A son’s view of the founding of Vail | VailDaily.com

A son’s view of the founding of Vail

Carl Eaton
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyEarl Eaton called himself a "finder" rather than a "founder" of Vail Mountain.

There we were just hanging out after dinner having a cup of tea and talking about nothing in particular. It soon became a comfortable silence, then dad said he was about ready to go get horizontal.

I asked him to tell me a story before he went to bed. Silence.

“Well I don’t know” he says.

So I asked him to tell me about how he came to “find” Vail Mountain. I asked if it was during a hunting trip or while prospecting for uranium or what. You know the local history books tell stories like that. I wanted the truth.

He started out telling me how he worked at the Climax mine for a while after World War II. He new he had the skiing bug and had the dream of starting a ski area even at that time. This was before he had moved to Aspen.

He continued on to tell me how he took off from the top of Fremont pass (near Climax) on skis searching for his dream. “The next thing I new I was on the top of what is now Copper Mountain,” he said.

He said he skied down to the bottom and hitched a ride back up the pass. Wow, pretty cool. He very well may have been the first one to ever ski Copper.

We talked about Aspen for a while and how he was on the ski patrol and trail crew there. He actually was in charge of the ski patrol there for a while. Anyway, those stories were good but he didn’t really say much about how it had anything to do with finding Vail Mountain other than there were a lot of other dreamers there.

Then there was the arrowhead. “The first and only arrowhead I ever found.”

He was walking across Eagles Nest Ridge just below the top of where lifts 3 and 7 are today, kind of around the top of Kangaroo Cornice. He was in a tree island and just happened to look down and there it was.

“That was my good luck charm and I still have it” He found it the very first time he climbed up the shining mountain.

“How did you get there and why?” I asked.

“Well, I would always look up at the Game Creek basin from down around Edwards and thought it might have some skiing potential.” He went on to tell me how he parked in Minturn and started hiking up.

“There was a real good trail at the time because there were cattle and a lot of sheep that use to range up there. Most of the land going up Game Creek was private but you didn’t have to worry about trespassing back then. In fact I didn’t even see another person the whole time.” Wow, imagine that!

He got to the top where Wildwood is now. That was the first time he saw Sundown bowl as ski potential. He had hunted up Two Elk as a kid but never looked at the Back Bowls as he saw them that day.

He then worked his way down the ridge to a point where he could see down into South Mill Creek Basin. “It was perfect.” he recollected.

A wide open bowl with sparse trees and almost natural ski runs lay below. The trees in that area have grown considerably over the last five decades. Years later they (Pete and Earl) named the whole area Swingsville because the terrain allowed you to just swing back and forth down the slope. Today, of course, it is known as Mid-Vail.

I asked about Beaver Creek too. He said he hiked up it and skied down from the top. “There were a lot of tight trees but every now and then you’d hit an open spot. You would just have to take your time and traverse through the timber.”

It’s hard to imagine. I asked him whether Vail or Beaver Creek was his main priority in the beginning. “About the same,” he said.

“It probably would have been Beaver Creek if not for the Back Bowls.” He would hike up Vail Mountain monthly during the winter and take snow measurements so as to prove that the south facing slopes of the Back Bowls would hold enough snow to ski. I guess he proved his point.

Well there you have it. The real story of how Vail (and Beaver Creek) was found. It was many years later and a lot of looking for potential investors before Vail was founded. That’s a whole other story.

I just wanted to share a little story with everyone. I am honored and very proud to be his son as are my siblings. I am so glad he climbed up that mountain that day and never gave up on his dream.

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