Other men’s memories: Bob Parker
First, there was its mineral wealth. No, not silver or gold or copper or lead, just plain H20 in the form of snow, the raison d’être of the resort and the source of the town’s wealth.
“White gold,” some of us called it.
Then there were its other natural resources. Lots of limestone-rich spring and river water, once used to make Gore Creek’s version of moonshine whiskey.
Plentiful sunshine. Fabulous scenery. Mountain ridges that sheltered the valley from the worst of winter winds. Mountain slopes both gentle and steep and the unique, never-to-be-forgotten Back Bowls.
And Charlie Vail’s U.S. Highway 6 snaking down the valley, providing just enough access for the food, liquor and building materials needed to put up a future world-class resort.
Everyday conditions in the Vail Valley were quintessentially pioneer. Knee-deep mud. Drought. Forest and grass fires. House fires. Landslides. An eight-party phone system that was never available in a real emergency. Suppliers who would never take your checks because they’d never heard of Vail. Drunks and crazies off the highway. Looky-loos who stopped in August to ask, “Where’s the skiing?”
No schools, so the pioneers created one. No television, so people actually talked to one another.
And then there were the pioneers themselves, a group as eerily diverse as their earlier counterparts in the Colorado mining days. People from England, Australia, Switzerland and Austria. A Michigan banker turned restaurateur. A millionaire oilman’s son working as a bartender. A Vermont radio executive running a gift shop and building a covered bridge to remind him of home.
A Colorado businessman publishing the town’s first newspaper. A rich kid from Minneapolis sleeping in a snowbank so he could follow his dream of building a ski lodge in the Rockies.
Everyone did everything. All the men were volunteer firemen. All the women hauled hoses and made sandwiches for the firefighters. All the kids ski raced in winter and rode horseback in summer. When someone was hurt, someone else would drive him or her to the nearest clinic 10 miles away. The ski bums sneaked out in the autumn to kill a deer or elk so they’d have meat for the winter.
Pioneers in 1962? Yes, it sounds crazy. But don’t tell early Vailites they weren’t pioneers. You had to have been there, in the mud and cold, fighting fires, inventing ways of surmounting problems, helping your neighbors, and always waiting, as with the old pioneers, for that first strike, for the first snows of winter.
If that wasn’t pioneering, then I don’t know what is.