Vail celebrating 50 years of fun
December 17, 2012
VAIL, Colorado – Putting together a ski resort is a little like putting together a rock band. You know a guy who knows a guy and before you know it, music happens.That’s Vail’s story. Over the next several weeks the Vail Daily will share as many of Vail’s Tales, some historical, some hysterical, and profile some of the characters attracted to the Gore Creek Valley (that’s it’s official name), and how hard they worked and played.There’s Earl Eaton and Pete Seibert, of course, and how Pete badgered Jay Robert Fowler, an attorney in Denver. They got together with John Conway, who put together the deal to buy the 550-acre Hanson Ranch in the Gore Creek Valley. Jack Tweedy and George Caulkins got involved. Harley Higbie and Keith Brown were working with Caulkins in the oil industry and joined the fun.Finding and foundingVail was designed by architect Fitzhugh Scott to be exactly what it is, the world’s best ski resort. The stories about how it was founded and funded go on and on, and we’ll share as many as we can.By now this story is familiar. In March 1957 Earl Eaton took Pete Seibert to the top of a nameless mountain. Little known fact: Pete wasn’t Earl’s first date to this dance. In March 1955 Lefty MacDonald of Aspen made the trek to the top with Earl. They’d hiked to the top of what is now Beaver Creek the month before, and took forest ranger John Burke with them.MacDonald decided the Back Bowls would never be suitable ski terrain. He’d taken 15 people to the top of south-facing Little Annie Basin and they’d had an awful time getting down when the snow got crusty.Those back bowls would never be good for skiing, he told Earl.Earl was working in Aspen as a ski patroller and construction when he was introduced to a man named Blair, head of the chairman of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. Earl drove Blair to Denver from Aspen and when they rolled through the Gore Creek Valley Earl told Blair he was looking at it for a new ski area, and that he was trying to find money to build it. They never saw each other again.No uraniumAnother little known fact: Eaton did not discover Vail Mountain while prospecting for uranium. He never corrected the tale because, “It makes a good story.”Eaton was raised here and told Dick Hauserman, another Vail original, he had been climbing to the top of that mountain since he was a kid, hunting with his brothers and dad.”I probably saw the back bowls when I was hunting,” Earl said in Hauserman’s book, “The Inventors of Vail.””I was in my teens and that might have been the first time I looked over at the back bowls. After that I had my eyes on the back bowls for a lot of years.”Hauserman heard about Vail in the summer of 1959 when Pete Seibert called. At first he said no thanks. A couple weeks later Seibert showed up with a small 16 mm film, mostly of Piney Lake and some aerial shots of the Back Bowls. Hauserman reversed his decision and started recruiting investors.”Everybody thought we were out of our minds. But we knew this had to be a success,” Hauserman said.There’s the story of how Caulkins and Seibert cross-crossed the country in Caulkins’ red Porsche raising money to build the thing. They found some, but not quite enough, which inspired Caulkins to get creative about mining for money from friends and business associates. It’s another great story.It took a year to negotiate the deal to buy the Hanson Ranch where Vail Village is now, 550 acres for $50,000. One of the ranchers down the valley said, “Mr. Hanson you should be ashamed of yourself. You know that land is worth only $30 an acre.”They were so afraid someone would steal their idea they called it the Trans Montane Rod and Gun Club. It soon became Vail and Vail soon became home for so many of us.”The best part was being part of an unusual opportunity that achieved worldwide fame, the thrill of being a little teeny part of it in the beginning,” Hauserman said in a video interview.Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.