Grand times at the Grand Imperial |

Grand times at the Grand Imperial

Peter W. Seibert
Courtesy James Bracken/Silverton Chamber of CommerDespite its regal name, the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton struck Pete as decidedly rustic compared to the four-star establishments he was used to in the Swiss Alps. But he used his free time to good advantage, exploring the surrounding peaks for a mountain of his own to develop.

One of my classmates was Craig Claiborne, who would later revolutionize food and restaurant writing in the New York Times. Another fellow student was James Nassikas, whose family owned a restaurant in New Hampshire. Years later, Jim would join with Edgar Stern, an investor from Aspen, to build the elegant and award-winning Stanford Court hotel in San Francisco and Deer Valley Resort in Utah. In 1988 he was elected Hotel Man of the World by his peers.

I next headed back to the relatively coarse world of the Rocky Mountains, which I had come to love more than anywhere in the world. Though my ski-area dream had bloomed in the hard winters of New England, I had decided to transport my vision to Colorado, with its majestic terrain and its magic powder.

The time wasn’t yet ripe, however, for my dream to come true. My first job was as the night clerk at the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. The hotel was neither grand nor did it seem built for an emperor. It had been refurbished in a lurid Gay “90s decor, and the clientele consisted largely of sightseeing tourists, traveling salesmen and mountain climbers. Occasionally, well-heeled travelers might tip me a quarter for carrying a suitcase.

My hours were from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Late at night, I escorted drunken cowboys to their rooms, and early in the morning I advised climbers where the best ridges were.

I rarely slept. During the day I climbed nearby mountains, conducting a daily search for signs of a potential ski resort. I also hatched an imaginary plot I called “The Great Ski Sting.” The plan would be to take options on all the available land in Silverton, bring in European skiers to make tracks down the slide paths above town, and then spread the word around town (in charming, broken English) that the area was perfect for a ski resort. The last step would be to bring in fake planners, surveyors, and architects.

At the height of this scam, I would sell the land to the highest bidders and flee to Mexico. It would have made a great movie script.

The following is the 31st installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Six, entitled “Goodbye Aspen; Hello, Reality.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.

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