Vail founder passes away peacefully
The nine-month battle with esophageal cancer that ended in Edwards Monday evening was at times brutal. But Vail founder Pete Seibert fought the disease with the same zest and vision that 40 years ago drove him – with the help of a few friends – to sculpt one of the world’s most famous ski resorts out of an obscure mountain valley.
“He lived a full life and as he once said, “I sure had a good time,'” longtime friend Sheika Gramshammer said. “He said that just about a week ago. We were laughing about some of the silly things we’ve done.”
Seibert, 77, was surrounded by friends and family when he died at his home in Edwards around 6 p.m. Monday. The World War II veteran, 10th Mountain Division trooper and former U.S. Ski Team racer was given six months to live when he was diagnosed with cancer in October.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Seibert said in reference to his disease in a February interview. “But what are you going to do about it? You have to go after it. I’ve always done everything I’ve wanted to do with gusto.”
Family members declined to comment Tuesday, but Eagle County Deputy Coroner Bruce Campbell spoke on their behalf.
“He died very peacefully,” Campbell said. “Pete was very, very healthy otherwise, up until time of death. He looked great, but he had deteriorated over the last few days.”
Though he’d been bedridden for the last couple of weeks, Seibert continued working as a consultant for Vail Resorts, Campbell said. He was also trying to finish his second book, “A Love of the Mountains,” which he said was going to be about the other soldiers in Camp Hale’s 10th Mountain Division who went on to build ski mountains after returning from the war –a war that Seibert come home with such bad injuries from that doctors told he’d never walk again, let alone ski.
By the early ’50s, he was a ski patroller in Aspen. And he was racing again.
He dealt with cancer with the same determination he overcame his war wounds, said Dr. Robert Rifkin, the oncologist who treated Seibert at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards.
“This was a challenge he thought he could accomplish, like everything else he had done. His goal was always to try to beat the cancer, although we told him it would be hard,” Rifkin said.
“When he started treatment he told me, “You have to help me finish my second book,'” Rifkin said.
Though the book isn’t finished, others will try to complete and publish it. Seibert published his first book, “Vail, Triumph of a Dream,” in 2000.
Tests revealed in October that the cancer had also spread to Seibert’s lungs. Chemotherapy treatments cured those lesions. But in May –when Seibert began having trouble driving –doctors found the disease had spread to his brain, Rifkin said.
But even then, he didn’t give in, said Bill “Sarge” Brown, a longtime friend, 10th Mountain Division trooper and former manager and director of mountain operations for Vail and Beaver Creek mountains.
“You’ve got to cross the line of departure and go forward like you always have,” Brown said.
Throughout, the gregarious and friendly Seibert was a source of support for other cancer patients in Edwards, Rifkin said.
“Even on weeks he didn’t get treatment, he came in to give support to other patients,” Rifkin said.
Backing up others was nothing new to Seibert, said Gramshammer, who along with husband Pepi owns Pepi’s Gasthof Gramshammer and Pepi’s restaurant, among other Vail Village businesses.
“He has been a friend of ours since the beginning. It’s a long haul from then,” she said. “In the early stages of Vail, he was not just a founder. He was a promoter, he was a friend, he was fair and he helped people to get started. He was a great backbone to all of us.”
Longtime Vail resident Tom Korchowsky, who’d been friends with Seibert since the late ’60s, had visited his old pal Thursday.
“I brought him ice cream and noticed that he seemed to enjoy it, so I asked him what he would like and he said, “lobster,'” Korchowsky said. “So I fixed him a lobster meal Saturday.”
Seibert enjoyed the lobster he ate but had pretty much stopped eating over the weekend, and went very fast after that, Korchowsky said.
Friends described Seibert as a man who “always enjoyed a good meal.” So Gramshammer said that Monday afternoon she brought a gourmet lunch to Seibert’s house that consisted of salmon, mash potatoes and spinach.
A few hours after the meal and after she left Seibert’s house, Gramshammer said she was called back because her old friend had passed away.
“There was no struggle. It was very calm and very peaceful,” she said. “It was just like he fell asleep. They didn’t even realize it. They just looked over and realized he was gone.”
As of Tuesday evening, no memorial arrangements had been made.
As much he’d accomplished, Seibert wasn’t quite ready to stop making his mark on the world, Rifkin said.-
A man of his determination may never have been ready.
“I think it’s fair to say he died in peace,” Rifkin said. “Although he always wanted to do more.”
Vail Daily reporters Geraldine Haldner, Cliff Thompson and Veronica Whitney contributed to this report.