Vail Tales: William the Good
Ryan Summerlin December 30, 2012
VAIL, Colorado – Somewhere around here on New Year’s Eve we’ll have fireworks, which is good.
But Vail original Bill Whiteford fired off Vail’s first fireworks in 1962 without anyone’s permission, which is better.
There wasn’t much Whiteford wouldn’t do for fun, and he had fun pretty much whenever he felt like it.
Think of Whiteford grinning when you ski through Mid-Vail on your way to a libation location.
Whiteford was one of Vail’s original investors and one of its all-time great characters.
Take his Ice Bar, for example.
He decided he wanted a drink, possibly two, and he was a self-sufficient man. So, at Mid-Vail, he set up his Ice Bar and served drinks to skiers.
“Somehow he got away with it,” Harley Higbie said.
The Ice Bar was hardly his last libation location.
In the ’60s, he built the Gondola Boutique Building, where the Tap Room is now.
Then came the Casino nightclub, modeled after the Reisch Tanz Casino in Kitzbuhel, Austria. In 1965, it was billed as the largest discotheque in North America.
Whiteford came down from his top-of-the-mountain Ice Bar long enough to build Casino Vail, the “plushest, most way-out nightclub in the Rockies,” gushed the Denver Post in 1965. It was the largest discotheque in the Rockies at the time.
Whiteford opened it in style with 250 invited guests, including some of the top executives from American corporations.
It doesn’t say how much it cost Whiteford to build it, but he spent $400,000 to furnish it. The sound system was one of the most elaborate in the nation at that time and cost $20,000 and was the first of its kind in a ski resort.
It was set up like an Elizabethan theater and held 250 people for dining and dancing.
“Bettan Olwaeus, a beauty from Sweden, will preside over the discotheque dancing from a raised platform,” the Denver Post said.
Whiteford’s nickname was “William the Good.”
“Maybe because he wasn’t so good,” Higbie said.
“He had a vivid imagination and was a very good writer and was very witty and loved to sort of get the better of people and entertain people,” said his son, Erik Whiteford.
Speaking of writing, in his book, “Inventors of Vail,” Dick Hauserman recalled satiric newspaper columns, penned under the name “Belle Forrest,” that began to appear in the Rocky Mountain News detailing the social strata of Vail Village. The stories, which divided the population into “beautiful people,” businessmen and “restless rabble,” created quite a stir in Vail.
Whiteford denied any knowledge of Belle Forrest.
Whiteford was a larger-than-life personality whose storytelling at times blurred the lines between fact and fiction, as good stories sometimes do.
The Casino got credit for all sorts of things.
Whiteford would bring all sorts of bands and entertainers – including Dizzy Gillespie – the nascent village wouldn’t have dreamed of having otherwise.
“Whiteford’s part in the beginning of Vail was just tremendous,” Hauserman said.
Then there was the huge Christmas tree hung upside-down in the middle of the dance floor. They’d have Christmas-tree-climbing competitions.
They had turtle races, where they would put a circle on the floor and put little tiny turtles with numbers on their backs in the circle, and you’d buy a turtle. The fastest to get out of the circle would win.
Whiteford’s father was chairman of Gulf Oil Co., which is curious because when the fledgling Vail Associates asked Gulf Oil’s Denver branch to build a service station, Gulf’s Powers That Be told VA to call back in a couple of years.
Whiteford was one of the original 20 investors in the Vail Corp. He came to Vail in its first year, 1962.
He was born in Oklahoma on July 20, 1928. He attended Stanford University and graduated from the University of Michigan.
He lived in Vail from its opening until 1969, when he moved to Denver. He returned to the Vail Valley in 1987, living in Edwards until 2002. He passed away in 2008.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.