Bringing in the world
His vision for international racing brought the top ski racers from Europe to his backyard – from the World Series of Skiing in 1965 to designing the Birds of Prey run for the World Championships in 1999 – and started a foundation for international racing that bloomed into today’s modern World Cup circuit.
Seibert, who died Monday at the age of 77, traveled Europe in the early 1960s to organize programs within different countries. By 1963, Seibert and friend Bob Parker had booked the U.S. Olympic Team training camp and were anxiously awaiting the flood of media and fans. In just a few months, Vail would have what Seibert always wanted – the world.
“This was before satellite times, and he convinced the Vail Foundation to run a cable under the highway for the television towers,” said Byron Brown, who founded Ski Club Vail with Seibert’s blessing in 1962. “But everything froze. CBS’s cameras wouldn’t work, and all that money they spent went down the drain. Still, word got out about Vail.”
Seibert wasn’t satisfied. With the help of U.S. Ski Team coach Bob Beattie, Seibert and Parker began inviting the European teams into Vail for a Wild West-style ski race in 1965, 1967 and 1969. With guns drawn, Parker said, a state trooper informed visitors that shooting game from the car was not allowed, prompting European ski officials to praise the “Vail way” of running ski races.
Seibert spent much of his life ski racing, from a three-event sweep he captured in 1947 at the Rocky Mountain Championships in Aspen – a feat he described in his book, “Vail: Triumph of a Dream,” as “a miracle, no three miracles” –to being a member of the 1950 U.S. Alpine Team. And it all happened while he had no kneecap in his right knee. He couldn’t bend it beyond 45 degrees because of a serious war injury.
“Considering he had a bad leg, he was an excellent skier,” said former President Gerald Ford, a personal friend of Seibert. “If he had had two good legs, he definitely would have been a potential Olympic skier.”
In 1951, Seibert won the slalom and downhill events at the French University Championships, returning United States with a head full of ideas. When he opened Vail, he longed to bring his old friends here to race.
There was still one snag, however – the World Ski Federation, or FIS, insisted he had to have a youth program to book an international competition. Seibert gave Brown an acre of land by Golden Peak, where Brown built a structure in which to teaching young people to race.
“He had kids growing up in the valley and we needed some good coaches,” Brown said. “When Ski Club Vail got organized, Pete always said he’d give us a spot. He wanted a place for his family. I had a family, and he was kind of a king in those days. He was very supportive in racing.”
With Ski Club Vail – now the oldest nonprofit organization in the valley – Seibert had everything in place. Success of the races in 1965 prompted Serge Lange, Ski Magazine editor John Fry and others to design the first international racing circuit, the World Cup, which included races in the U.S.
“Seibert was the one who encouraged Vail Associates and everyone else to actively promote skiing, while he put up the money to bring in top racers,” said Tom Steinberg, Vail’s first doctor and Seibert’s long-time neighbor. “He saw ski racing as a developmental potential for the town and the hill. Once he started something, he went all the way. But he wasn’t just concerned with making money. He helped the image.”
That image of outgoing leadership changed. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Vail’s international reputation suffered from an anti-development push throughout the state of Colorado. With the World Cup circuit in full swing and expanding, Seibert wanted the world influence back in Vail. So he, along with guys like Parker, Bill “Sarge” Brown, Byron Brown and John Garnsey, formed a lobbying committee to pull in the World Championships.
“We started working with FIS and went after the World Cup events and were successful,” says Garnsey, the chief operating officer of Beaver Creek. “It led up to both the “89 and “99 championships. We called on Pete’s experience for both of these events.”
The value of modern ski events was hotly debated. It caused tourists to shy from the ski mountains, expecting large crowds and lift lines. Local business owners raised their eyebrows. Still, Seibert insisted the long-range value of international events would always counteract the short-term lulls in revenue. And when Aspen dropped out of the running for the Championships in 1987, conceding to to Switzerland, Seibert jumped in and grabbed the spot two years later.
“Pete was one of the people who had first-hand experience in world championships,” says John Dakin, Vail’s chief of press in 1989. “He was one of the few who knew about running that kind of race, what it can do for a resort and what it can do for a country. Afterwards, everyone felt that it was worth pursuing a second time. The campaign to get “99 really started in “91 and “92.”
In 1994, with a new goal, Seibert and 13 other delegates convinced all the countries of the ski federation that Vail was the right spot.
“We were not only designing a campaign, we were taking stock of 1989, noticing things to improve,” Dakin says. “We ran the downhill in 1989 on Centennial, which was a good downhill, but not a great downhill.”
So in the same manner Seibert discovered Vail Mountain, he found a better downhill run. Venturing off the top of Beaver Creek, west of the original trek, and after throwing away ideas like the East Vail chutes, Seibert and Garnsey hiked the mountain in the summer and snow, plotting lines and runs.
What they found become one of the top downhill runs in the world.
“Birds of Prey was Pete’s idea. He had a lot of good ideas about the run,” Garnsey says. “It was steep, hard, and we had to add to and change the terrain. But what those two world championships and that run did was put Vail and Beaver Creek on the map.”
With a World Cup event scheduled at Beaver Creek this December, the debate on the purpose of international racing in the valley – what Seibert worked for his whole life – is still up in the air.
“It’s a debate now about the value of international ski racing,” Garnsey says. “I think and feel very strongly that it defines what a world-class resort is and will be.”
Vail Daily reporter Veronica Whitney contributed to this report.