The genius of Bob Parker: Vail’s original marketing magician celebrated
VAIL — We still benefit from Bob Parker’s genius.
Robert Ward Parker passed from this earth June 29, 2017. On Friday, Sept. 22, hundreds of friends gathered in Vail’s Gerald Ford Amphitheater. Fittingly, Friday marked the opening of this year’s Vail Pioneer Weekend.
If our lives are the sum of the stories people tell, Bob Parker — writer and author, poet, romantic, adventurer, lover of life and Vail’s original marketing magician — will never die.
“We’ll do it, there’s a way to do it, and we got it done,” Parker said in a video during Friday’s event.
Parker was heard to say that “the creation of Vail was not the work of a few so-called pioneers. Vail was a pioneer community.”
Terry Minger called it the “10th Mountain Division DNA” from Pete Seibert, Sarge Brown and Bob Parker.
“He always believed we could, and should, be more, do more. That is one of the most important strands of the DNA he left us,” Minger said.
Parker was among the 47 percent of 10th Mountain Division soldiers who made it home from World War II. He almost didn’t. His unit came under enemy mortar fire, and two nearby buddies were killed instantly. Parker was seriously injured.
“Bob and his fellow founders of Vail serve as a tremendous source of inspiration,” Vail Resorts executive Chris Jarnot said. “I’m biased, but I believe the story of Vail, and the people who founded it, will be one of the truly extraordinary stories in the history of American business.”
Speaking of stories:
In 1961, Parker convinced the New York Times to publish a full-page story about a new Vail Pass ski area, which, as we know, would not open until Dec. 15, 1962. The Swiss company that was manufacturing Vail’s iconic gondola was months behind schedule. Parker visited the factory, arranged for the Swiss to pick up the pace, and then arranged for trucks, ships and planes to deliver the many, many parts from Europe to a port in Texas, and finally Vail.
There was the December 1963 Ute snow dance. Parker came under fire for promoting “heathen tactics.” It snowed two days later, ending a snow drought. Parker also pioneered cloud seeding.
“We were snow farmers,” Bob Knous said. “You have to play all the angles if you’re going to have a good crop.”
Also Vail’s conscience
Sure, Parker was Vail’s original Marketing Magician, but more importantly, he was the storyteller and occasionally the conscience.
Parker lobbied for the current alignment of Intertate 70 through the Eagle River Valley and away from a wilderness area through Red Buffalo. He lobbied against a Front Range plan to suck water out of the Holy Cross Wilderness.
Always a wilderness advocate, he was part of a group who became the first group of private citizens to successfully sue the U.S. Forest Service. They wanted to halt a logging operation near Vail. They did.
“This is one of the great honors of my 93 years,” Dick Over, a 10th Mountain Division veteran, told Friday’s crowd. Over enlisted in the 10th when he was 17 and met Parker in 1943. They landed in the Aleutian Islands, driving out the Japanese one island at a time.
Parker and Over helped put together 10th Mountain Division reunions, which were enjoyed in ways that only people who’ve experienced death on the scale of a world war can enjoy and appreciate life.
Filmmaker Roger Brown was fresh out of Dartmouth when Parker brought him to Vail in 1962 to make promotional films for the new ski area.
“The problem is, we don’t have much money,” Parker told him at the time.
They paid Brown with a building lot in Vail instead of cash.
“We were in here for the long term, some for our lifetimes,” said Brown, who has an armload of Emmy Awards to his credit. “His spirit never left Vail. We all owe Bob a great debt of gratitude. I owe him my career as a filmmaker.”
George Gillett lived next door to Parker on Vail’s Forest Road. They’d occasionally stroll as Bob told stories and imparted wisdom. Gillett listened and learned.
“We have inherited the benefit of Bob Parker’s genius,” Gillett said.
Before Gillett bought Vail, he skied Vail in 1963, three months after it opened. He and his wife, Rose, first skied at Red Mountain, Wisconsin, where Parker also learned to ski.
Rod Slifer came to Vail from Aspen in May 1962.
“Bob helped get us through some of those early, rocky years. He kept saying, ‘Vail is going to be great!’ He said it so often that it became true,” Slifer said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.