December 1962 – Vail is now a ski resort
The amazing accomplishment was that it was built in the spring, summer, and fall of 1962. The mountain development, including the upper and lower lift terminals, was completed for $1.6 million.
Vail was small by today’s standards, but it had a magnificent mountain, adequate ski runs, a management team, a ski school, a ski patrol, and a town with minimal services, hotels and restaurants. When Vail opened, lift tickets were $5 and lifetime passes were apparent.
An important part of the development of the resort was to have a ski school, and it started quite simply – there were 10 contract instructors and three supervisors. It was difficult to keep them all busy during that first year. By contrast, Aspen had 90 instructors at that time. The Vail Ski School, however, although small, was well managed and soon became one of the finest in the country. It is hard to imagine that today there are more than 1,500 instructors in Vail and Beaver Creek.
When Peter Seibert grew up in Sharon, Mass., he learned to ski with his close friend, Morrie Shepard. After moving to Aspen in 1947, Shepard moved up from a job on the ski patrol, and after 15 years became the assistant director of the Aspen Ski School under Fred Iselin and Friedl Phiefer. It is only natural that, when Seibert wanted someone to head up the ski school in Vail, he would turn to Shepard. Shepard was brought over to see the mountain on April 17, 1962 – the same time that Pepi Gramshammer first saw the mountain. With Bob Parker, they spent the night in a little cabin on the top of Vail Mountain and skied down the Back Bowls the next morning.
“It was so incredible. I think it sold both Pepi and me at the same time,” Shepard said. “But it was a heck of a long walk back out.”
Shepard arrived on May 1, 1962, and his first job was to supervise the cutting of the trails. It is hard to believe, with a budget of $50,000, they cut the trees and prepared the trails for the opening.
The first person Morrie Shepard hired for the ski school was Rod Slifer, who he brought over as his assistant from Aspen. Pepi Gramshammer had a special assignment as ski-school ambassador. In addition to showing the mountain and teaching special guests and investor prospects, Gramshammer was sent around the country to do public relations. The contract instructors were:
– Roy Parker from Aspen was popular in Vail. Everyone was sorry to see him leave when he was hired by the Indians in Ruidoso, N.M., to take over their new ski area. Roy was a fantastic person and skier, and he was a great asset to Vail.
– Ricky Andenmatten from Zermatt was hired as a private ski instructor and skied almost daily with Ann Taylor.
– Jerry Coffee, George Nelson, Fred Butler and Andy Arnold all came over from Loveland. Nelson later became the head of Anderson-Nelson, a civil engineering firm.
– Paul Barnhardt was a supervisor for the Bell Engineering gondola installation. Coupled with ski instructing, he maintained the gondola.
– Gaynor Miller built the first inexpensive lodge, called the Nightlatch. It was on the site of the present Mountain Haus Building.
– Bob Kendall, one of the original instructors, is now an outstanding realtor in Vail.
– Manfred Schober came from Germany and was working in Oregon.
Schober called to apply for the job over the phone and Shepard told him he had so many applicants that he wasn’t hiring anyone without a personal interview. Two days later, Schober walked in to see Shepard. He said he had gotten on a bus as soon as they had hung up, and he was here for the interview.
Shepard liked him immediately and said, “Anybody who has gone to that effort and has a personality like yours gets a job. Come back in November.” Schober was a good and popular instructor. He met Isabel Bolin, a student from Kansas City, and married her. They built the Schober Building, now called the Bell Tower, across from the Children’s Fountain.
When Shepard was asked about the social aspect of Vail he said, “We were all so busy doing all kinds of jobs. I was ski-school director, and I worked for Vail Associates on the trails in the summer. I was fire chief and building inspector. I had so many hats to wear there wasn’t much time to socialize. We had so few instructors and we were busy. Socializing was limited. When there was a gathering, everybody was there, including the lift crew and the elite.”
The Murchisons skied in Europe quite often with a private instructor named Karl Grumhalter. He was brought over and joined the ski school; however, he worked almost exclusively for the Murchisons.
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 42nd installment, an excerpt from chapter 6, “It’s Now A Ski Resort.” 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.