Vail Daily columnist Richard Carnes: Snow was the least of it 50 years ago |

Vail Daily columnist Richard Carnes: Snow was the least of it 50 years ago

Richard Carnes
Vail, CO, Colorado

Fifty years ago this very day there were, on a percentage basis, a lot more nervous people in Happy Valley than there are today.

But the surprising thing is that snowfall was not at the top of their “Holy bleep, what’re we gonna do” list. Oh sure, it was there, somewhere in the top 10 would be my guess, but after spending the previous 12 months busting their backsides pretty much 24/7, they were wondering and worrying if anyone would show up on Saturday for their long-awaited grand opening.

It had been an incredibly difficult and challenging year, but it was all about to pay off (at least they hoped). They had done it with no cell phones, TVs, or computers, newspapers that arrived a few days late in Minturn by train, and AM radio only if you stood on top of Vail Mountain with one leg in the air and angled slightly toward Denver.

Yet besides a huge crowd, there was so much more to worry about.

Was $5 too much for a lift ticket? (Nope.)

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Were a dozen ski instructors enough? (Yep.)

Was one liquor store enough? (Is it ever?)

Would the party line phone system handle all the possible requests? (Probably, as it was a different time.)

If the tourists did arrive, would they feign shock at the muddy streets and dismay at the ratty trailers used for worker housing? (Yes and no. Again, it was a different time.)

Was Gopher Hill a stupid name? (Yes, but that was better than Marmot Molehill, and it eventually became Golden Peak anyway.)

Although extremely popular, would anyone ever be able to decipher Pepi and Sheika’s accents? (No, and 50 years later not much has changed.)

Would paying $11 per square foot to build a house on Beaver Dam Road ever be looked back upon as a smart financial decision? (Um … yeeeeesss!)

According to original investor Dick Hauserman, they had just built all of Vail – cut the runs, the lifts, the upper terminal, lower terminal and everything else – for $1.6 million.

Today that wouldn’t be enough to build a small outhouse on Forest Road (provided one could acquire the proper permits). Or for even better perspective, the town of Vail spent more than that on the Famous Flatulating Fountain at Seibert Circle.

Anyway, just two days later, on Thursday of that week, a directors meeting was held to decide what to do since regardless of all the other issues, they still had no snow, and to top it off the U.S. Ski Team was arriving to train. They decided to give away free lift tickets so people could at least ride the new gondola (the first in America), and lo and behold, it snowed about a foot the next day, allowing them to open on the 15th (sort of like last Saturday).

Rumor has it there’s a wonderful story of the entire year (1962) in the latest issue of Vail Valley Magazine, where our very own Rod Slifer gives a season by season recap, and it includes fascinating info most of us have never heard or read about.

So pay attention this weekend, and the entire season for that matter, but on Friday night we can all see the 50th anniversary film by Roger Brown (Vail’s original filmmaker) at the Marriott in Lionshead.

The next morning marks the official birthday, and there will be all sorts of activities happening throughout the day, but especially late that afternoon at Mountain Plaza (at the base of the Vista Bahn – ‘scuze me, I mean “One”).

And the Vail Daily’s 128-page 50th anniversary glossy commemorative magazine comes out next week.

Don’t let such an amazingly unique opportunity pass by without joining in somehow, somewhere, for something.

Because it won’t happen again.

Richard Carnes of Edwards writes weekly. He can be reached at

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