Beaver Creek: 30 years in the making
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – Beaver Creek was nothing but a forest back in the mid-1970s, with a ski resort just a glimmer in the eyes of a few people who were planning to build it.
Many of those original movers and shakers met for first tracks at Beaver Creek Saturday as part of the weekend festivities celebrating the resort’s 30th anniversary.
Mike Larson, one of the original planners, said nobody was really sure what was going to happen with the property that had just been acquired from the Nottingham family. Colorado was still a potential host for the 1976 Olympics when planners began talking about building Beaver Creek, but Colorado voters ended up saying no to the idea.
“It was probably the best thing for Beaver Creek, because it gave us more time to make everything right,” Larson said.
Rather than building the resort in just a couple of years to gear up for the Winter Olympics, developers now had more than four years, he said.
The original vision for Beaver Creek is almost exactly what the resort is today, according to the visionaries who designed it. Architect Jack Zehren said the realization of their early ideas is actually quite amazing.
Zehren said they took ideas from European mountain villages, but they didn’t want to simply mimic those villages. They wanted Beaver Creek to have its own identity.
“The architecture is a blend of Western United States influences with European influences, which is very different from Vail,” Zehren said. “It doesn’t look like it was from a certain time period, which has allowed it to age well.”
When Zehren was first hired by Vail Associates in 1978, he said he was only about a week or two into his new job of planning Beaver Creek when a man named Gerald Gallegos walked into his Lionshead office.
“He came in and said, ‘Do you think there will be an opportunity to do any stone masonry in Beaver Creek?'” Zehren said.
Gallegos, who passed away in August, ended up getting the job to do the stonework – and lots of it – which catapulted his career and his business into one of the largest and most successful stone masonry companies in the state.
“(Beaver Creek) was a spring board for him,” Zehren said.
Rick MacCutchen, who was one of the organizers for the reunion weekend, said the resort’s planners were commenting at dinner Friday night how the vision truly was accomplished.
“Except nobody ever dreamed we’d have escalators,” MacCutchen said.
MacCutchen remembers that Zehren “must have had 10,000 pictures of European villages.”
The reason the planners of the resort feel it has become so successful is because that vision was always followed, and everyone worked together so well to ensure that it would be realized, Larson said.
Larson, who still designs resorts all over the world, said it’s very difficult to get a team together that shares a vision and a common goal.
“Here, we bonded, stayed together and really worked toward the vision of Beaver Creek together,” Larson said.
The vision was to create a great ski mountain and pedestrian village, with European influences yet an independent flare. The resort was originally marketed as an exclusive ski resort for homeowners who would own property there, said Sam Sterling, a private general contractor who built some of the resort’s first buildings, including the Beaver Creek Fire Station.
The resort got bigger than just a semi-private, exclusive resort, he said.
Sterling remembers the first time he heard about Beaver Creek. MacCutchen, who was a Vail Associates executive at the time, brought him up to the area where the resort would eventually be built to show him around.
“He said we’re starting this new ski area, it’s going to be Beaver Creek and it’s going to be really cool,” Sterling said. “When he brought me up here, the only thing they had built was the foundation to this restaurant, Spruce Saddle. There were all these log poles sticking out of the ground and I was thinking, why would they do this. They already have this big ski area called Vail and it’s not crowded at all.”
Roger Lessman, who was in charge of mountain development and operations in the beginning and then became the resort’s first general manager, said he couldn’t be more proud of what those original visions have become.
“It’s what we wanted it to be,” Lessman said. “But what really touches me is seeing families up here and the kids, and you know they’re making memories that they’ll live with forever and we had a little piece of that. It’s just amazing. you don’t get a chance to do those kinds of things in life very often. It’s really rewarding.”
The good old days
MacCutchen said he’s surprised at how little everyone has aged in 30 years. He said it must be something about the Rocky Mountain air.
Keith “D.P.” Dellapenna, who was on Beaver Creek Ski Patrol when the resort opened, remembers how awful the snow was that first season in 1980.
“It was the most horrible snow winter Colorado ever had,” Dellapenna said. “We spent that year putting in little tomato stakes with orange flags to mark rocks, which was stupid because there were rocks everywhere. I ruined three pairs of skis at least.”
He remembers the good times that year, though, which included a lot of partying in a brand new ski town.
Marcie Olson remembers those days well, too. She was featured in Sports Illustrated Magazine the summer before Beaver Creek opened, putting up signs and closures around the mountain.
Olson, who lives in Edwards, was one of the first ski hostesses at Beaver Creek along with Sandy Goette Samuelson, who flew in from Minnesota for the reunion. They remember doing everything from greeting guests to side-stepping the mountain while working with trail crews.
“I look at the quality that Beaver Creek has come to now, and it’s extraordinary,” Olson said. “People used to come here, we had been open for three years, and they’d say, ‘We didn’t even know this resort existed.’ It came into it’s own, finally.'”
Beaver Creek no longer sits in the shadows of Vail, as evidenced by surveys like Ski Magazine’s annual reader’s poll, which ranked Beaver Creek as the fourth best resort in North America this year.
“It’s all grown up now,” MacCutchen said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at email@example.com.
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