Vail celebrates 50th anniversary Saturday
VAIL, Colorado – When Daphne Slevin thinks back to the day the Vail ski resort opened for its inaugural season, she can hardly believe it’s been 50 years.
“I’m not that old,” she laughs. “‘Cause 50 years is half-a-century – that’s a very long time.”
In that time, Vail has turned into a resort that most early employees and residents never imagined. Rod Slifer, of Slifer Smith and Frampton Real Estate, got here in 1962. That’s the summer when Vail was built, a time when many initially thought the resort would become a fun place to ski mostly for those who had invested the $10,000 to become a partner, but they didn’t expect much more than that.
“I think they thought it would be kind of a clubby place they and their friends could ski,” Slifer said Friday of the original partners. “Nobody had any idea – we knew it would grow, but not the way it did.”
Morrie Shepard moved to Vail in May of 1962. He had been assistant ski school director in Aspen, and was a childhood friend of Vail founder Pete Seibert, both of whom grew up in Sharon, Mass. Slifer had also been living in Aspen and Shepard convinced him to head to Vail with him.
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When they arrived, the work was already beginning. Shepard said there wasn’t much in the valley and they had to build a little village to house everyone. There were sleeping bunk trailers, dining trailers, a cook trailer, a bathroom trailer and so on.
“We got our water off a spring just up the hill, under where the new gondola is now, and pumped it down to the camp,” Shepard said. “We all worked from early morning until late at night and then all got together and once in a while would go into Minturn for some nightlife, which wasn’t much.”
Seibert’s dream to build a ski resort was becoming a reality. With the help of Earl Eaton, who had been a ski patroller at Aspen, the men had chosen the mountain they would turn into the perfect ski resort.
In Dick Hauserman’s book, “The Inventors of Vail,” Pete Seibert said it was Eaton who first showed him what would become Vail.
“In March of 1957 we climbed to the top of the mountain. It took us six or seven hours. We had to break trail the whole way. We went up Mill Creek and then traversed an old logging road to what is now Mid-Vail, then up Swingsville in long traverses up the ridge to the top,” Seibert is quoted as saying in the book. “Once we got to the top, I thought I had never seen another mountain form that lent itself so well to skiing. Initially, from the top in all directions, there was good tree cover protected from the wind by the bowls to the west that sheltered the winds. On a windy day you can stop at the top and see the wind in the treetops and hear the wind, but seldom is it severe at slope level. We went a ways down the back side to see what was there, or at least a portion of it – the northeast bowls – and then came off the mountain.”
The Back Bowls are what made Vail, remembers Shepard. He said when Seibert or Eaton would take potential investors to the top of the mountain on the snowcat, every time they reached the top where they could look down over the Sun Up Bowl, like clockwork the men would reach into their jacket pockets looking for their checkbooks.
Shepard knows the feeling – he had it, too, the first time he looked over into the bowl.
“As that view came into sight – I had never seen anything as beautiful and wide-open as that,” Shepard said. “I was so impressed.”
Seibert had asked Shepard to join the team as the resort’s first ski school director.
“I said I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world,” Shepard remembers. “I had never seen anything like it. I was so awe-striken that I couldn’t resist (the job).”
Before he assumed that role, though, he said he did just about everything there was to do that summer. Slifer was running the welcome center, office and payroll, and was also showing properties to some of the new partners. Shepard ended up becoming the fire chief and building inspector that summer, even though he had been hired to be ski school director.
He remembers marking trails with Seibert by putting ribbons on trees and later having the lift crews cut down all the trees in between.
Slifer remembers that it was relatively easy to get things done back then. He said he, Seibert, Eaton and Seibert’s attorney went to the county commissioners and said, “We’re building a ski area and we need you to sign a plat so we can record it and start selling real estate.”
They simply said OK.
“I feel blessed to have been here and to have lived here all those 50 years and watched it grow and being involved in its growth,” Slifer said. “In my mind, I don’t think it could happen again. There are just so many things you would have to do – environmental concerns, all those things.”
As Slifer, Shepard and Slevin – of whom Slifer and Slevin still live in Vail, and Shepard lives in Eagle – remember back 50 years, they all remember one thing about that first season: There was very little early season snow. Slifer thinks the mountain may not have made its Dec. 15 opening date had there been more snow, however, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Around the first of December, I drove my car to Mid-Vail,” Slifer said. “It probably couldn’t have been completed if we had a lot of early snow.”
The snow started falling in early January and the season turned out to be great. Slevin even learned how to ski that season.
“By Dec. 15, when the mountain opened, I hadn’t even skied,” Slevin said. “I thought it was so glamorous and exciting to be in a ski resort. I was brought up in England. I had never been to a ski resort or seen a ski resort – I just found it so glamorous.”
Shepard remembers the day when Sun Up Bowl opened. It was sometime in mid-January and there was finally enough snow to drop the ropes. He and Seibert ducked underneath them to ski toward a nice vantage point – they wanted to watch as the first paying guests of the resort skied what would eventually become legendary terrain.
“We heard someone say, ‘Oh, they’re going to ski it all out,” Shepard said. “We laughed about that – we said, ‘Wait until they see it.'”
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.