Snowbasin: Seibert’s project in exile |

Snowbasin: Seibert’s project in exile

Peter W. Seibert

I was involved in sports that I liked, at least, and being next to the Broadmoor Hotel, where many of my friends were a part of the management team, wasn’t all that bad.

Then one day in the summer of 1978, Rod Slifer phoned from his real estate office in Vail: Jack Nicklaus had expressed interest in acquiring a ski area. Did I know of any areas for sale? And would I like to run it? My answers were “yes” and “yes!”

Two areas on the market at that time were in complete contrast:

Northstar, near Lake Tahoe in California, was small, well designed, nicely maintained – and entirely on private land, so there would be no U.S. Forest Service bureaucracy to deal with.

Snowbasin, near Ogden, Utah, was much larger, with 2,900 vertical feet, wonderful slopes and sprawling acres of private land to expand into. It was a true Alpine resort. But it was old – it had been a state playground and park since 1936 – and had been poorly cared for over the years.

As it happened, Northstar got tied up in legal matters that kept it off the market, so we went with Snowbasin.

By this time, however, Nicklaus had seen the high-risk, low-profit financial status of many ski areas and was no longer interested in having one of his own. But Slifer and I went ahead anyway, bringing in 35 investors to provide the $2.6 million we would need to buy and improve the ski area and option adjacent properties.

We contracted to purchase about 8,500 acres of private land contiguous to Snowbasin’s Forest Service permit boundary, where we planned to develop a year-round mountain resort. The base site was perfect for a small Alpine village – there were wonderful intermediate slopes above – and the vast rolling acreage below the village site was ideal for golf and summer amenities. We called the proposed plan Trappers Loop, a name given to the region in its early days.

It was too ambitious a scheme to pull off with our limited resources, however. The financial burden of acquiring the 8,500 acres, coupled with the cost of running the ski area, finally put us under. The Ogden skier market was too small, and we weren’t able to attract Salt Lake City skiers, despite the great slopes for all levels of skiers. And raising lift ticket prices would have cost us the local crowd.

We should have brought in a strong financial partner from the start. But we hadn’t, and by the summer of 1984, with no white knight on the horizon, we went looking for a buyer.

It was clear that the only way our original investors could get so much as a dime of their money back was for us to sell the area. But who would buy it? And for how much?

I considered possible buyers, and I could only come up with one man who might be interested: Earl Holding, owner of Sinclair Oil, the Little America Hotel chain, and Sun Valley.

I didn’t even know what he looked like at this point. I was close to going broke, however, with only eight hundred dollars in the bank, and I didn’t expect another paycheck from Snowbasin ever again. I decided that I had to meet Holding in a casual way – and as an equal. In no way could I even remotely resemble a dead-broke entrepreneur begging him to buy Snowbasin.

So I withdrew $600 of my meager funds to cover the entry fee to a golf tournament that was to be held at Sun Valley in a month. I figured that I’d meet Holding there, befriend him, and convince him to at least visit Snowbasin to see if he might want to buy it.

It worked. Within a couple of weeks Earl Holding and his family were climbing all over Snowbasin, kicking lift towers, studying ski runs, checking the condition of area snowcats and snowmobiles. He asked a million questions. No wonder he was such a success; he didn’t leave a stone unturned. Rod Slifer came over from Vail to negotiate the deal, but there was nothing, really, to negotiate. We took the terms that Earl offered.

Subsequently Snowbasin was selected to host the downhill and super G races for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics, and for the second time I lost a chance to be involved in designing an Olympic venue and hosting a Winter Games.

Sometimes I wish to hell I could have survived at Snowbasin to see this crowning triumph. The downhill course was designed by Swiss Olympic gold medalist Bernard Russi, one of the best downhill racers in the world 20 years ago and today considered one of the best designers of downhill courses. At Snowbasin, Russi carved the run around pre-existing obstacles – glacial rocks, mammoth tree trunks – and he let it fall over heart-stopping 70 percent grades, with a vertical drop of 2,900 feet.

Oh, well, let the Games begin!

The following is the 63rd installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter 13, entitled “Heart of the Rockies.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.

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