Up the no-name mountain
The stars were out, and it promised to be a clear and sunny day – just as we had hoped. We laced up our leather ski boots and strapped climbing skins onto our 215cm Head skis. We stepped into bear-trap bindings and lashed long leather thongs around our ankles to prevent losing a ski in bottomless powder. We then put on our packs, which contained our lunches, first-aid kits, dry socks and other paraphernalia necessary for an all-day marathon.
Finally, we poked our shoulder-high ski poles into the snow, turned south, and began the ascent in knee-deep powder.
It was tough going from the start, deep and steep, and we often traded places for breaking trail. After a half mile or so, we were panting and perspiring.
“God, I hope this is worth the trip,” I said to Earl.
He pondered this question as we continued to climb. “It looked like a damn good ski mountain when I saw it before,” he finally said.
“You saw it in the summertime,” I chided him. “You couldn’t judge snow conditions or wind conditions. I hope we’re not wasting our time.”
He shrugged. “Hunting for a good ski mountain is never a waste of time.” He plunged ahead into the powder.
Earl Eaton was 35 years old, a native of Edwards, just 15 miles away down Route 6. Born Westerner though he was, Earl seemed to me more like the pragmatic, imperturbable New England Yankees I had grown up with in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He spoke directly but softly, if at all, and usually his contribution to a discussion was brief, pointed and firmly rooted in common sense.
He was also a powerful skier who worked as a snowcat driver and ski patrolman in the winter. In summer he transformed himself into a uranium prospector, traveling tirelessly through Colorado mountain country with his Geiger counter. His search for minerals had given him a unique familiarity with vast areas of isolated Colorado mountain terrain, much of it rarely visited by other human beings. But uranium wasn’t the only treasure Earl Eaton was prospecting for. He was also looking for a mountain that might someday be turned into a splendid new ski area, a mountain with vast rolling slopes-some steep, some gentle, some wooded, some wide open – all running down three or four beautifully falling miles to the base from a suitably snowy summit.
Earl and I had shared this desire to find the perfect ski mountain since we first met in Aspen in 1947. During the intervening 10 years, we had explored a dozen or more sites, including the Collegiate Peaks west of Salida, Monarch Pass and the San Juan range in southwest Colorado, as well as a hill or two in the Eagle Valley.
We had come away convinced that none were up to the standards of the mountain we wanted. But we were never discouraged.
The following is the first 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.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.