1971 – time to "awaken’ Beaver Creek
This vast, untouched mountain was just eight miles from Vail, a magnificent 2,200-acre mix of rolling woodsy slopes, gentle mountain meadows and screamingly steep drops. It remained a sleeping kingdom until 1971. Then it was time to awaken it and transform it into one of the most luxurious resorts in the world.
As CEO of Vail, I engineered the purchase of Beaver Creek by Vail Associates. The price was $4.4 million, a deal won only after years of jawing and gnawing and chewing tobacco with the owner of the land we needed, a stubborn old rancher named Willis Nottingham.
Once Nottingham finalized the sale in 1971, we were ready to develop the area. We had our permit requests ready to go, and the Forest Service was inclined to grant them. We also had the money. The only thing wrong was our timing, which coincided with the infamous collapse of the Colorado Winter Olympics planned for 1976.
No one told the story more succinctly than Paul Hauk of the U.S. Forest Service, our old friend and sometime nemesis from the years when we started Vail. He produced an 11-page, single-spaced report of all that went on, declaring in the first paragraph:
“This chronology is primarily a history of confrontations dating back to late 1967 and Denver’s successful bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics. That designation led to the political and environmental in-fighting regarding the sites for the various events, especially Alpine and cross-country skiing. The Alpine conflict began in earnest in 1970 and ended in February 1972, when Beaver Creek was finally designated after the choices bounced between Mt. Sniktau (near Loveland ski area) and Copper Mountain. Nine months later, on Nov. 7, 1972, nearly 900,000 voters by a 3-2 margin approved the state Referendum Initiative and killed the ’76 Winter Games for Denver and Colorado – something that had never happened anywhere since the modern Games were revived in 1896.”
Well, that was it in a nutshell: confrontation, contest and in-fighting, followed by – what else? – a killing. I had greatly looked forward to creating a true Olympic village at Beaver Creek, doing it right from scratch. And I had looked forward to designing trails – Olympic trails – over that vast terrain. But we were left empty-handed: no Olympic races at Beaver Creek and no Forest Service permission to build lifts and trails and buildings, either.
Hauk wrote: “Vail Associates was, as one magazine put it, “Up the creek without a permit.’ Beaver Creek literally became a political football for the next three years, until the special-use permit was finally issued by the Forest Service on March 22, 1976.”
It was a long, and expensive, football game. We had spent about $6 million on the project. The estimated interest on the money we had borrowed from a Denver bank was $425,000 a year. After I left the company, its new owner, Harry Bass, had no choice but to keep on spending to keep that football in the air for everyone to kick. We had hoped we could get to work and open for the 1977-’78 season. But there was no chance. The state of Colorado asked the Forest Service to hold off on issuing the permit, claiming it violated the agency’s own guidelines and that it would cause the “urbanization” of the upper Eagle Valley.
Editor’s note: This is 60th 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 12, entitled “Beaver Creek.” 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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