Bill "Sarge" Brown – WWII veteran turns tough mountain manage
Managing the design and construction of the new runs and lifts, training and expanding the ski patrol and the ski school, and overseeing snowcat operations, the maintenance shop and the communication system was a big burden for mountain manager Don Almond and his team. They needed help.
In February 1965, Bill Brown arrived on the scene. His World War II story is hard to believe, but it’s true. After a war record that could compete with a horror movie, Brown was invited to come to Vail by both Bob Parker and Pete Seibert. He was a sergeant, training lieutenants in the ROTC at Dartmouth, and was about to leave the army. He knew Parker from the army in Austria after the war – they had raced together. Parker was a civilian attached to the armed forces, and Seibert had met Brown at Camp Hale when they were in the 10th Mountain Division together.
“I worked with the trail crew and half the time I couldn’t find them,” Brown of his arrival in Vail. “Vic Gollina and Pepper Etters were in charge of the crew.”
(The trail crew was hired to either foot-pack or ski-pack the slopes for skiers. It usually required a great deal of shoveling.)
“They had hired a lot of “ticket packers’. They would pack all morning to get a ticket to ski all afternoon! Many of them would save their tickets and sell them in the parking lot. A ticket was $7 – not very expensive, but they thought it was. I didn’t like the ticket-packer scheme. They were taking revenue from the company, and you could never count on them.”
Brown wanted to hire a regular crew, but Don Almond wasn’t in favor of it because they didn’t have the budget.
After a week, Brown called a meeting of the trail crew to set down some rules and regulations.
“I said I will go out and work with you every day and we are going to work! I told them how things were going to be. If anybody couldn’t live with it, they could leave. Most of them left, including Pepper. But both Pepper and Vic went to Pete and told him I was too hard on them. Then Almond asked me what I was doing. I told him I was firing all those guys. I told him they were going to work, and we were going to get rid of those damn ticket packers. Pete called me into his office and said I couldn’t do that. I said we could. They weren’t working and the company was paying them. I told him I would take full responsibility!”
That was how Bill Brown started his career at Vail. That’s how he was. From then on, they called him “Sarge.” Sarge Brown soon gained the respect of everyone. He showed his employees the way by example and moved up the mountain ladder rapidly. Not only did Sarge exert unusual leadership, he lifted part of Don Almond’s burden, too. It wasn’t long before he was in charge of the Snowcats, the trail crew, and the ski patrol.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 79th installment, an excerpt from chapter 11, “The Corporate Team.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.