‘The women built Vail’
Ryan Summerlin November 17, 2012
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Women of Vail,” by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. Books are available for purchase at www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
Authors’ note: Christie Hill (known as Blanche Hauserman in Vail’s early years) was one of the first women to arrive for Vail’s opening in September 1962 with her husband, Dick Hauserman. Blanche had a well-traveled and unique life. She was raised in Boston and later moved to North Conway, N.H., where she fell in love with skiing and met and married Austrian skier Benno Rybizka. She moved to Mont Tremblant in Canada and on to Sun Valley, Idaho. John Fripp, former ski school director at Mont Tremblant, remembers her well, “Blanche Rybizka? She was a real dish. She was on the front page of Life magazine.” During that time, Blanche Christian (as she had been known during her modeling career) traveled the world to model ski wear. She graced the cover of Life twice but considered herself a skier, not a model. Blanche was a good friend of Peter Seibert, who later convinced her to come and be part of Vail’s new frontier. She had a vision for Vail and was dedicated to making it work. Friends still talk of her elegance, enthusiasm and crisp sense of humor.
Although Christie gives much credit to her husband during the early years of Vail, she was his partner and an independent businesswoman as well. Although Dick created the Vail logo, Christie was crucial in designing the famous Vail ski instructor parka, suggesting that the distinctive diagonal stripe across the chest and back mimic the sashes that the Queen’s guards wear in England. She still lives in the same apartment above the original Vail Blanche, at the base of the Vista Bahn.
By Christie Hill
I moved to Vail because I am an adventuress, and I have skied all my life. Peter Seibert came to me when they were building Vail. I knew him and Bob Parker from the East, and they convinced me to come here and open a store. I had done a lot of magazine covers, so I wasn’t just known in the ski world. I knew an awful lot of people, so when they were trying to raise money for Vail, they asked me to help.
I was the only skier in my family. I had been modeling and was good friends with Toni Frissell (the fashion photographer), and she did a couple of big pictures for me in Vogue magazine. I wasn’t known in the fashion industry, so the photographers wanted to know who I was, and that is how I got started. Dick Hauserman and I met and married before we came to Vail. He worked in his family’s business, the Hauserman Co., and was tired of it. I suggested we go do something else. When we first came to Vail, he had nothing to do, but since he was a salesman, he really got into promoting Vail. I believe that without Dick, there would be no Vail. He used to stop people on the streets and tell them to come into town. He was a huge salesman for the fledgling resort.
When I first arrived, there was no town. I can’t remember exactly the feeling when I saw the place, but I knew we wanted to build something. I knew this part of the country. Dick wasn’t a skier, and he didn’t learn to ski until after we were married. It was a tradeoff; but he wanted me to golf. So I told him, “I’ll learn to golf if you learn to ski.”
We stayed at Jack Olson’s until my place was completed. Jack lived in Minturn, but he had a little house across the road just to the west in Vail. Dick had to go back East, and I stayed in the house by myself while Dick was gone. The house had mice, and I was alone. When I heard them running around at night, I took a blanket and pinned it tightly around my neck so they couldn’t get to me. I’d sit with a flashlight to see where the hole was so I could stuff it so they wouldn’t get to me.
A ﬂat mountain
Vail was in the middle of nowhere. Pete Seibert took me out on a snowcat on the mountain and asked, “What do you think of it?” I replied, “It’s flat.” He surmised, “That’s what most skiers want, and this will bring in the skiers.” He was right, of course, because there are more average skiers than expert skiers, and this mountain could give many more skiers the ski experience. Pete also took me to the top of the mountain and showed me the back bowls. I used to ski a lot and also taught skiing. My first reaction about the skiing here remained: this was a flat mountain, that’s all. We didn’t have any steep runs back then.
My building (Vail Blanche, with the apartment upstairs) was the first commercial building in Vail. Vail Blanche was right downstairs from my residence and was completed around 1963. I spent 1962 planning for the opening with my partner, Bunny Langmaid, whom I had known from Boston. There were very few women in Vail at the time. Those who were here soon became friends. I don’t feel that I gave up anything moving to Vail. There was nothing difficult at all about it; it was an adventure. I thought it was wonderful, and I never thought of leaving. Of course, there were hard times. For example, early on, we had to get water straight out of the creek. First, I’d brush my teeth then wash my face. Then we poured it in the toilet tank and put up a sign that said, “Don’t flush unless necessary.” The only toilet that really worked well at all belonged to the Fitzhugh Scotts.
We realized the dream of Vail was coming together that first Christmas. Because there was no snow, the Ute Indians had been invited to do a snow dance. The fact that there was no snow actually made us happy because we were still building the gondola, and the Vail Blanche building was connected to it. Every day was a challenge, and opening the store that first day was quite remarkable.
It was also the first day we put water through the pipes in the house above the shop. The pipes broke, and water came down through the electric lights into the shop. Pepi Gramshammer was in the shop, and he always helped me because I did the ski boots. The water poured right on top of him! There weren’t many customers, fortunately. In fact, we had so few customers that I used to deliver their shoes or whatever they bought to their hotel.
Many of the wives helped in the shop. Camille Bishop and Heather Slifer worked there, as did Anne Staufer. It was one of the only places to work. Bunny and I were very busy running the shop, cleaning and doing everything ourselves, but I skied every day. Bunny and I put a sign on the door that said, “Gone skiing.” We got up around 5 a.m. and did the things you had to do here, like carrying the water, and then opened at 9 a.m. We’d ski and come back to the shop around 2:30 or 3 p.m. and stay open until 6 or 7 p.m. We were always exhausted.
As the population grew, people had parties. People like the Parkers would have you over in the evening for a little party, which meant we got together to have some drinks. Drinking wasn’t too much of a problem because we couldn’t afford it. During the summers, we’d fish and hike. I did everything with Bunny and Joe.
Larry Burdick came the first year and started building the Red Lion. He went back to Kalamazoo and brought back his wife, Marge. He was a wonderful man, the son of a banker, and had skied in Europe. When Larry designed the Red Lion, he gave it a European look. There were often skiers with broken legs coming off the mountain after a day of skiing. We’d have them lined up in the middle of the road on pallets in front of the Red Lion. Dr. Steinberg would come by and examine them, and I’d give them a shot of brandy to keep them going.
There was a very simple grocery store in Minturn. I taught the man who ran it about food, told him about Pepperidge Farm and convinced him to bring in a variety of products. The only locals around Minturn worked around the railroad or the mines. I remember an older man who owned part of the river and didn’t want people fishing on his easement. He put up a sign that said, “Anyone who steps over this line will be shot into hell.”
Nobody cared who anyone was. We all worked hard. In my opinion, it was the women who made this town. The women built Vail. Without them, we wouldn’t have the schools or the community. I’m not the kind to remember the inconveniences, because I came to pioneer. Of course, there were inconveniences, but you didn’t expect to have what you had before. This is home. I’ve never thought of going anywhere else.
“Women of Vail” was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer-editor.