Kurz: Vail pioneer still contributing
VAIL — Bridge Street was still a dirt path leading to the ski area’s original gondola when Ludwig Kurz first saw Vail.
Kurz, then a young ski instructor from Salzburg, Austria, was invited to Vail in 1966 by Roger Staub, who had applied to run the fledgling resort’s ski school.
“He told me, ‘If I get this (job), you’ve got to come,’” Kurz recalled. “He said ‘This is where it’s going to happen.’”
Staub was right, of course. And even in its first few seasons, Vail was quite a place.
“I was impressed with what had already been done,” Kurz said. “I was impressed with Vail’s vastness — it has everything (in terms of terrain.)”
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After that first season, Kurz followed the snow for another couple of seasons, teaching skiing in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. But skiing 10 months a year can turn into hard work, so Kurz settled in Colorado.
“It seemed the growth and opportunity would be in Vail,” he said.
While Kurz came to Vail as a ski instructor, he landed in management almost immediately and was soon the resort’s ski school director, working summers in the construction business.
Settling in Vail
Within a few years, Kurz had a full-time job with the company then called Vail Associates. He became a U.S. citizen, met and married his wife, Susan, and Vail became home, not just where he lived.
After spending nearly 30 years in Vail, Kurz in 1995 ran for and was elected to a seat on the Vail Town Council. He spent eight years on the board and served as mayor from 1999 through 2003.
“It’s harder to be mayor than people think,” Kurz said, adding that the job has only become tougher since he served.
“The time demands were less, and the complexity has changed.
Kurz in 2011 again ran for council and was elected. He’s seeking a second term this year, as part of a seven-candidate field seeking four seats on the board.
From the perspective of both a resident and council member, Kurz said Vail’s founders got a lot right, and a few things wrong, over the years.
On the positive side, “They involved the whole community,” Kurz said, adding that ski area co-founder Pete Seibert said early on that Vail needed to involve people who would become locals.
“There was a real spirit of will-do and can-do,” Kurz said.
On the minus side of the ledger was the original design at Lionshead.
“Vail had major success early, and there was demand for movement,” Kurz said. Vail adopted architecture that was popular in France at the time.
“It was sterile and plain-looking,” he said.
Eliminating that plain look was near the top of the to-do list when the town and property owners created a redevelopment plan for Lionshead.
“We’re seeing the benefits of that now,” he said.
Overall, though, Vail has turned out well.
“As fast as the Vail area grew, we really could have screwed it up,” Kurz said. “But with planning, timing and a bit of luck …”
Eager to guide the town
But Vail has always had trouble with parking and housing.
This council finally accomplished a re-do of half of the Timber Ridge property. The first units of the new Lion’s Ridge apartments are being moved into now. And it looks as if construction will start next year at the proposed Chamonix for-sale units in West Vail.
“We need to be conscientious about that one,” Kurz said. “It’s a new community we’re inserting into a larger community. We can’t overly impact the existing neighborhood over the next two or three years.”
Moving forward, Kurz said the town needs to look past its current boundaries for more housing opportunities, either through annexation or working with other valley communities. Kurz has high hopes that Alan Nazarro, the town’s new housing director, will help identify new opportunities for the town and valley. Kurz said he’s eager to help guide the town over the next few years and believes he can still contribute good ideas, and he says he has a good temperament for the job.
“I think I bring fairness and consistency,” he said. “I’m good at listening to varying points of view and helping us come up with the best answers.”
Kurz said while listening is one thing, really hearing people is another.
“Am I hearing what people are saying, or am I already formulating my response?” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.