"Sarge’ brought discipline to the mountain | VailDaily.com

"Sarge’ brought discipline to the mountain

Cliff Thompson
Photo by Peter Runyon

But what many do not know is how accomplished an athlete and skier Brown outside of military service.

It started in the seventh grade when he won a cross-country race at Horseshoe Bend, Idaho and by his senior year the McCall, Idaho native was elected to the All American High School Football Team. He was also junior slalom and all around junior jumping champion.

In 1941 he entered the University of Idaho on a skiing scholarship and went on to win the National Intercollegiate Cross-Country and Nordic Championships placing in the top half of the downhill skiers. He also became a member of the College All American Ski Team.

But World War II changed the world, and in 1942, Brown joined the elite Para Ski Unit training in Toccoa, Ga, and later was assigned to the 86th Mountain Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division.

He served 25 years in the military and had volunteered for Vietnam after teaching reserve officers training corp at Dartmouth College.

“I had five Purple Hearts and with that many wounds, they wouldn’t take me,” he said, but he didn’t have to wait long for his next job.

In 1966, he was recruited by his former comrades in arms, Pete Seibert and Bob Parker, to become mountain manager of Vail Mountain where he oversaw winter grooming, trail maintenance and trail building in the summer.

His military methods were immediately evident and he became the taskmaster.

“I came out of this highly disciplined military organization and I couldn’t believe these people here doing nothing. I rounded up these clowns and put them to work,” he said. “That was the start of everybody disliking me. I was the disciplinarian I worked seven days a week and was the first one in the office in the morning.”

His trail-building regimen of bulldozing, seeding, fertilizing and strawing became standard operating procedure for the Forest Service. It consisted of clearing slopes with bulldozers, “big iron”, removing the stumps and burying them.

“That (method) was a big fight with the Forest Service,” he said. “they were dead-set against it because they said it would erode and slide. It didn’t.”

Brown didn’t make narrow “toboggan chutes” like some of the Eastern ski areas have, he said. Instead, he widened the slopes and flattened them so the fall line and trail aligned.

But the thing that he recalls easiest was that the company was always cash-strapped.

“We didn’t have any money. It was a cash-flow struggle,”.he said. “If the banks hadn’t carried us the company would have been a disaster.

But little by little the company grew and began to prosper, Brown said.

Even through the tough financial experiences, Brown said founder Pete Seibert always backed him.

“Peter, God bless him, he always found the money,” Brown said.

He left Vail Associates in 1991 after helping make the 189 World Alpine Ski Championships such a massive success.

“It was time to leave,” he said. “I had the best of everything. The company gave me a great opportunity. When the regime changes, it’s time to leave.”

It’s a different company now. they do very well.

“There comes a time when you’ve been there and done that and it’s time to do something else,” he said.

Brown, 80, has retired and lives at the foot of the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction.

“I got so beat up so many times skiing, jumping out of airplanes and in war, that after the sixth surgery on my leg, the doctor told me to slow down,” he said. He still skis occasionally and keeps his hand in the ski business. He’s on the board of directors of Powderhorn ski area near Grand Junction.

Brown was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1982.

Founder’s Days schedule:

Thursday, Dec. 12:

8:30 a.m. Native American Snowdance, Gondola Ski Area, 477-0111 x.12

9 a.m. Gondola Car 40th Anniversary Dedication, Gondola, 479-3032

2 p.m. Town Historic Tour, Ski Museum, 476-1876

3:30 p.m. Colorado Ski Museum Apres Fireside Chat, Ski Museum, 476-1876

5:30 p.m. Tree Lighting, Lionshead, 477-0111 x.12

6 p.m. Snowshoe for the 40th, Gondola Ski Area, 479-2280

6:30 p.m. 40th Rail Jam Demo, Gondola Ski Area, 477-0111 x.12

6:30 p.m. Vail’s Next 40, Powder Hounds, 479-1099

Friday, Dec. 13:

10 a.m. Vail Ski and Snowboard Cup, Golden Peak, 476-5119

2 p.m. Town Historic Tour, Ski Museum, 476-1876

3:30 p.m. Colorado Ski Museum Apres Fireside Chat, Ski Museum, 476-1876

5 p.m. 40th Anniversary Parade, Vail Village, 477-0111x.12

6-7 p.m. Apres 40 Pub-Crawl, Vail Village, 477-0111 x.12

Saturday, Dec 14:

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Founders Tracks: Meet and ski with the founders, Ski Museum, 476-1876

2 p.m. Town Historic Tour, Ski Museum, 476-1876

3:30 p.m. Colorado Ski Museum Apres Fireside Chat, Ski Museum, 476-1876

6 p.m. Torch Ski Down Parade, Golden Peak, 477-0111 x.12

6:15 p.m. Fireworks, Golden Peak, 477-0111 x.12

Sunday, Dec. 15: Inaugural Founders Day/Vail’s 40th Anniversary opening date. Vail offers $40 lift ticket rate at ticket window. (Packages include $40 lift ticket rate for the week.

8 a.m. Inaugural Dedication of Dec. 15 as Vail Founders Day, Vista Bahn, 477-0111 x.12.

8 a.m. First Light, First Tracks, Vista Bahn, 477-0111 x.12

8:45 a.m. Pancake Breakfast, Mid-Vail, 477-0111 x.12

2 p.m. Town Historic Tour, Ski Museum, 476-1876

3:30 p.m. 40th Anniversary Cake Celebration, Seibert Circle, 477-0111 x.12

For additional information on all events, call Joe Blair at 477-0111 x.12

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