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The Murchisons – few had a greater affect on Vail

Dick Hauserman
Special to the DailyThe Murchison home.
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When asked, “How did you pick your lot?” Lupe Murchison replied, “We were having lunch at the Red Lion, and after a couple of drinks, John told me he wanted to show me the spot where he wanted to build the house. Of course, I was thrilled that they had picked it out. We went on the bluff which is called Bear Tree Trail now, and there was nothing but this protrusion of stone and rock and a cliff. Bud told me that was where the house would be built. I told him that the martinis had worked too well.

“At that time, I think it was the prettiest house there. There weren’t too many homes then. It was a great house for entertaining. We loved every moment that we were there.”

John Murchison did many wonderful things for Vail. He helped Vail out of innumerable financial crises through his connections with people in Nebraska, Minnesota and New York. He also started the Vail hospital. His contributions and involvement with the hospital were substantial.

John and Lupe Murchison were two of the nicest people you would ever want to know. He was a partner of mine in the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy of Vail and in an ill-fated purchase of 2,300 acres in Lake Creek from a sheep rancher named Bob Burford. This was stymied by my fellow directors. More on this later.

The first week Vail opened in 1962, the Murchisons gave a big party at Mid-Vail. It was quite an affair. Mid-Vail was very small that first year, but the party included nearly 100 people. Everyone was given a candle to hold in the four-passenger gondola on the way up. The national team racers in town for training were included in the party. The kids had never experienced a party of that kind. All they could talk about was how wonderful it was to be included.

The next day, the U.S. Forest Service was upset because liquor had been served and there was no license on the Forest Service property. Rod Slifer had a great time – he rode part of the way down on the outside of the gondola.

“It was, of course, very festive at the party. It was the first event we had here,” Slifer says now. “I don’t recall a thing about the party. Leaving, I wanted to get on a gondola car for which I was a little too late. So I jumped onto the side of the car and stood on the rack that holds the skis and said that I would go down as a ski. We left the terminal and, after a couple of towers, I decided it wasn’t too smart to be on the outside. I crawled in through the open window.

“Later that winter, the Scotts had a party at their house,” Slifer continues. “It was a wonderful time. One of the guests wanted to go home as a ski, so he crawled up on the car and lay down on the ski rack. Off they drove to the home on Mill Creek Circle. So you see, I’m not the only nut!”

Thank goodness one of the Vail superstars was not lost that night.

There were several shaky moments when Vail had to raise money to keep going. There was a second selling of additional limited-partnership interests, and at various times, some of the directors loaned money to get through critical periods. That all ended with Banker’s Life in Lincoln, Nebraska – again, thanks to John Murchison’s friend, George Cook, chairman of Banker’s Life, who arranged a loan of nearly $900,000.

It was a big infusion of cash – quite a milestone.

“That was John Murchison’s doing. He promoted the whole thing,” says Keith Brown. “There is something in the minutes of one of the meetings that John was applauded and thanked for the great work he had done in putting it together for us. In my mind, when that financing took over, Vail started out of the woods. I really relaxed and felt this thing was on solid ground.”

It took a while to get the first banks started in Vail, and now they are all over the place. George Caulkins tells a story about when he, Keith Brown, and Harley Higbie tried to start the first bank in Vail.

“Harley did all the paperwork, and then we went to John Murchison, who was going to invest in it, too, because John liked banks,”Caulkins says. “John’s first job was working for a bank. His father put him in charge of a bank in Athens, Texas. John loved banking.”

John Murchison asked Caulkins if he was going to leave any money in the bank in Vail.

“I don’t leave any money anywhere – I don’t have any money,” Caulkins replied.

They did have the right to start the first bank and were going to house it in one of the house trailers before Vail was officially opened, but they changed their minds and withdrew.

That would have been another spectacular success story for Caulkins, Brown and Higbie – as well as their good friend, John Murchison, who was always there when they needed him.

Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 64th installment, an excerpt from chapter 10, “The VIPs and the Notables.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.


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