Learning a lot at Loveland
We married in the spring of 1955.
My next job involved a real, live ski area. To my joy, I landed the job of general manager at the Loveland Pass ski area. It was located on U.S. Highway 6, which was the only major east-west route from Denver to Grand Junction in those days. Loveland Pass-with a base elevation of 10,600 feet and a summit in the clouds at 12,700 feet was the first really developed skiable terrain west of Denver. The annual average snowfall was a humongous 400 inches (in comparison, Aspen averaged 280 inches).
Loveland was especially popular with families and older skiers because of its low price – $5 a day – and because there were no mountain passes to cross when driving up from Denver.
The ski area was a rough operation, even by the relatively rustic standards of the early 1950s. There were some tired rope tows, and the day lodge was an old CCC barracks from the Depression years.
As manager I did everything – plow the parking lots, park cars, keep the six rope tows running and provide all the food, starting with coffee and rolls in the morning, hot dogs and chili at lunch and late-afternoon cocoa and cookies.
The ski patrol was staffed with volunteers from Denver, and the ski school was made up largely of my friends.
I lived with Betty and our one-year-old, Pete Jr., in Georgetown on a steep, twisting two-lane road that became almost impassable in a storm. Many were the times we had to guide a car by walking in front with one hand on the left fender, shepherding the driver through dense snow and high winds past sheer drops, many lacking guardrails or warning signs.
One time Betty and I were groping our way at a snail’s pace up the west side of Loveland Pass. Little by little our rear wheels began to slip and spin on the snowy road, and the car’s rear end swerved dangerously. We needed weight in the back to get some traction.
I looked at Betty and said, “Either you or I have to climb in the trunk, dear. Shall we flip a coin?”
She replied that there was no need for that and climbed gamely into the trunk, like one of the pioneer women who stood by their men as they struggled to keep moving west. Her 115 pounds were just enough to give our tires grip. Slow as a tortoise, we inched over the top. It was a practical idea, but I never heard the end of it from my friends.
Between Georgetown and the rugged old mining town of Silver Plume, about three miles west, Route 6 was at its most dangerous – a steep, serpentine stretch that included the famous Georgetown Loop, a hair-raising S-turn along sheer drops that took its toll of several inexpert drivers every winter.
Locals had even learned to count on the occasional accident to keep them supplied with certain items. For example, Betty once asked Henry Anderson, the local grocer, if she could buy fresh peaches to can for the winter. Anderson paused, then suggested she wait until the peach trucks came through and see if one tipped over on the Georgetown Loop. When this had happened before, he said, the peaches were bruised, but townspeople had picked them up and found them just fine for canning. And, of course, they were free.
Later that winter the chief maintenance man at Loveland came into my office and asked if I drank booze.
“Yes, now more than ever since I took this job,” I replied.
He asked what kind, and I said Scotch, cognac, and beer. He then said he had plenty of each because he had been behind a liquor truck when it went into a spin on the Loop. Most of the bottles survived the crash unbroken, he said, although the driver did not. He took my order for enough hooch to last until spring.
Editor’s note: This 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.