Longtime Vail builder has died

Special to the Vail DailyJames L. Viele, a longtime Vail resident and businessman, died Sunday at the age of 63. Viele came to Vail in 1969 and later started a successful construction company that built the Ford Amphitheater and the Vail Chapel.

VAIL, Colorado – Jim Viele was good at everything he did. That included being a father, a friend, a successful Vail Valley businessman, an athlete and an outdoorsman, friends and family said.

“He was an absolutely wonderful man,” said his daughter Jennifer Mahon. “I couldn’t have asked for a better father, mentor and friend. He adored my mother, he adored his children, he adored his dogs. He was as loyal and honest as anyone I’ve ever met in my life.”

James Lincoln Viele, a longtime Vail resident, died Sunday. He was 63.

A Morrisville, Vt., native, Viele came from humble beginnings. As a child, he attended a one-room schoolhouse, where his mother was the teacher. He later earned a civil engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he was an All-American soccer player and a national champion skier.

Viele came to Vail in 1969, planning to stay for a year, and took a job at the Vail Ski School. Shortly thereafter, he helped start the Vail Associates Real Estate Department. After a few years, he and a partner founded their own company, Duddy-Viele Construction Inc., which later became J.L. Viele Construction Inc.

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The company has built and remodeled some of the most recognizable buildings in Eagle County, including the Vail Chapel, Ford Amphitheater and Donovan Park in Vail and the Beaver Creek Chapel.

Shortly after moving to Vail, he convinced his then-girlfriend, Kathleen, to move to the mountains. They were married in 1972. He and Kathy raised their three children in Vail. Viele, who had turned down acceptance into the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth to stay in Vail, saw all three of his kids graduate from Dartmouth, much to his delight.

“He was certainly iconic in my worldview,” said his son, David Viele. “A wonderful man with a wonderful family and a great love for those close to him. … He loved Vail, loved the outdoors. He was a fantastic skier, a great outdoorsman and a wonderful father.”

Buck Allen, Vail’s municipal judge and a friend and neighbor of Jim Viele, said Viele was an important part of the fabric of the Vail community.

“He was very generous, and he was a man of principle and strong values,” Allen said. “And he had a great sense of humor. He was fun to sit around the table with and just talk and reminisce about things and laugh a lot. … He was part of the first group of people that came here right out of college and started working and raising their families and pretty much lived their whole lives here.”

Jen Wright, a longtime friend and business associate, called Viele the smartest man he’s ever been around. Wright recalled that Viele was instrumental in the construction of several early Vail neighborhoods, including Booth Creek, Potato Patch and Lionshead.

“He could do so many things,” Wright said. “He was an accomplished outdoorsman, great hunter and fisherman and hiker, and spent his life enjoying Vail and the outdoors. He was also an accomplished woodworker and made a lot of pieces of furniture for his friends and family.

“He could do more things than any person I’ve been around, and do it well. Just an extraordinarily talented person.”

Viele’s contributions to the valley make him an important person in its history, Wright said.

“Jim was like a lot of early Vail folks that came here,” Wright said. “Came pretty much to ski, with a nickel in his pocket, and stayed to build his own company and contribute so much to the valley.”

Jennifer Mahon recalled her dad being able to multiply huge numbers in his head and teach her calculus at the dinner table as if he’d learned it yesterday. At the same time, he was the most humble person whose only bragging would be done when he talked about his children.

“He was a sweetheart to the core, and a really, really good person,” she said.

Daughter Emily Manly remembered her father as a fantastic outdoorsman who was endlessly proud of her when she shot her first elk on a hunting trip. He also had a funny side – he was always prepared to quote the perfect punchline from some silly movie he had seen.

And during his life, he made certain his family and friends knew how much he loved them, she said.

“He was just the best man you could know,” she said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or

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