1959 – Vail’s early battle with the Forest Service
We had accumulated all the complex information we needed about terrain conditions, and we had completed the application for a permit for year-round recreational development on Vail Mountain, to start in 1960. Full of hope and optimism, we filed the request with the Forest Service on May 11, 1959.
Less than 24 hours later, the regional forester, Paul Hauk gave us our answer – “no.”
“We agree that Vail is feasible and has the required potential for another major development in the White River National Forest,” Hauk explained. “However, since we have never given you any encouragement regarding a permit, we are disapproving your application. The reasons are:
– 1 – There is no real public need for the development at this time.
– 2 – We have an obligation to existing area permittees, especially at Aspen, who are entitled to complete their development and be allowed to get into the black before new areas are permitted on this forest.”
Reading this far I could hardly swallow. As I read on I became even more livid. “Our primary obligation,” wrote Hauk, “is to Whip Jones at Aspen Highlands. We estimate that he will need until 1965 to show a net profit at his ski area. At that time, we will be happy to reconsider your application. You, of course, have the right to appeal our decision.”
We just could not believe the U.S. government would guarantee profits to one private corporation by delaying the development plans of another private corporation. Free competition between two ski areas was being choked off. The whole thing had the vague smell of an antitrust violation, and I said so.
We filed an appeal immediately.
The Forest Service rejected it within a week with the same argument: They wanted to give Whip Jones time to profit without competition from a rival Colorado ski area.
By now it was August 1959. We had one final appeal. This time we lined up two very powerful, very friendly Colorado congressional representatives – Congressman Wayne Aspinall and Senator Gordon Allott – to argue the Vail side of the conflict. Aspinall stepped up to the plate on August 12 and fired off a smoking letter to Don Clark, head forester in Denver:
“I note the action of the Forest Service in denying Vail’s application for a special-use permit, basing the denial in part on the Forest Service policy that it has an obligation to existing area permittees to help them complete their developments and operate in the black before new areas are permitted to be developed.
“Don, it seems to be the prevailing philosophy of the Forest Service that it must … guarantee the financial success of those projects to which it has granted permits or leases – even to the extent of excluding similar projects. I would greatly appreciate your advising me as to the authority whereby this policy has been established.”
Three weeks later Clark sent a letter to Allott saying that “after considerable negotiations” Vail and the Forest Service had reached a compromise that satisfied both sides.
Indeed we had.
The compromise order made no mention of Whip Jones’s potential profit or loss. It not only gave us permission to start construction of a year-round recreational development on Vail Mountain in 1961, it allowed us to begin operation as a bona fide ski area in December l962. It was signed by the chief of the Forest Service on Sept. 8, 1959.
Looking back some 40 years later, I thank my lucky stars we didn’t have to wait until Whip Jones’s balance sheets showed black ink. If we had, John Hanson and John Conway might still be kicking tractor tires and spitting at beetles today.
Editors’ note: This is the 35th 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.
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