1957 – Vail becomes a "future study’
The forester we dealt with mostly was Paul Hauk, a Colorado-born skier, avalanche expert, and mountain man supreme. He was also a cautious – and sometimes cantankerous – caretaker of the Rocky Mountain wilderness who often ruled against new ski developments -but not always.
Hauk served as a keeper of the environment during skiing’s boom years, from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s. During those decades, increasing numbers of new skiers poured into the mountains every year, and new trails and new lifts spread like wildfire over every kind of mountain range, both east and west.
“It is very likely that Paul Hauk has exercised more leverage over the direction of skiing on public lands than any other Forest Service official,” Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post wrote Paul Hauk retired in 1977.
Whenever there was a ski decision to be made, Hauk’s smoke-gray crewcut always was among the group with heads and voices lowered in consultation.”
So our first move was to bring Hauk to our mountain and convince him to make the right decision. Earl and I hiked with him to the top in the summer of 1957 and, wise man that he sometimes was, Hauk found the place just as enthralling as we did.
“It has a greater potential and variety than Aspen – especially when the Two Elk Creek (the future Back Bowls) slopes are considered,” Hauk wrote in his official Forest Service report. “Snow conditions should be better than Aspen due to the slightly higher elevations, colder local temperatures and better exposures.
“The area has quite a potential and I would venture to say that Seibert might even resign his job at Loveland Basin and start promoting financial backing,” he also predicted, going on to say that “if the necessary land can be purchased, or if a lease-purchase option can be arranged, we will have another formal application on our hands.”
To avoid that he recommended the whole project be placed in “future study” for a year.
We were not happy to be relegated to a vague backwater called “future study.” But Hauk was right about at least one thing: I did resign from Loveland.
However, I didn’t go hunting for money full-time-not yet. Instead I went to Aspen Highlands in the summer of 1957. As assistant manager I would be advising the owner, Whipple Van Ness Jones, on laying out trails and liftlines for his newly approved area, which was to open in January 1959. Earl Eaton was there, too, to supervise the building of the ski lifts. During the day we worked for Whip Jones, but at night we worked for ourselves, preparing formal applications for development permits at Vail and, yes, laying the groundwork with would-be investors.
In early 1959, Earl and I inducted two new members into the exclusive Transmontane Rod and Gun Club. This made for six members in all. One of the newcomers was Jack Tweedy, a partner in the Denver law firm of Tweedy and Fowler; the other was George Caulkins, president of a Denver oil business.
Both were skeptical about committing themselves to my dream, which sometimes seemed to get dimmer as each week went by.
“Peter, is this a hobby or a business?” Tweedy asked me bluntly.
And Caulkins declared, “My friends suggested I keep my house at Aspen in case Vail doesn’t work out.”
Despite their cynicism, however, both would prove to be absolutely essential to the coming campaign to bring Vail Mountain to life.
Editor’s note: This is the 34th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Seven, entitled “Money to Buy the Dream.”The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.