Vail 50th anniversary tales: Flying high with Vail’s first ski team
Ryan Summerlin March 7, 2013
Editor’s note: Dusty Delario has been around Vail since 1962 and told us this story. He was part of Vail’s original ski school and was part of this adventure.VAIL – You work like a slave to build an entire ski area in six months and you’d think Mother Nature would drop a little snow on you.But in 1962 you would be wrong.There was so little snow on Vail Mountain as that first season loomed that some wise guy drove his car to Mid-Vail. It was early December, and Rod Slifer was that wise guy.But that’s a different story. We’re talking about Vail’s first ski team.You may have a ski mountain with no snow, but you still have promote it.That leads us back to Vail’s Bob “The Marketing Magician” Parker and Morrie Shepard, Vail’s first ski school director, and their fertile imaginations.And that’s how, around Thanksgiving 1962, a bunch of Vail’s ski instructors came to be perched on a platform four stories above the May D&F department store’s ice skating rink in downtown Denver.Their task was to promote the new Vail ski area, and sometimes promotion can be death defying.To win glory and honor, all these newly minted Vail ski instructors had to do was ski pretty much straight down a four-story, carpet-covered ramp.They looked down, they looked at each other, and they looked down again. They didn’t name the ramp “Pallbearer Peak,” but only because they were too busy figuring out how to survive to think about anything cutesy at the time.Vail’s ski instructors picked were from the East or from Europe and were supposed to be able to ski hard pack and difficult conditions. Maybe not like this, but difficult.They had no training runs and falling was not an option, especially in front of a large skeptical Denver audience, ready to poke fun at that upstart ski area. And also, if they fell they’d become a physics lesson about inertia.When dealing with protests, Morrie had a way of cutting to the heart of the matter by asking, “Where are you going to be teaching next season?”They careened from their fourth-story perch to the skating rink, impressed the crowd, put on a good show and no one died.Pepi Gramshammer even jumped out a fourth floor window, onto the ramp and down to the ice rink.Marketing named them “Vail’s First Ski Team.”Somewhere in this photo is an adorable blonde whose name is lost to the winds of time. Bob Parker smiles when asked about it and says putting her in the picture seemed like a good idea at the time.”It still does,” Parker said.Later that year around Christmas, Morrie and Pete Seibert took the new instructors into the Back Bowls for the first time. They skied down Milt’s Face in 6 inches of sugary powder with grass and weeds up to their knees.There was a little whispering among the instructors that they didn’t think the average tourist would be able to ski the back side of Vail Mountain, but they didn’t complain to Morrie or Pete Seibert. They didn’t want to go back to that ramp.