Seeding the sky
June 7, 2013
The Gore Creek Valley has long been in the resort business. Dick Hauserman was Vail’s first permanent resident, but Joseph Brett was the valley’s first settler when he came in from Leadville where he’d been working in the mines. He learned it was a wonderful hunting and fishing area, so he started the first resort.
Brett was guiding a hunt when he fell through the ice and his feet got frostbitten. He was taken to the big town in the area, Red Cliff, and the doctor amputated the front of his feet and threw them out the window. The last he saw of them, some dogs running off with his feet.
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VAIL — Perhaps the Southern Utes made it snow. Perhaps they had some help.
It was just before the ski season of 1963-64 when Vail Associates hired the Southern Ute tribe to come to town and do a snow dance.
For good measure they also hired a guy to take the ski company's first crack at cloud seeding.
"They didn't get any snow so they hired a cloud seeding guy," said Allan Nottingham.
The cloud seeding guy's name is lost to the winds of time – so we'll call him Cloud Seed Clem — but everyone still knows Nottingham.
The Nottingham ranch covered what's now most of Beaver Creek and part of Avon. If you've strolled through Avon's Nottingham Park or watched fireworks over Nottingham Lake, it's those guys.
Anyway, like lots of ranchers Nottingham had his own airplane so he could fly around to keep track of his livestock and also because it's fun.
Cloud Seed Clem hired Nottingham to fly him around the area. When clouds started rolling in, and they weren't too high, up they'd go.
"We flew over all the ski areas and he'd dump out this stuff," Allan said.
For the uninitiated, cloud seeding is an attempt to squeeze more moisture out of a cloud. Stuff like silver iodide is either lofted up into or dropped down into a cloud. The idea is that moisture collects around that stuff and falls out of the sky in greater amounts than it would have without it.
Turns out that stuff like salt is becoming more popular, another reason Nottingham was ahead of his time.
"My contract calls for me to seed the clouds today," Nottingham said to Cloud Seed Clem when conditions were less than ideal.
"He called me a damned fool, but I went up there and dumped out the salt and the stuff," Nottingham said.
And lo and behold, it snowed.
"I think I contributed. I don't think it was just the Indians," Allan said. "Vail owes its success to me seeding the clouds."