Eaton: In the trenches in a glamor business |

Eaton: In the trenches in a glamor business

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO Colorado
Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum photoWhile investors were being sought around the country to bankroll Vail, Earl Eaton was on the mountain mapping runs and putting up chairlifts.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Skiing’s known as a glamor business. But it also takes people who will cut trails and wrestle heavy equipment. Earl Eaton was one of those wrestlers.

Eaton’s impact went beyond giving Pete Seibert his first look at the Back Bowls. He was also one of the people who could look at a mountain and figure out where the trails would go.

“When you look at the different players, Earl’s knowledge of the area and his technical skills really stand out,” Colorado Ski Museum Curator Justin Henderson said. “He could really get things done.”

Max Dercum, one of the founders of the Arapaho Basin ski area, got to know Eaton when he and Pete Seibert were working at the nearby Loveland ski area. A U.S. Forest Service engineer himself, Dercum appreciated Eaton’s eye for terrain.

“He could figure out slopes, and the locations for trails,” Dercum said. “I don’t know that he ever got much credit, but he knew the country.”

Eaton’s work in mountain construction started in 1940 with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era public works project.

According to Eaton’s profile from the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, he started working at a ski area near Glenwood Springs, and started ski racing at Aspen.

Just before the United State entered World War II, Eaton was part of the crew that built Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division trained. Eaton was never a member of the ski troopers. Instead, he went into an engineering unit of the U.S. Army in 1943.

After the war, Eaton returned and got involved in the fledgling ski industry, with stops at what’s now Ski Cooper, and the long-gone Climax ski area atop Fremont Pass. He met Seibert in Aspen, and the two worked together at both Aspen and Loveland.

While looking for a “perfect” ski mountain with Seibert, Eaton showed his friend the territory he’d hunted and prospected in on the south side of Gore Creek.

While Seibert rounded up investors and partners, Eaton was planning the runs, and where the lift towers had to go.

“You couldn’t ask for a better guy to do that,” Henderson said.

Eaton and Bill “Sarge” Brown worked together on Vail Mountain during the resort’s early years.

“He was a gentleman,” Brown said. “He never said much, but I’ve always said that still waters run deep.”

Brown, who was the mountain manager at Vail during its early days, said Eaton was easy to work with.

“Earl would listen to you,” he said.

And he would also do the dirty work that needed to be done.

“When you look at a mountain, you have to see how wide you can make the trails and where the side hills are,” Brown said. “But it takes a lot of walking, you have to beat the brush to tell if it’ll work or not, to see where the aspen groves and the water are.”

Eaton was one of those guys, Brown said.

“His vision and perspective on the ski industry was incredible,” former Vail owner George Gillett said.

While Eaton never worked for Gillett, the two knew each other well and talked fairly often.

“He was in here two years ago showing me plans for the expansion of Vail Mountain,” Gillett said. “And he was still going into the backcountry then.”

When Seibert and Eaton were at Aspen, Seibert was roommates with Klaus Obermeyer, now the patriarch of the gear company that bears his name.

Obermeyer said he tried to discourage Seibert from starting a new ski area.

“I told him, ‘Don’t do that; we’re not busy here yet!'” Obermeyer said.

And, while Vail probably took some business from Aspen early on ” it’s two hours closer to Denver, after all ” Obermeyer said the ski area Seibert and Eaton scouted has turned out all right.

“It helped the ski industry in general and it helped Colorado,” Obermeyer said. “There are a lot more skiers, and now snowboarders, than there were back then. I think it’s wonderful.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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