Breaking down for the big day |

Breaking down for the big day

Don Rogers

There are others. I can keep track of the kids better, and let them do their runs while I do mine; the resort these past couple of years has seemed more suited to our level of snowboarding; and the drive is shorter from our downvalley home.

Now that my “secret” free parking spot at Ford Park, if you got there early enough, this year is barred by gates and a charge, I have to admit I am a little sore about it. I know parking fees are a fact of life in airports and downtowns everywhere. Vail certainly didn’t invent paid parking. What can I say, other than I’m a cheap bastard?

But Sunday was a special occasion. The anniversary of the big day 40 years ago when North America’s greatest ski mountain opened. History.

So I arranged for someone else to take the girl to Buddy Werner at Beaver Creek, and the boy and I made a bee-line for Vail. Whatever my curmudgeon instincts with parking, we’d pay the $13 today, Dec. 15, 2002. And be glad to do it, with no more than a low growl or two.

I really do love Vail the mountain, Vail the town and Vail the people who make the place so interesting, if chronically in a bit more turmoil than necessary. I suppose this outbreak of sentimentality taps that Irish heritage, always in conflict with the tightwad Scot. Thank god.

And the slightly spacey Welshman in me, no doubt from that dollop of Druid blood, gravitates to the spirit in Vail, evidenced by the pioneers whose early struggles turned up golden, and to Pete Seibert himself, who set all this up along with the example for ski resorts everywhere.

His model is decried in some circles, but it could be argued just as forcefully that skiing and ski towns would have faded long ago without Seibert’s influence. It might be a close call – a contest between modernday loss of nerve and historic boldness – but I don’t see Vail fading. Not with that mountain. Not with that legacy.

We met the fellow who found the mountain, showed it to Seibert and built it. Earl Eaton was the linchpin to the whole thing, the one who made all these 40 years possible.

And there he was at breakfast Sunday in Mid-Vail, with Vail Resorts brass, pioneers, folks like us who bumbled in, of course lured by the prospect of free breakfast (Scotsmen and journalists just have a nose for such), and one lovely lady from New York who had never been to Vail before. She had her picture taken with Eaton, who patiently endured his turn as Elvis for the day.

My 14-year-old son – who had just answered the question “what do you like about Vail” with an all-too-honest “well, actually, I like Beaver Creek better …” in the presence of Vail Mountain chiefs Bill Jensen and Brian McCartney, as well as company CEO Adam Aron – caught a poke in the ribs and a hissed order to stand up, shake hands and no Rogersesque malaprops when he was introduced to The Finder. I needn’t have bothered. He knew Eaton was special.

Short of a powder day, Vail couldn’t have shined more on Sunday. Even the kid was impressed. The snow, higher up anyway, was so much better than at Beaver Creek this day. Of course, the breadth of runs is so much greater, and with the kid improving his skills and mastering more of the mountain, I could see the hook setting.

“I think we’re going to need to come here a lot more often,” he declared at the end of the day. Didn’t hurt that he’d consistently dominated his dad for the first time, either. I didn’t disagree.

Paying respects to history seems to have set up a future with a lot more time on this mountain for one family. Even if it means springing for that dang parking.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or

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