Monument honoring Vail Founder Pete Seibert’s vision and the ranchers who welcomed him becomes a reality
'Pete’s Dream: The Founding of Vail' instructs, inspires
VAIL — Sure, Vail is a monument to founder Pete Seibert’s dream, but Roger Tilkemeier thought there should be an actual monument. Now there is — “The Founding of Vail: Pete’s Dream.”
Tilkemeier and Vail art gallery owner Bill Rey drove the effort for it, sculptor Herb Mignery created it, Art Casting Foundry owner Tony Workman delivered it, and on Monday Vail street superintendent Charlie Turnbull and his expert crew set the monument in its temporary home behind Vail’s Sitzmark.
“This was the most fantastic Christmas present I ever could have imagined,” Tilkemeier said when a crane gently placed the sculpture onto its temporary home.
Gore Valley game changers
Tilkemeier, 91, was there Monday with his family and several others. People walked by and asked, “What’s going on?” It was one of life’s teachable moments and Tilkemeier was happy to explain the history. It was important to Tilkemeier to honor the ranchers in this project.
“There were two game-changers in this valley. One, when ranchers homesteaded and developed the land and water. The other was when Pete Seibert developed the ski resort. One would not exist without the other,” Tilkemeier said.
“This incredible work of art honors the ranching families who homesteaded the land and filed water rights which eventually made Vail possible, and Pete Seibert who had the vision and dream along with Earl Eaton,” Rey said.
Tilkemeier and Rey have been driving this effort for four years. Actually, Tilkemeier floated the idea 25 years ago, but it was May 2015 when they first started talking with the sculptor Mignery, who grew up on a ranch.
“One of the things that impressed me was that, as I was telling what my thoughts were, you could see his eyes light up,” Tilkemeier said.
“I can do this!” Mignery said.
As they spoke, Tilkemeier said a Native American proverb popped into his head: “A man’s eyes say words the tongue cannot pronounce.”
“He wanted to do it. You could see it,” Tilkemeier said.
Pete’s Dream, larger than life
Much like Seibert himself, “The Founding of Vail: Pete’s Dream” is larger than life. It’s also educational and emotional, especially for Tilkemeier who has been around Vail since 1963. He was the first to build homes in East Vail.
The sculpture’s story goes something like this.
In the early 1960s, there was this camp tender who usually had a packhorse, and rode around the mountains supplying the local sheep camps. He’d occasionally ride into the upstart town and inevitably run into Seibert, who was always happy to tell him what was next on Vail’s horizon.
The cowboy in “Pete’s Dream” represents that cowboy and all of the ranchers who played a vital role in kickstarting Vail, Rey said.
Years ago, when Pete Seibert, Sr., was still alive and the original idea for Seibert Circle was being kicked around, Pete, Warren Miller and Christy Hill were working with Rey on design ideas.
“This is about the risk-takers: Pete, Earl and all those early believers,” Rey said.
Tilkemeier was one of those early believers.
We’re in the Gore Creek Valley
Vail is not actually located in the Vail Valley. Valleys are traditionally named for the rivers and creeks that run through them. Vail is located in the Gore Creek Valley. Vail Resorts’ marketing department created the term Vail Valley decades ago.
The Gore Creek Valley was homesteaded and settled by sheep and cattle ranchers in the 1880s.
One of those local ranchers was Seibert’s friend and fellow 10th Mountain Division veteran Earl Eaton, who had roamed these mountains since his childhood.
Seibert wanted to launch his own ski area and spent years searching for just the right spot. It’s a passion he had carried since he was a kid in Massachusetts where he and childhood friend Morrie Shepard strung a rope tow and started a tiny ski hill as teenagers.
Seibert’s search continued after World War II ended. Seibert and Eaton were both working at the Loveland ski area when one day Eaton told him about some mountains he had known since he was a child.
About 4:30 a.m. on a snowy spring day in the mid-1950s, they parked their Army surplus Jeep along U.S. Highway 6, strapped on skis and skins and started climbing. Several hours later they reached the summit and Eaton showed Seibert what is now Vail’s Back Bowls. Seibert knew he was looking at his ski area.
Seibert and several other investors began raising money and support. They recruited entrepreneurs and a small group of dedicated employees, and after years of planning they built their fledgling ski resort in one summer.
The lifts started turning Dec. 15, 1962. Legend has it that they celebrated Vail’s original opening day with dinner at The Lodge at Vail, which was so new that when they sat down to dinner they had to be careful. The paint on the walls was still wet.