be part of this.”
That’s the way it went most of the time; $5,000 would buy you a piece of history, Harley said.
“We took people up the mountain and they’d come down with pen in hand ready to sign the contract,” Harley said. “Remember, $5,000 was quite a bit of money in those days.”
Keith Brown was working with Harley and Caulkins at Caulkins Oil and jumped on board.
“If you’re going to do it I guess I have to do it to,” Brown said.
Brown recruited John Murchison, who started the Dallas Cowboys. Murchison came up with a huge bunch of the money to launch Vail in 1962.
Here’s where Harley Higbie is solid gold.
Most of Vail’s investors were wealthy and their income tax rate in those days was 90 percent. Harley calculated that if they invested $10,000 in a business like, say, an upstart ski area, they could claim up to $8,500 worth of tax breaks.
“That’s how the deal was done,” Harley said.
But building Vail wasn’t about making money, it was about creating something new.
“It was about the spirit of the place, building something,” Harley said.
The Higbie clan moved into their house on Mill Creek Circle, an upscale address now but the edge of the earth then.
“The Trailways buses went through here on Highway 6 on their way to Aspen,” Lorraine said. “We could look out the window to see the buses, then run over to the other window to see if they stopped. If they stopped we knew we had some customers.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.