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Walter Mondale and Vail: Former vice president was a regular visitor to ski resort

Mondale, who served under Jimmy Carter, died Monday

A photo from the Jan. 2, 1981 Vail Trail newspaper.
Special to the Daily

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who died Monday, was a frequent Vail skier who began visiting Eagle County in 1965 and enjoyed the area for many years to come.

In 1974, Mondale vacationed in Vail with Sen. Edward Kennedy; a picture of the two at MidVail captures a moment shared by the friends. A few years later, that friendship would be put to the test as Mondale defended Jimmy Carter against attacks from Kennedy, who challenged Carter for the primary nomination in the run-up to the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

In his book “The Good Fight, A Life In Liberal Politics,“ Mondale said he first started suspecting Kennedy was going to challenge Carter in 1978.



“That struggle pitted a dear friend of mine against a president who had won my admiration and loyalty,” Mondale wrote.

Mondale said he didn’t think Carter deserved the challenge from Kennedy.



“I thought the country faced a lot of tough problems, and that Ted’s challenge would rupture the party and lead to the election of Ronald Reagan,” Mondale wrote.

Mondale was no fan of Reagan and found another high-profile Reagan detractor in Vail.

“I wasn’t the only one troubled by Reagan’s direction,” Mondale wrote. “After the dust settled from the 1980 election, Joan and I took a vacation in Vail, where we always loved to ski. Vail was also a favorite spot of Jerry Ford’s, and I bumped into him one day while waiting for a chairlift. He invited me to ride up with him.”

Worked with Ford administration

One of Mondale’s biggest victories in the Senate involved filibuster reform – he was part of the bipartisan group which exerted its political will, along with some procedural finagling, to lower the number of votes required to end a filibuster.

“At the time, 67 votes were needed to cut off debate and thus end a filibuster, and nothing was getting done,” Mondale wrote in a New York Times editorial. “After long negotiations, a compromise lowered to 60 the cloture vote requirement on legislation and nominations. We hoped this moderate change would preserve debate and deliberation while avoiding paralysis, and for a while it did.”

This occurred while Ford was president and, indeed, with the help of the Ford Administration. Nelson Rockefeller, Ford’s vice president, is often credited for performing the procedural maneuvering which ultimately got the filibuster reform accomplished, but in James Cannon’s 2013 biography of Ford, the former president shared more of the story.

“Out of courtesy, Rockefeller informed President Ford of his plan to initiate the reform in the Senate rules, but he deliberately did not ask for approval,” Cannon wrote. “Ford did not object; this, Ford told Rockefeller, is a decision to be made by the President of the Senate and Members.”

Cannon goes on to mention Mondale’s efforts in the filibuster reform.

“Rockefeller did not act alone in making this change,” Cannon wrote. “In January 1975 a bipartisan coalition led by Senators Mondale and Pearson mobilized the votes to break from the past.”

A photo from the Feb. 20, 1981 Vail Trail of Walter Mondale skiing Vail with legendary operations manager Bill “Sarge” Brown, and Mondale’s daughter, Eleanor.
Special to the Daily.

Skied with Sarge

But despite the cooperation between the Ford White House and Mondale in 1975, it wasn’t until the Vail ski season of 1980-81 when Mondale would get to know Ford and form his final opinion of the former president.

While in Vail that season, “I discovered what a warm and generous man (Ford) was,” Mondale wrote. “The Reagan administration was just taking shape at that time, and Ford remarked on some recent newspaper stories that declared Reagan was putting together a clone of the Ford Administration. ‘If that’s true,’ he told me, ‘I sure don’t recognize many of them.’”

The Vail Trail printed a picture of Mondale and Ford skiing together in January of 1981; photographer Peter Runyon captured the shot. Mondale had been in town for weeks on vacation, and Ford lived in Vail at the time.

A few weeks later, when Mondale was no longer vice president, the Vail Trail captured another photo of Mondale skiing Vail, this time with Vail’s legendary operations manager Bill “Sarge” Brown, and Mondale’s daughter, Eleanor.

Mondale granted the Vail Trail an interview request in February of 1981; reporter Joe Lewandowski carried out the interview while riding a Vail chairlift with Mondale.

“This is the way all interviews should be conducted,” Mondale told Lewandowski. “We should take a picture of this and send it to every journalism school in the country.”

At that point in the season, Mondale’s meeting with Ford had already occurred. It’s unlikely that his time spent with Ford motivated the decision, but during the interview with the Vail Trail, Mondale shared an enticing detail.

“I am thinking of running for president,” Mondale said.


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