Forty-something? |


Geraldine Haldner

Come this December, Vail ‹ as a ski resort ‹ will celebrate its 40th birthday.

Vail Mountain opened for ski business on Dec. 15, 1962, with just enough snow on the ground to make it work.

The town wasn1t incorporated until 1966, but feverish construction of a Bavarian/Tyrolean-style town had been in full force spring and summer before the first skiers queued up for $5 lift tickets that first ski season.

Longtime Vailites are fond of saying they came with the dirt ‹ the dirt that began piling up during the construction of the small town that would soon be known as Vail, to skiers near and far.

It had taken five years for Vail1s founding fathers ‹ local uranium prospector Earl Eaton and 10th Mountain Division veteran Peter Seibert ‹ to transform their dream of building a European-style ski resort that would rival Aspen, where they had both worked.

After a seven-hour hike on a March day, Eaton and Seibert laid eyes upon slopes suitably contoured for the kind of ski resort they had in mind.

Quoted in Dick Hauserman1s book 3The Inventors of Vail,² Seibert remembers the moment he first looked around from a point that would later become Mid-Vail.

3We had to break trail the whole way. It took us six or seven hours. Once we got to the top, I thought I had never seen another mountain form that lent itself so well to skiing,² Seibert remembers.

They had found Vail Mountain.

By 1961 Eaton, Seibert, Bob Fowler and John Conway had formed the Vail Corporation and raised enough money to purchase 500 acres of land at the base of the mountain for $55,000. They also had received a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build a ski resort from scratch.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In just eight months, Vail Resorts the corporation promises to bring out the birthday cake and invite the community and guests to blow out the 40 candles that make Vail officially a mature ski resort, famous across the continent and abroad.

3We are anticipating and are planning to have some sort of a celebration,² says Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen. 3The current thinking is that we1ll do something in the pre-Christmas period that will recognize all the decades, from the founders to today1s people that have made this ski resort,² he said. 3That1s the concept of the theme so far.²

Over the next two weeks, Vail Resorts as well as the Vail Chamber and Business Association will be meeting with longtime residents to form a birthday-bash steering committee. Vail Mountain spokeswoman Jen Brown says the meetings will serve as 3sounding board.²

3We1ve got lots of ideas, but we just haven1t met with local individuals and groups yet to bounce those ideas off them and see what they think.²

While it is too early to release exact details of events, Brown says, the ski company is hoping to put on a week-long celebration 3with lots of on- and off-mountain events² for both locals and guests, including block parties, special promotions, concerts and other ski and snowboard games.

What is unlikely, however, are a return of $5 lift tickets to commemorate the first day Vail Mountain opened as a ski resort.

3I don1t think so,² says Jensen when asked if the celebration will include ticket prices harkening back to 1962.

3They also had $10,000 lifetime passes; I1m more inclined to do that,² he says, jokingly.

While the ski company1s plans will remain vague until early May, promoting Vail1s 40th birthday is a must, says Kaye Ferry, president of the Vail Chamber and Business Association.

3Vail turning 40 is a great opportunity to promote Vail to people who may not have been here in a long time. It1s a chance to remind them that we are still here,² she says.

The chamber also is planning to host a Pioneers1 Day weekend Sept. 20 to 22.

3We are trying to bring the original group of people who got Vail up and running together for a special weekend celebration,² Ferry says.

The plan so far is to 3throw a block party or something² for them on Friday night. On Saturday the special guests will be invited to golf or other outdoor activities, followed by a bash at the Kaltenberg Castle. And a memorial service is on tap for Sunday at Eagle1s Nest to commemorate founding partners who are no longer alive, as well as a brunch.

The chamber will use the Pioneers1 Day celebration and the ski company1s week-long birthday bash to make contact with people who once worked in Vail and then left, never to return.

3The idea is to have a Vail reunion in April (2003),² Ferry says. 3We haven1t zeroed in on the days and activities, but we want to invite as many past Vail employees as possible ‹ those from 40 years ago and those that left last year.²

The hope is that the reunion in April will become an annual celebration of ski bum days long gone.

3We are going to work with Vail Resorts and the business community to offer some significant discounts and some special packages so that we can turn this into an end-of-ski-season frenzy that celebrates everyone who has ever worked here,² Ferry says. 3We want this to become a sort of a Œdeja-vu1 of the old Vail, where people can let their hair down and have some fun around here.²

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at

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