Designing the mountain
In the first three years, from 1959 to 1961, after many trips up the mountain – either by jeep or Snowcat – they began to contrive them. A Colorado skier and surveyor named Jerry Pessman was hired to help them in the summer of 1957.
“I think either Earl or Pete phoned me and we went up to the top of the mountain and ran a line. Earl reconnoitered first, thinking we should run a surveyor’s line for a gondola from the very top to the bottom. We went up the Two Elk side in a Jeep. When we got to the top, we saw some beautiful deer – big spreads, about six or eight points. We worked all day, and then on the way down, by the sawmill road, there were at least 100 fallen trees in our way. We didn’t have a chainsaw with us. We just had a hand ax and had to cut our way through to get off that mountain. It was a long day.”
To run a gondola all the way to the top appeared impractical, so it was decided to go with the gondola to Mid-Vail and then to use chairlifts to the top. If they had gone to the top with the gondola, it would have been one of the world’s longest.
“Earl Eaton really knew a lot about the mountain,” said Pessman. “He was good at everything. He had hunches. He amazed me once because he said, “dig here,’ and we went right down to a rock. He could run a compass as well as I could run a line. He really was amazing.”
When it was decided to put a gondola from the base up to Mid-Vail, Seibert was dispatched to Switzerland to look at several manufacturers. A Bell Gondola from Switzerland was selected. It was the first of its kind in the United States. It held four passengers and had a capacity of 550 skiers per hour, although it probably never took more than 450 or 500 up the mountain.
The lift lines ended up being horrendous, with some skiers waiting 45 minutes to an hour at the bottom. Two other chairlifts were in the original plan, one from Mid-Vail to the top, and another from the base of the Bowls Back to the top.
During this period, Vail Associates was trying to figure out how to build a lodge. Money was scarce, and that back chairlift was going to cost approximately $200,000.
“In a director’s meeting, someone said we should take that $200,000 and use it to help finish the lodge,” explained Harley Higbie. “But Bob Parker, our publicity man, got up and made a plea – to keep the back-side lift.”
Thank goodness he was persuasive, because without the Back Bowls, Vail would never have gotten off to such a good start.
(Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the Summit County Journal on Oct 19, 1962. (Because Vail Pass was on road maps, the media referred to the new ski area 14 miles to the west as Vail Pass, Colorado.)
Vail Pass Ski Area to Open
The Vail Pass Ski Area will open this winter as what very probably is the biggest new ski area in North America.
More than $5 million has been spent in a crash construction program since last last April in the effort to develop more than six square miles of high country on the White River National Forest in an area which will offer six months of skiing each year. The area will also provide complete year-around resort and vacation facilities.
Vail Pass is the fulfillment of a longtime dream of Peter W. Seibert, a former FIS (International Ski Federation) champion, and represents the gilt-edged backing of such nationally known businessmen as John Murchison of Texas oil interests and the Alleghehy Corp.; Philip H. Wooten Jr., executive director of Life Magazine; George Caulkins, Denver oil man; and Richard Hauserman, Cleveland industrialist.
The area spreads along both sides of a 12,000-foot mountain range, with slopes descending into a 8,200-foot valley. Trails range from one to three miles long.
Another 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 31st installment, an excerpt from chapter 5, “Creating a Plan to Make it Work.” 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.