"This is the place.’
Beneath the brilliant blue sky, we slowly turned in a circle and saw perfect ski terrain no matter which direction we faced. North back down the mountain and off to the east and the west lay miles of terrain, both steep and gentle. Much of it was better than the finest recreational ski sites in all of Colorado-hell, in all of North America!
And to the south was the most mind-blowing landscape of all: A series of bowls stretched to the horizon, a virtually treeless universe of boundless powder, open slopes, and open sky. It was an effort to relate to the staggering size of the bowls.
Earl and I searched the skyline. From the friendly rolling slopes near Vail Pass and Shrine Pass, we turned toward the approximate locations of Camp Hale and Leadville, 30 miles due south. We let our gaze sweep over the Sawatch Range and the majestic silhouette of Mount of the Holy Cross.
It was a landscape so vast that it was best described by the name we would later pick for one of the most famous slopes of them all – Forever.
We looked at each other and realized what we both knew for certain – This was it!
Besides the sheer impact of the vistas from the summit, I was also struck by the fine quality and condition of the snow – light, powdery and undisturbed by the wind. There were great snow caps on the rocks and tree stumps, a sign that destructive winds rarely blew up here. And the trees grew in a consistent, symmetrical shape, meaning that the summit, facing away from the prevailing wind, was rarely hit by gales. The mountain was beyond perfection.
Bob Parker, a fellow 10th Mountain man, Skiing Magazine writer/editor and famed Vail publicist, once called me the “Brigham Young of American skiing” in the belief that, like the Mormon leader arriving with his people in Utah, I had declared of the Vail summit, “This is the place.”
Well, yes, it was “the place.” But it didn’t occur to me to say that – or anything else. It was simply love at first sight, and I was speechless.
After an hour of tramping around the summit, Earl and I removed our climbing skins, put them in our packs and turned to make what probably were the first downhill runs ever at Vail.
The snow looked smooth and clean on the top half of the mountain, but we actually found it pretty tough going. The powder was so deep that it slowed us to a halt. Eventually we were able to turn into the fall line to the north and cut long turns through the powder, reaching the bottom by traversing what is now Giant Steps and descending the future Bear Tree. We were tired but exhilarated. The trip down took less than two hours.
I looked back up, and there was no sign that such a vast treasure lay in hiding up there. But I had seen it, and I was already beginning to construct in my mind the most beautiful ski resort in the world.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth 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 One, entitled “Up the no-name mountain.” TThe book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.