‘You can’t buy that kind of publicity’
April 19, 2013
VAIL – Reopening Vail Mountain for an extra weekend is pretty cool. Reopening it six weeks after closing day is really cool.
Vail Associates, the precursor to Vail Resorts, reopened Vail Mountain in early June of 1983 or ’84. Harry Frampton had just finished his first ski season as president of the company, and recalled that the late spring weather turned snowy, just like it has the past couple of weeks.
“We had something like four or five feet of snow,” Frampton said. So, with a few people on hand, the company reopened the mountain.
Frampton recalled that much of the mountain crew was off in warmer climates, particularly Lake Powell. Larry Lichliter, then the company’s chief operating officer, started making some calls, and, in those days before cell phones, actually got through to several key employees.
“Enough came back that we were able to do it,” Frampton said.
Soon enough, there were photos in the national press of skiing in June at Vail.
“We got incredible press from it,” Frampton said.
Longtime resident Craig Denton wasn’t in town when the mountain reopened that year – in fact, he and his family were in Hawaii. But they heard about skiing in June in Vail, from both friends and in the national press.
“Everybody we heard from was excited – and you can’t buy that kind of publicity,” Denton said.
While Vail doesn’t reopen very often, bonus skiing returned just a couple of years later, after George Gillett had bought Vail Associates.
“We really enjoyed it – we had a lot of fun,” Gillett said, adding that the bottom line didn’t have much to do with the move at the time – and probably doesn’t now.
“It’s not done with a profit motive in mind,” Gillett said. “In fact, it’s expensive as all get-out.”
Gillett said reopening a ski area requires everything from permission from insurance companies to making sure there are qualified people to run the equipment.
“Not just anyone can run a lift,” he said.
Gillett praised Vail Resorts for reopening the mountain, as well as Breckenridge, this year.
“It’s a goodwill gesture of the highest order,” he said. “One would hope it would create goodwill down the road, but that’s hard to determine.”
Before the 1980s, memories start to get hazy. Vail Resorts doesn’t have any official records of the mountain reopening before that decade. But some long-time residents remember days of spring skiing after the lifts had officially closed.
Rod Slifer came to Vail the summer before the first season. He said his memory isn’t clear, but does recall post-season days when people would ride lifts up to the Look Ma run, do a bit of gate-bashing, then head down the hill for an afternoon of golf.
And, Slifer said, adult beverages featured prominently in those post-season parties.
“I remember the (on-mountain) bars were open,” Slifer said. “That was before the ski company was worried about that sort of thing.”
Pete Seibert Jr. was just a youngster in those years right after his father and the resort’s other pioneers created the resort.
“They didn’t open the whole resort for those ski-golf days, but they got up there,” Seibert said.
Seibert finished the first couple of years Vail was open in a cast due to various ski-season injuries.
In general, Seibert said Vail’s first crop of kids had usually had enough of skiing by the time the season was over. The adults, though, were another story.
Merv Lapin was one of those young adults in Vail’s early days. Like Slifer, he said his memory is hazy about post-season skiing in the early days. But, he added, he’s ready for some bonus skiing now.
“I’ll go up – it’ll be fun,” Lapin said. “And I’ll remember this.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.