Forty years and counting |

Forty years and counting

Veronica Whitney

“Vail is the best mountain I’ve ever skied on,” Ingrid Young, the beaming skier, told Eaton. “I want to thank you, I’m having the time of my life!”

Eaton was leaving the restaurant after a free pancake celebration for all mountain guests: His and Pete Seibert’s discovery was 40 years old.

“Today, we all get to say we are 40,” joked Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron.

It all started at 8 a.m. sharp when Earl Eaton and Pete Seibert Jr. cut the ribbon at the Vista Bahn chairlift to mark the mountain’s birthday at the sound of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”. More than 50 people were on line waiting for the first tracks, part of the birthday celebrations, which started Wednesday and included ski and snowshoe races, fireside chats,

town historic tours, a parade and fireworks.

Eaton, Seibert, Aron and Bill Jensen, Vail Mountainis chief operating officer, were on the first chairlift.

They took their first run together on Ramshorn, Eaton on his new project, a ski bike.

After, they went to Mid-Vail where Brian McCartney, vice president of Vail Mountain, and Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz joined them for the pancake breakfast.

“We couldn’t have a better birthday,” Aron said.

“We’ve had the best opening in the past 20 years, weive had the best snow and many skiers.”

Vail Mountain opened 40 years ago, on Dec. 15, 1962, with one gondola, two chairs, eight ski instructors, 38 paying customers and a $5 lift ticket.

On Sunday, the mountain opened with 33 lifts, 1,000 ski instructors, 5,289 acres of terrain spread along the Front Side, the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. To celebrate its birthday, the $71 lift ticket was reduced to $40 on Sunday.

“The birthday celebration was a pleasant surprise,” said Gerald Mikek, 27, of New Orleans, who is spending a week in Vail. “We were going to go somewhere else, we didn’t know it was Vail’s birthday. It is a great bonus!”

John Fletcher, 28, of Alabama, who was skiing with Mikek, said watching the fireworks Saturday night was one of the highlights of his trip.

“It’s the first time I saw fireworks on the mountain,” he said.

Jack Bunion, 65, of Las Vegas, was among the first ones on the lift Sunday. Bunion, who has a house in Vail, has been coming since the late 60s.

“I’ve skied a lot of resorts,” he said, “but my favorite is Vail. Everything is top class at Vail. Vail is always on the cutting edge.”

Bill Garrells, 42, of Laguna Niguel, Calif. Has been coming to Vail since he was 8 years old.

“It was my first experience skiing, and I will bring my two children to ski here soon, like my father brought me in 1968,” Garrells said. “The people that work on the mountain here, make the mountain.

“I hope that Vail continues to keep the vision of Pete (Seibert) and keeps expanding,” Garrells added. “As a skier, thereis always something new at Vail.”

Pete Seibert Jr. did his own homage to the mountain and his father, Pete, who died in July. After skiing some runs and having breakfast with friends, he traveled up the mountain.

“I think I’d like to do this every Dec. 15,” he said before heading up. “Weill see how it goes today.”

In the 1950is, it took him and Seibert about seven hours to climb Vail Mountain, Eaton said.

“I just had a dream to get it done (Vail Mountain),” Eaton said. “And it turned out great.”

When asked what he would like to see in the next 40 years, Eaton and Seibert Jr. said they’d like the ski area to expand.

“I’d like to see Vail and Beaver Creek together,” Eaton said. “If you can ski both mountains, you would probably have to take the bus back to your car.”

“I’d like that we can park our cars in Arrowhead and be able to ski from there to Breckenridge,” Seibert Jr. said.

“I’d like to see 25 feet of snow by Christmas every year,” Aron said with a smile.

“I have two wishes: snow and peace.”

If the country doesn’t go to war with Iraq, Aron said he expected a very strong winter.

“Sept. 11 put a jolt in the national psyche,” he said.

“Last winter we were several hundred thousand skiers behind compared to previous years. This year, letis hope there’s no war and we can just have a winter wonderland with nothing but smiles.”

Despite the down turn in the economy in the past year, Aron said he is optimistic about the future.

“If things stay like this, we could have a great year,” he said. “Reservations for Christmas look very good. The risks are still there, though. I hope we can

stay away from war.”

Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz said these have also been 40 great years in the community.

“If we have the courage and conviction that our founders had,” he said, “the best for Vail is yet to come!”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454,

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