The memories that make a legend
One day after his death, a community took stock and paid tribute to the man who created a home for them.
His passing Monday evening marked the end of a remarkable life, and the beginning of memories sure to maintain the legacy of Vail’s foremost founder. Friends and colleagues remember him as driven and hard-working, a savvy salesman and a man with a zest for life and the great outdoors.
Here are some of their favorite memories, anecdote and stories of Pete Seibert, the man who founded Vail:
“I got Pete interested in Vail and he was eager to hike up the mountain.
It was winter and the snow was deep. We climbed to the top of the mountain – seven hours later, we were on top and that’s the first time Pete saw the Back Bowls. Just the look on his face was pretty interesting. We hiked all over the state, but we never found anything that was better.
We were building trails and lifts (in our minds) and the seven hours went by pretty quickly.
Pete was the driving force that (built Vail). Some of it was luck, maybe it was an act of God, (but Pete) got the right people. Some had money and some didn’t, but they invested themselves.”
– Earl Eaton Sr.
Co-founder, friend and Vail Mountain’s original explorer
“When we were here in the 1960s, Pete was a real hero. If you saw him when you were walking down the street, we’d say to our kids, “There goes Pete Seibert. He started Vail.’ There was a sense of awe, but he was always friendly. He always went out of his way to greet people. He always said hi.
Once when we were dashing the kids off the Sunday School at the chapel, we were hurrying along, grumbling a little about them being too slow.
It was kind of quiet as we were traveling along when Todd asked, “Who made this big, wide wonderful world?”‘Mike piped up and said, “Pete Seibert!’ “
– Vi Brown
Lifelong Vail local
“I first met Pete in 1966 when I came to work in the ski school, I had heard about Pete before then. Pete and Vail were always kind of synonymous.
His zest for life and his vision, I think is best illustrated by the fact that he was the single most responsible man for getting the Birds of Prey downhill (ski run) designed and built. He was tenacious and tireless and he was 70 at the time. To me that shows his passion for the adventure that he was pursuing in all his life.
I will remember him for his openness, his sense of humor. He didn’t consider himself to be this special person that in fact he was. He was very modest in his own way, despite the fact that he achieved so much.
I’ll remember him as a friend and I consider myself very fortunate to have known him and believe that he considered me a friend.”
– Ludwig Kurz
Vail resident since 1966
and mayor since 1999
It really was a dark and stormy night in the early winter of 1958 when young Pete Seibert stopped by Max Dercum’s Ski Tip Ranch, just down the mountain from Arapahoe Basin ski area, which Dercum had carved out of the mountainside about 15 years earlier with a military surplus bulldozer and the spirit that won the West. Dercum’s Forest Service permit for Arapahoe Basin cost him $2 and he picked it up in the Dillon office. In 1958, Arapahoe Basin was the region’s only ski area besides Loveland.
Pete wanted to a chat with his old friend, and also find a little shelter from the storm he was driving through on his way from Denver back to Aspen, where Pete was living at the time.
Pete parked his mother’s car that he had borrowed for the trip, knocked on Dercum’s door, and walked into the middle of a group from Wisconsin staying at Ski Tip Ranch. That guest list read like a Who’s Who of early Vail, including architect Fitzhugh Scott, who designed the original Lodge At Vail and many other Vail buildings, original Vail stockholder and homeowner Pauline Armstrong, and Wally Teipel.
Pete never saw an opportunity he wouldn’t seize. He exchanged pleasantries with Dercum and asked if he could show him something from the back seat of his car. Dercum agreed, and a few minutes later the entire group was looking at that now-famous scale model for Vail Mountain, the one currently on display in the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail.
“He was a little shy about bringing it in. He was trying to finance his dreams of Vail,” said Dercum. “He came in and that model was about 3-foot square. They all had a chance to look at it, and as they did he explained what his dream was.”
It was like Pete was the Pied Piper.
“The next day they all followed him to the site that would become Vail,” said Dercum.
Seibert was willing to put his money where his dream was – he invested $5,000 in the venture.
“You have to remember that $5,000 was a lot in those days,” said Dercum. “They were all promised a building site in Vail for their investment.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Early in Vail, during the construction of the original gondola, I was there with a guest from Ski Tip Ranch visiting with Pete,” recalled Dercum. “He invited us to take a ride up the gondola.”
They took the ride up, wandered around the Mid-Vail site, then rode back down.
“When we got down, Pete grinned at us and said, “Well, I guess now it’s road tested,'” said Dercum. “Apparently, we were the first people to ride that gondola.”
Dercum last saw Pete at this past spring’s meeting of the International Ski Heritage Association in Vail. The meeting was an honor roll of ski pioneers, and Pete was in high spirits and the center of attention.
– Max Dercum
Founder of Arapaho Basin
and Keystone ski areas,
and Ski Tip Ranch
It was Pete Seibert’s encouragement that convinced Olympian Steve Rieschl to launch Vail’s first cross country/ski touring ski school in 1969. It was at Pete Seibert’s insistence that Rieschl ran it for years after the ski company bought it.
“The thinking of most of the company’s management was, “Who’s going to walk around the flats when they can ride up a lift and ski down?'” said Rieschl. “The only exposure they saw in those days was cross country, and then only in the Olympics.”
Rieschl was here in 1961, cutting trees on the slopes – one year after he competed in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. It was a summer job for the Aspen physical education teacher. He finally landed in Vail full-time in 1969.
“Pete was always encouraging and always a gentleman. I truly respected the man,” said Rieschl. “Pete endorsed me for the Ski Hall of Fame. I’m honored that he would do that. It’s a tremendous loss not only to Vail, but also to the ski world.”
– Steve Rieschl
Chris Jouflas and his family ran one of the largest sheep ranching operations in the country right in Eagle County. They were herding sheep on Vail Mountain for decades before it was named Vail Mountain.
One summer day not so very long ago, Chris was about the business of herding sheep at the top of what is now Lionshead. He came across a couple pleasant young guys wandering around the area, taking notes and pointing at things. That was 1960, when it was still impolite to point. Those guys turned out to be Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton.
“I asked them what they were doing, and they said they were going to build a ski area,” said Jouflas, whose family ranched the area for most of the 20th century, even after the ski area was built.
As construction continued, the mountaintop encounters became more frequent, and the groups he met were growing larger. Eventually, they started talking to Chris about buying some land for things like ski runs and ski lifts. Those discussions included some pretty serious numbers, by 1960 standards, and Chris began to split his focus between ranching and real estate.
Those real estate discussions worked their way deep into the winter, when they finally reached a handshake agreement for 80 acres for a lift near Lost Boy.
“They wanted to buy them and build a chairlift,” said Jouflas. “We started talking, and it finally came to fruition one winter evening. As was my tradition in those days, I brought a bottle of Ouzo.”
And that, history buffs, is how the ski run of the same name earned its moniker. When the Vail developers bought another 135 acres, that deal was also consummated with a couple rounds of Ouzo.
“They created the legend. I just brought the bottle,” said Jouflas. “As I recall, it’s a black diamond run, which works out pretty well because Ouzo is a black diamond drink.
“Those were good days; they were a good bunch to work with.”
Pete lived quite a life, said Jouflas.
“For a New Englander to come out into the Wild West and do what he did is quite a feat,” said Jouflas. “Everything has to happen in its proper time and place, and Pete Seibert was the right man in the right place at the right time.”
– Chris Jouflas
Lifelong area rancher
“In 1957, Pete Seibert and friend Earl Eaton hiked up a mountain west of Vail Pass, surveyed the vast expanse of forests and open bowls and envisioned a ski area that millions of people would come to enjoy, and which has repeatedly been named the best ski area in North America. It was Pete’s steadfast vision and uncompromising passion that not only gave birth to the world-class ski destination that is Vail, but also broadly built the popularity of the sport of skiing. Pete leaves an unparalleled and remarkable legacy that Vail Resorts is honored to uphold. He was an integral part of our company until the very end, and we all will greatly miss him.”
– Adam Aron
Chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts
“I’ve known Pete almost my entire life. He was an avid outdoorsmen, he was a great skier.
He really was one of those people that had an opportunity to see his dream fulfilled. His dream was to develop the greatest ski mountain in the world and he managed to accomplish that. His vision, his tenacity and his foresight are why Vail exists today.
I always found Pete very outgoing, very gregarious, very friendly.”
Pete and my father were very good friends. Last time I saw Pete and talked with him was after my father’s passing last October. In typical Pete style, I had a very wonderful conversation with him. We talked about old memories and the early days of Vail.
I remember when the gondolas were first installed. First time they set out to do test run on the gondola, they got stuck bouncing up and down in a driving snowstorm, while they tried to get the gondolas going.
He was a great salesman. He had to be a great salesman in the early days of Vail when he was trying to make his dream happen. He single-handedly went around the U.S. convincing people his dream was doable.
It’s amazing when you think of everything that sprung from his idea.”
– Sean Conway
Sen. Wayne Allard’s chief of staff; Sean’s father is John Conway, a Vail founding father; John Conway died in October; Sean
has known Seibert all his life
“During the last 10 years that I worked with Pete, I was continually amazed by the fact that he never lost his passion for the mountains, his commitment to quality or his extraordinary imagination. We owe a debt of gratitude to the sound foundations that he laid for Vail to become the finest resort in North America.
In the early years of my career in the ski industry, I was in awe of Pete and all that he had been able to accomplish with his vision for Vail. As I began to know Pete personally, my initial perceptions of him were validated. He was an exceptional human being of the highest moral fiber. He was completely and passionately committed to Vail, both the mountain and the community.
With his unique physical stamina and mental fortitude in driving Vail to what it is today, Pete brought the highest standards to everything that he touched.”
– Andy Daly
President of Vail Resorts
“I think that the death of Peter Seibert marks a crossroads in the history of Vail. The first generation, the founders, are moving on. Now it’s up to this generation to continue the growth and development of the mountain.”
– Kiernan O’Callaghan
Vail Sports employee
“I was shocked when I saw the paper – I had no idea that he was sick. But he left such an incredible legacy behind for all of us to enjoy. Especially Blue Sky Basin.
I think we can all agree that the image of Pete cutting turns in those bowls will stay with us for a long time to come.”
– Mike Sayers
Christy’s Sports employee
“I really think that this is his town. So many people live in and love this place, and we’re all here because of his pioneering vision.”
– Matt Hendrix
“You want to know my reaction to his passing? Do you see my tears?”
Has known Seibert since she moved here from
Switzerland in 1971
“I think it’s really sad. I grew up here, and saw him around town all the time. He was always smiling, upbeat and courteous.
He really made this valley a reality, and it’s so sad to think that such an important man is gone.”
– Evette Curran
Pepi’s Sports employee
“He had a real love for life. He was a great man and a true pioneer. He was a visionary, and above all he loved to ski and he loved this land. It’s really going to take a while to get over this loss.
He said he was at a party Monday night with a whole bunch of Vail people – Rod Slifer, Dick Hauserman, etc. – when they got the call that Pete had passed away. Someone turned to him and said, “He BROUGHT me here with him and it will never be the same again.’
– Kenny Friedman
Kenny’s Double Diamond
Ski Shop in Lionshead
“He left such a great family, such an involved family. My heart goes out to them, and they have my confidence that they will carry on his legacy in this valley.”
“I worked on the mountain for Vail Associates on the lift crew. I remember he used to come up on the mountain quite a bit. He was always kind of laughing all the time, easy-going and very likeable.
I was pretty young, only 15 years old, but I do remember I’d see him skiing with some patrolmen and he was a pretty good skier.”
– Bob Fahey
Grandson of Edward Julius Ruder, and a “pre-Vail’ Gore resident now living in Canon City
“I met Pete in 1967 when I came to town. I used to work for Vail Associates at the Lodge at Vail. He was an honest, caring man and made a point of knowing all his employees by their names.
He cared about the future of Vail itself and was very inclined to work with the town government in order to make Vail a better community.”
– Packy Walker
Longtime Vail resident, hotel manager, self-proclaimed gadfly
“I met Pete back in the late ’60s, when Vail Associates’ office was on Wall Street and everyone knew everyone and everyone worked together.
Pete was the nucleus that brought everyone together, because he had that magic charisma to bring people together.
I will remember him for lobster (last meal I prepared for him) and the fact that women loved him because he was a gentle giant.”
– Tom Korchowsky
Longtime Vail resident,
“I really don’t know much about him, but from the way everyone around me has been acting today, I can tell I have a lot to be grateful to him for.
To think that this amazing place sprung from the imagination and motivation of one visionary man is mind-blowing.”
– Mark Champion
Moved to Vail three months ago
“I didn’t know him personally, but I sure have enjoyed this mountain for the last 29 years. I guess I would just want to thank him for looking out for all the people who wanted to have fun.”
Bart and Yeti’s bartender,
30 years in the valley
“He was such a gung-ho person. You know, they told him he’d never ski again after his injury, and look at all he did. He was a great guy, he was a lot of fun, and he’ll be missed.”
– Howard Rapson
Long-time Vail resident
“He has literally been here forever – he made Vail. Now we have a lot of amazing things to remember him by – Blue Sky Basin, Seibert Circle, Pete’s Lift, and most of all, Vail Mountain itself.
But losing him is like losing a member of our own family. For a lot of people, it is like losing the reason they came here.”
– Peter Sampson,
Montauk Seafood Grill
“I wouldn’t be here without Pete Seibert. We came out came out in January (of 1964) and an made an appointment to see this founder of Vail and he very graciously gave us some time (to consider his job offer.) He told us his dream of this big resort and that it would never be accomplished without a good medical facility and encouraged us to come out, even though we were just one of 135 applicants. We got the job and the rest is history.”
Here is a guy who had his knee cap blown up and a few year later competed in the Roche Cup, the biggest downhill (ski) race at the time, despite a horrendous leg wound. People don’t realize it but that was amazing.
We served together on the (Vail Town) Council and when he was in meetings, he was constantly exercising his thigh muscle, doing isometric exercises, he was a tough guy and a good patient. He always listened and followedorders.
He was a common guy and you could talk to him.
Way back they had local races and this was after the metal skis had come out and everybody was talking about how they were so much better. Pete went home without telling anyone and got his old wood skis and won the race just to prove that who’s on top of the skis is what really matters.”
– Dr. Tom Steinberg
Vail’s original doctor;
physician and resident of community since 1965
“When we went to meet the founder of this new ski resort, I was kind of in awe of this man. But he always acted like a regular guy whenever I was in his company.
He seemed a little puzzled by me, but I think we had a kind of a friendship. We were neighbors for some time and it was nice to see him raise his family. They didn’t live much different than we did. I will remember that he had all these wounds and did all these wonderful things, and was an expert skier.”
– Flo Steinberg
Doctor’s wife; town activist
“I think Earl (Eaton Sr.) introduced Pete in Pete’s mind to the “perfect mountain.’ The variety of terrain for beginners intermediates and advanced skiers on the front side and a Back Bowl skiing experience that is truly unique in the world of skiing. They had the vision and the foresight for Blue Sky basin and that really speaks to Pete’s vision.
What an innovator. Look what he created. I truly think we ought to celebrate the man. He has left a wonderful legacy for the community and the skiing world.”
– Bill Jensen
Chief operating officer of Vail Mountain