Author goes back in time at Beaver Creek |

Author goes back in time at Beaver Creek

Kim Fuller
Daily Correspondent
Onlookers celebrate at the ground-breaking ceremony for Beaver Creek on July, 20, 1977. From left to right are Jack Marshall, president of Vail Associates; former U.S. president Gerald Ford; and Harry Bass, chairman of Vail Associates. Local county commissioners, the U.S. Forest Service and Governor Lamm’s office had to submit approval of Beaver Creek before construction could begin. It took years to receive all the necessary approvals.
Vail Resorts | Special to the Daily |

If you go...

What: “Beaver Creek: A History in Pictures” with Laura Chiappetta Thompson

Where: The Bookworm in Edwards

When: Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m.

Where: The Bookworm of Edwards at The Riverwalk.

Cost: Tickets are $10 and include appetizers and the opportunity to purchase beer or wine.

More information: Visit or call 970-926-7323.

BEAVER CREEK — The first year Beaver Creek Resort was open, Laura Chiappetta Thompson had a job at the Spruce Saddle Lodge. She had moved to the area in 1980, and had the chance during that first winter season — 1980 to 1981 — to witness Beaver Creek’s inaugural year.

While some see that time as when Beaver Creek was born, the history of the area tells a different tale. Years later, Thompson has written and compiled the newest book on the history of the Beaver Creek. It’s the newest addition to Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, and the book, “Beaver Creek,” holds more than 200 vintage images and descriptions, documenting the first homesteaders in the late-1880s, and on through the development of what is now a world-class ski resort.

Thompson said it took her 11 months to complete the work, and that it was an intensive time of digging into the past.

“The biggest challenge was getting the images,” Thompson said, who compiled them from several sources, including the Eagle County Library, the Eagle County Historical Society, the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection, along with interviews with individuals and families tied to the history.

Thompson will present her book at The Bookworm of Edwards on Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m.

Timelining tales

Since 1883, adventurous spirits have come to the Colorado mountains to mine for minerals. Once the gold boom faded, some families stayed and homesteaded, farming and ranching to make ends meet. Agriculture was a way of life for Avon residents through the early 1970s, but the Beaver Creek drainage had a destiny drawn up by the visionaries of a ski resort.

While the pictures do paint their own words in this work, Thompson creates intimate accounts of the faces captured in every frame.

“I spent several days in this sealed, locked room, where I was allowed a pencil and paper that I was given,” she said, recalling her research time in the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library. Thompson’s laptop “blew up” last summer amidst her research, so she had to resort to old-fashioned means as she worked through the stacks.

“It was the library, and talking to people, and calling people that people had referred to me through word of mouth, and just asking everyone I knew if they knew anybody,” she said of the extensive research. “It was difficult because there were just so many dead ends; so many people from the early days have died.”

Original homesteading families like the Eatons and the Nottinghams were good sources, Thompson said, but tracking down photos was still a challenge — “it was a lot of detective work,” as she described it.

Framing stories

Early pages of the book bring the reader into stories of the originals — the Holden, Offerson, Nottingham, Townsend, Eaton, Metcalf, Rogers, Hart, Howard and Thomas families, to name a few — with family portraits and candid accounts.

The stories carry on into the dreams of development, and detail political battles over land permits and issues of environmental protection.

An open-range photo in the book, showing expansive land cut by only a dirt road, depicts what is now the paved gateway into Beaver Creek Resort. The photos show what was the Willis Nottingham ranch, and describe how in 1970, the 1976 Winter Olympics were awarded to Colorado, which would put the up-and-coming (but not-yet-created) resort in Beaver Creek on the map. However, the description goes on to say that Colorado declined the honor to host the Winter Games with the defeats of the bonds in the 1972 statewide election. The resort still came to be, as Nottingham sold 2,200 acres to Vail Associates in 1972.

Thompson’s account like this are extensive, and include highlights about the early days of lumber and lettuce, the waterwheel constructed in the 1930s that still exists east of the Beaver Creek and Eagle River confluence, a private plane crash in 1985 between Cinch and Beartrap ski runs near the bottom of the ski mountain, how the Arrowhead development was named for a white quartz arrowhead discovered by a hiker, and the influence of former Gerald R. Ford, who bought one of the first residential lots in Beaver Creek.

Most of the photos have off-shoots of a story behind them, Thompson explained, and often even more than she could share in words.

“The Fords had such a huge influence on Beaver Creek, and through the photos I went through I got to see some of their personal moments,” she said. “I found it really touching, and they really had the coolest relationship. This came through on the research I did, but it doesn’t really come out in the book as much because everything is driven by the photos.”

The adventure continues

There’s an adventurous spirit that Thompson said she thinks part of the valley still has, and that’s why its history will still resonate with readers.

“The homesteaders were adventuresome to come out and live in the middle of nowhere and try to live off the land and enjoy the beauty of it,” she said. “I think people who are up here now enjoy the hiking, the skiing and the vistas, so there is still that connection with nature that people are drawn to, although obviously it looks different.”

Thompson hopes that readers find an interest in the history of the area, and that they enjoy the photos and the anecdotes she put in the book. She does this with photos like the one of the Thomas family at a humble home in a hay meadow in the Beaver Creek drainage, which is where the original Haymeadow chairlift was built, showing that the area’s heritage runs deep.

“It’s a photo from around 1909, and it’s hard to see. It’s blurry because it’s so old, but I just thought it was great to see what it was like then,” she said, “and it’s amazing when you see what the homes up there are like now.”

Kim Fuller is a freelance writer for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this article to

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