Let it snow … please
In the United States, for example, the number of skiers leaped from 1,584,250 in 1960 to 2,448,000 in 1964. And Colorado’s destination resorts led the way in this quantum growth. In 1964, for example, 393,196 visitors came to resorts like ours; in 1968 there were 749,719. Vail jumped from 55,000 in 1962-63 to 546,000 in 1971-72.
If it didn’t snow early in the season – definitely before Thanksgiving – these armies of eager skiers and the dollars they represented would shrink drastically. So we were always alert to new techniques for bringing the white stuff down as early as possible.
Among the most persistent of the weather-fixers was a loquacious fellow named Neal Bosco, who habitually contacted ski resorts in the late fall and guaranteed that he could make it snow by Thanksgiving. He had the air of a mad scientist, but we were desperate men if snow hadn’t fallen in November.
We once hired Bosco to fly over the ski area just as a snowstorm seemed to be gathering over the Gore Range. He had loaded a couple hundred pounds of silver iodide into the aircraft, along with what he would only refer to as his “secret ingredient.”
Bosco intended to fly into the eye of the storm and throw buckets of the silver iodide mixed with the secret ingredient into the clouds to increase snowfall.
Did it work? I recollect we had a dump of about a half-inch of snow that smelled vaguely like battery acid.
Usually Bosco worked on the ground, however, relying on high-firing flares to spray particles of silver iodide into the air. It had to be snowing, or at least threatening to snow, before he was ready to begin. He would then phone us to help him set up spotlights and arrange the flares. If all went well, you could expect a 10 to 15 percent increase in snowfall, possibly even more.
A group of ski areas, including Vail, Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge hired Bosco one dry December for a month of cloud-seeding. According to our agreement, if the snowfall exceeded a certain depth by 12 or more inches he would get a bonus.
When I asked Larry Jump of Arapahoe Basin where we should measure the snowfall for the bonus, he chuckled: “On the hood of a car with the engine running.”
Bosco was nothing if not versatile. On another occasion he called me from Albuquerque and asked what would happen if a ski area got too much snow. I said that was practically impossible: Snow was snow, and when it fell it was great for the ski business, no matter what. But Bosco had been thinking along different lines. He reminded me that he was in northern New Mexico and said that a big blizzard seemed to be building there. He had a proposition: If I would wire him $500 dollars, he believed he could turn the storm toward Aspen.
I was puzzled. Toward Aspen? Why?
He explained that if this storm dumped a huge amount of snow on Aspen, the ski area would be forced to close down because of the threat of avalanches. Wouldn’t shutting down Aspen be worth $500 to Vail?
I said “no,” it wasn’t worth that, plus it wasn’t worth the risk of getting caught in history’s first criminal assault by blizzard. Moreover, I was about 90 percent certain that he had called D.R.C. Brown, president of Aspen, and made him a similar proposal with Vail as the victim.
Several ensuing years of good pre-Thanksgiving snowstorms passed through Colorado, and Neal Bosco never appeared again, which was too bad. He had provided a lot of laughs, and he had never once used a “heathen tactic,” as far as I know.
Editor’s note: This is the 47th 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 10, entitled “The Glory Years: 1963-1976.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.