Happy 40th, Beaver Creek: 40 things to know about Vail’s sister resort
Beaver Creek opened on Dec. 15, 1980
Editor’s Note: The Vail Daily’s Tricia Swenson has compiled this information from talks with longtime locals, her own experience as a Beaver Creek Children’s Ski and Snowboard School instructor and from books from the Avon Public Library.
- The first known inhabitants of the Beaver Creek Valley were primarily the Utes as well as hunting parties from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes. The Utes were called “Blue Sky People” by other tribes. They called the peaks that surrounded them “The Shining Mountains.”
- Mining operations in Leadville and Aspen brought those who were tired of the daily grind of mining and life underground to an outdoor lifestyle of farming. Instead of taking from the land, the farmers were reaping what they would sow. Potato and lettuce farming became popular and profitable for a period in the early 1900s.
- Logging operations were another way of life around the early days of Beaver Creek. Logging companies in Leadville and Red Cliff as well as local ranchers seeking wages during the winter would cut trees on Beaver Creek Mountain in the “Bald Spot” and McCoy Park areas. Sawmills were in operation at Beaver Lake.
- Beaver Creek Resort pays homage to Beaver Creek’s original’s settlers through many addresses, business and trail names. Townsend Place and Allie’s Cabin are named after ranch family George and Allie Townsend. Allie was nicknamed the “first lady of Beaver Creek.” Frank Bienkowski from Chicago was nicknamed “Beano.” He grew lettuce and sold it in Avon. Bienkowski settled near what is now known as Beano’s Cabin. Zach’s Cabin in Bachelor Gulch was named after another homesteader who was a sheriff’s deputy who died in the line of duty.
- Bachelor Gulch was named after a number of bachelors who lived in the area. Gunder Berg, John Anderson, John Mertz, Ferdinand Smith and Ed Howard were just a few of the names of the bachelors who farmed, ranched and cut timber in the area. Some remnants of their cabins can still be seen today.
- Farmers grew potatoes from 1900 until the lettuce boom in the 1920s. Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch grew the “green gold” and lettuce was shipped to the Midwest, South and parts of the East Coast via the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad from the Avon Depot.
- The Stanley Fruit Company of Phoenix, Arizona, grew its Evercrisp Lettuce in the area. It was known as being more crisp and grew in firmer heads than lettuce grown elsewhere. The lettuce boom came to an end due to poor cultivation practices and careless handling of the produce. The Great Depression hit and many farmers couldn’t ride it out and sold to ranchers who were consolidating property.
- After the boom and bust of the lettuce era, Gulling Offerson had consolidated most of the Beaver Creek land into one property, which was eventually sold to Emmitt Nottingham and his son, Willis, in 1950. The Nottinghams raised cattle and sheep and grew hay on the meadow that eventually would become the Centennial chair lift (No. 6).
- Earl Eaton and Pete Seibert, credited with being the founders of Vail, looked at developing Beaver Creek into a ski area first. Eaton knew the area well since his relatives were also settlers of Beaver Creek. Eaton toured Seibert around the Beaver Creek Valley in the 1950s but Willis Nottingham wasn’t willing to sell his property, so Eaton and Seibert moved eastward and eventually developed Vail.
- Vail Associates made an offer to Willis Nottingham to sell 2,200 acres of his land in 1972 and Nottingham accepted.
- Denver had been picked to host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and Beaver Creek would host the Alpine skiing events. But the people of Colorado voted it down in 1972 because many thought it would lead to too much development. Denver became the only city in the history of the modern Olympic era to win the Games and then give them up.
- Despite not hosting the 1976 Olympics, Beaver Creek has hosted world-class Alpine ski races, including those held on the vaunted Birds of Prey course which was built over the summer of 1997 and debuted at the 1999 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. The Vail Valley and Beaver Creek played host to worlds again in 2015.
- Before Beaver Creek opened, Pete Seibert would take celebrities, ski writers and famous skiers on snowcat tours. The group would be driven around in an IMP, a smaller version of a full-size snowcat. The tour included lunch at the “Seibert Hotel,” which was an old barn from one of Beaver Creek’s original families.
- When Beaver Creek was being developed, word went out to the contractors that any tree knocked down unnecessarily would cost them $1,500 in fines.
- In July of 1977, a groundbreaking ceremony was held. In attendance were Charley and Denny Eaton and their wives Mabel and Lucille. The Eaton family got to meet President Ford at the groundbreaking of the new resort while looking at old remains of cabins they used to live in.
- On Dec. 15, 1980, Beaver Creek opened with six lifts and 450 skiable acres. Champagne corks were popped and former President Ford was at the opening ceremonies. After one day of operation, the new Beaver Creek ski area closed due to poor snow conditions.
- During Beaver Creek’s inaugural season, only 122 inches of snow fell.
- Village Hall at Beaver Creek Village was behind schedule, so the resort installed a tennis bubble which housed a cafeteria, ski rentals, ski school, and a bar for après ski. Tickets were purchased in a small structure outside near the Centennial lift (No. 6).
- The Spruce Saddle Lodge was the only finished, permanent structure at the resort for its opening season. Much like it does today, Spruce Saddle provides food service, restrooms and a small ski accessory shop.
- William Oscar Johnson, a sportswriter with “Sports Illustrated,” called Beaver Creek “the Last Resort” in an article he wrote in December of 1980. Johnson detailed the challenging process of getting the resort built, saying “sane men may well be discouraged from trying ever again to create something like Beaver Creek.”
- Beaver creek opened with 20 ski instructors, led by Bob Dorf, director of the ski school.
- The Post Montane Lodge was set to be Beaver Creek’s first hotel. The property encountered financial difficulties and eventually overcame them and opened in 1984.
- Former president Ford picked Beaver Creek as the site of his new home (the Fords had a second home in Vail for many years). The Fords along with Leonard Firestone, Kaiser Morcus and Dean Keaton all built homes on adjacent lots and that spurred Beaver Creek’s residential growth.
- The Jerry Ford Celebrity Ski Cup was the inaugural event during the 1980-81 season. The event brought together ski legends and celebrities and raised money for charity. Actors like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood were known to participate along with skiing legends Billy Kidd, Tommy Moe and Jean-Claude Killy.
- The Beaver Creek Golf Club opened in 1982 and was designed by noted course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The old Holden barn that belonged to early Beaver Creek settlers, the Holden family, sits behind the 15th green.
- In addition to golf, Beaver Creek had tennis courts and hosted tennis greats like Jimmy Connors at its Legends of Tennis event. Martina Navratilova would swap the tennis racket for skis in the American Ski Classic.
- Successful business and entertainment entrepreneur George Gillett bought Vail Associates in 1985. Gillett once said, “The reason I bought Vail Associates was because when I was younger my dad had always told me there is nothing wrong with being in businesses that are fun.”
- When Bachelor Gulch was developed in 1997, Pete Seibert’s dream of having a village-to-village ski experience came to fruition. Seibert studied ski areas in Europe like St. Anton in Austria and St. Moritz in Switzerland. Skiers could now ski from Beaver Creek to Bachelor Gulch to Arrowhead.
- Escalators were installed as part of the design of One Beaver Creek, residential units on top of retail and restaurants near Centennial lift (No. 6) in 1997.
- Cookie Time is a signature offering at Beaver Creek. Staffers have handed out thousands of cookies in lift lines and on the plaza after a ski day since 1985. (Cookie time was canceled this year due to COVID-19).
- The Buckaroo Bonanza Bunch used to entertain ski school kids and families on and off the slopes. Characters like J.B. Tucker, Red Buffalo, Sure Shot Shirley and Jackrabbit Joe would ski around in full costume while telling tales and entertaining the kids around the Haymeadow beginner area and the village.
- The Vilar Performing Arts Center opened to the public in February of 1998. This 530-seat theater was modeled after a horseshoe-shaped theater with unobstructed views in Munich, Germany. The Vilar has played host to world-renowned performers like B. B. King, Ringo Starr, Lyle Lovett, Tony award-winners “Rent” and “Kinky Boots” and comedian Jay Leno.
- The ice rink at Beaver Creek was above the Vilar Performing Arts Center and placed in the center of the Plaza. The rink was called the Black Family Ice Rink in honor of Leon and Debra Black. Leon Black’s Apollo Ski Partners was an investor in Vail Resorts.
- In 2005, Beaver Creek marked its 25th anniversary with artwork from cartoonists from The New Yorker as part of the Humor on the Slopes event. Six cartoonists were on hand to entertain guests with cartoon renderings and host classes for children. There was also a captioning contest where guests had a chance to win prizes by suggesting the best caption.
- Beaver Creek’s 30th anniversary brought together visionaries, founders, developers and employees who worked at Beaver Creek through the 1981-82 ski season. Vail Resorts executive Larry Lichliter organized banquets and breakfasts at Village Hall, ski days and après ski at the Coyote Cafe for the group.
- The Coyote Cafe, popular with mountain employees and families alike, was once known as Drinkwater Park in the early 1980s. Its location, decor, tequilas and Tex-Mex fare have drawn people in for breakfast, lunch, dinner and après ski.
- Lech, Austria is Beaver Creek’s Sister City. Ludwig Kurz of the Beaver Creek Resort Company initiated the program over 20 years ago with the goal of sharing marketing, hospitality and reciprocal experiences with one another. The Trachtenkapelle Lech band travels to Colorado each Labor Day weekend to provide authenticity to Beaver Creek’s Oktoberfest event.
- The Centennial Express (No. 6) replaced the existing four-person chair lift with a gondola-and-chair combination lift for the 2014-15 season. These hybrid lifts, also knows as telecombis, telemixes and chondolas, are popular in Europe. The new lift increased uphill capacity by 35% through the use of alternating gondola cabins and six-person chairs.
- In addition to world-class athletes coming to race here in the winter, Beaver Creek has hosted off-road triathlon Xterra, the Tough Mudder adventure race and US Pro Challenge road biking stage race.
- Beaver Creek plans to add more family-friendly, beginner and intermediate alpine skiing terrain in the McCoy Park area for winter 2021-22. Look for two new high-speed quad lifts, 17 new runs across 250 acres of natural, groomable gladed terrain. McCoy Park will still have 20 kilometers of Nordic trails available for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
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