1976 – a turning point for Vail, Seibert | VailDaily.com
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1976 – a turning point for Vail, Seibert

Peter W. Seibert
Courtesy Vail ResortsIn the early-1970s, Vail was a regular stop on the hotdog skiing circuit, on which aerial competitions wowed large crowds and set the stage for modern freestyle skiing. And Vail was seeing incredible growth, welcoming its millionth skier in the spring of 1968, then its 5 millionth in 1976. Nobody aniticpated, however, that the resort's "glory years" were soon to end.
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Because of Vail, all of Eagle County blossomed and grew – from East Vail to Gypsum, some 40 miles along Interstate 70. After showing signs of prosperity in the early years, the towns of Avon and Edwards simply exploded in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming affluent and progressive municipalities filled to the brim with shops, restaurants, condominiums and houses.

Not only did Vail prosper in those years, but so did the entire Colorado ski industry.

One reason for this was the cooperative marketing done by Colorado Ski Country USA, the association of Colorado resorts. The organization was the brainchild of my 10th Mountain Division buddy Steve Knowlton, who was its first executive director. The name itself was conceived by Bob Parker, who had used it in Vail’s first marketing campaigns.

“Vail, Colorado, Ski Country USA,” the ads said.

At a meeting of the Southern Rockies Ski Areas Association in 1964, Knowlton had asked me if the state association he was proposing could use the name. Neither Bob Parker nor I had any objection, and thus CSCUSA was born.

All sorts of firsts can be attributed to the association. It was the first ski-resort organization in the world dedicated to marketing and promotion, setting the stage for Ski Utah, Ski New England and a host of others that followed. It was also the first to conduct independent research. A ground-breaking economic-impact study of the ski business and a study of the effects of snowmaking on water supply were just two of CSCUSA’s pioneering efforts.

We welcomed our one-millionth skier in the spring of 1968; our five-millionth in 1976.

In December 1972, Time magazine published a cover story about the phenomenal worldwide boom in skiing, declaring: “The nation now has nearly 700 ski areas, double the number a decade ago. At least 6 million Americans are skiers and the total is climbing 15 percent a year. Round the world more than 20 million people ski. For the world’s resort owners, hotel operators, travel agents, equipment makers, clothing designers, real estate speculators and orthopedic surgeons, skiing this year will be a $10 billion enterprise.”

Time chose Vail as the centerpiece for the story, calling it “an instant Alpine community that is the most successful winter resort built in the U.S. in the last decade.” The magazine went on to explore both the pros and the cons of Vail’s rapid growth:

“As in any ski town there are problems of extreme expansion and contraction. The population swells from 700 in the summer to 10,000 in the winter. There is a shortage of moderate-income housing for Vail’s ski instructors, waiters and salespeople, many of whom live in a trailer camp a dozen miles away. The permanent year-round residents who run the town are mostly conservative, family-oriented folk. They can afford to pay $35,000 or more for condominiums.

“When Vail grew so big that it could no longer be run by Pete Seibert alone, he moved up from president to chairman and brought in Richard L. Peterson, a Harvard MBA. Last year the company grossed $6,700,000 from lifts, ski school, restaurants and land sales, and earned $812,000 after taxes. Expanding, it recently spent $4.6 million for 2,200 acres of Beaver Creek, seven miles from the main development: the area is scheduled to open in 1975.

“Seibert himself owns Vail stock worth more than $600,000. But, he insists: “Money is really not my thing. More important, I’m right where I have wanted to be since I was a kid.”

Vail kept on prospering through the 1960s and into the 1970s. We were blessed with good snow in November most of the time, giving us early openings that made money – and also made friends of skiers everywhere.

In 1968 we successfully headed off a takeover threat from a Denver investor whose company had the puzzling name Unlimited, Ltd.

Dick Peterson’s arrival as president of Vail Associates freed me to pursue exciting new ventures, such as the purchase of neighboring Beaver Creek in 1971, and the acceptance of Vail and Beaver Creek as official venues for the proposed Colorado Winter Olympics in 1976.

There had been considerable competition among resorts for the privilege of hosting Olympic events. Bob Parker and I had gone to Sapporo, Japan, in 1972 when the International Olympic Committee officially chose Colorado to host the next Winter Games. We envisioned glory and gold medals. Nine months later, however, the Olympics were voted down in a statewide referendum.

Despite the blow, our reputation, our morale and our profits continued to soar. Then came another blow on a bright March day in 1976, and we had to face the fact that we were not invulnerable to terrible events. Indeed, for all practical purposes, I came to the end of my dream because of what happened that day.

Editor’s note: This is the 52nd 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 10, entitled “The Glory Years: 1963-1976.” 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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