Original Vail investor Whiteford dies

Edward Stoner
Vail, CO Colorado
Courtesy Dick HausermanCourtesy of Dick Hauserman

VAIL, Colorado ” Bill Whiteford, an early investor in Vail Mountain and character of its village, died Monday. He was 80.

In the ’60s, Whiteford built the Gondola Boutique Building, where the Tap Room is now, as well as the Casino nightclub, which was modeled after the Reisch Tanz Casino in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and was billed as the largest discotheque in North America.

“He just felt like he could bring that European lifestyle to Vail,” said his son, Erik. “Aspen had a mining-town feel to it. Vail was going to mirror a European ski resort.”

Whiteford was a larger-than-life personality whose storytelling at times blurred the lines between fact and fiction.

“He was definitely a character,” Erik Whiteford said. “He had a vivid imagination and was a very good writer and was very witty and loved to sort of get the better of people and entertain people.”

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Bill Whiteford, whose father was chairman of Gulf Oil Co., was one of the original 20 investors in the Vail Corporation. He came to Vail in its first year.

Rod Slifer, a longtime Vail resident, recalled wild times at the Casino, which was on Bridge Street across from Pepi’s.

“They’d hang a huge Christmas tree upside-down in the middle of the dance floor, and have Christmas-tree-climbing competitions,” Slifer said. “They had turtle races where they would put a circle on the floor and put little tiny turtle with numbers on their backs in the circle, and you’d buy a turtle. The fastest to get out of the circle would win.”

With the nearest police officer in Eagle, there was room to get a little wild.

“They used to have crazy parties,” Erik Whiteford said. “It was sort of the Wild West at that point of Vail, and that was kind of the fun of it.”

Harley Higbie, an original director of the Vail Corporation, remembered Whiteford setting up an impromptu bar made of ice and snow at Mid-Vail, serving drinks to skiers.

“Somehow he got away with it,” Higbie said.

Whiteford’s nickname was “William the Good.”

“Maybe because he wasn’t so good,” Higbie said.

Dick Hauserman, another original director of the Vail Corporation, said Whiteford would bring all sorts of bands and entertainers ” including Dizzy Gillespie ” that the nascent village wouldn’t have dreamed of having otherwise.

“Whiteford’s part in the beginning of Vail was just tremendous,” Hauserman said.

In his book, “Inventors of Vail,” Hauserman recalled satiric newspaper columns, signed by “Belle Forrest,” that began to appear in the Rocky Mountain News detailing the social strata of Vail Village. The stories, which divided the population into “beautiful people,” businessmen and “restless rabble,” created quite a stir in Vail.

Whiteford denied having anything to do with Belle Forrest, but it was apparent that no one else could be behind the columns, Hauserman wrote.

William K. Whiteford was born in Oklahoma on July 20, 1928. He attended Stanford University and graduated from the University of Michigan.

He lived in Vail from its opening until 1969, when he moved to Denver. He returned to the Vail Valley in 1987, living in Edwards until 2002.

Whiteford was living in the San Diego area at the time of his death, Erik Whiteford said.

He is survived by four children, Bill Whiteford, Mitch Whiteford , Erik Whiteford and Bettina Thompson; four grandchildren; and a brother.

Services will be announced later.

Whiteford family’s memorial site:

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

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