Vail Valley Voices: Ski bum salvation |

Vail Valley Voices: Ski bum salvation

Warren Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

It was a warm spring day as we pulled off of a two-lane highway and onto a muddy road that led to the base of a Colorado mountain. We had left Denver and driven over Loveland Pass down into Dillon and then over Vail Pass to what used to be a lettuce farm. There we met up with Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton to share a ride in their small tracked vehicle to the top of their mountain and get my first view of what they would called the Back Bowls.

A very ambitious program had been launched to build another destination resort in the Colorado Rockies, and this would be called Vail. I had been invited to come back after the summer construction season and point my cameras at this resort during its start-up period.

I returned the following February with my family and spent four days in the new lodge (we had to vacate the room for three days as there were very few accommodations back then and they needed the room!) and then we could come back for four or five more days and film as much as I wanted to.

The movie shots I managed to get in those now-famous Back Bowls with only two or three skiers and me back there became legendary. Everyone who lived in or near Vail at that time was so busy I had to have skiers drive over every day from Aspen to enjoy the powder. Bob Smith, who was yet to invent his famous goggles, and Starr Walton from Donner Summit carved out some wonderful tracks. The town consisted of Bridge Street and a gondola building, a lodge and a restaurant. I think it had 42 rooms, and that was it. Seven months later when I showed the first movies of Vail in my narration, I said, “Get out here and buy some of this land because they are not going to make any more of it.” Several of the people in my audiences made the trip, bought property, started a business and lived out the rest of their lives in Vail.

Some of our friends who we knew from Vail have recently been skiing with us in Montana, and it was great to reminisce about those good old days. They have lived their entire adult lives in the Vail Valley, and their parents are still upset with them because they left the city after college and found freedom in the mountains on a pair of skis!

And here we are after over 50 years of all of these people still being called ski bums by their friends who stayed in the city and were afraid to move to the mountains because of their parents.

One friend moved there to paint houses but in the early days there were not enough houses to paint so he started selling real estate and found it was easy to sell from the seat of a chairlift and became a very wealthy man financially and followed his ski tips from one real estate deal to the next until today, in one of the new upscale hotels a cup of hot chocolate is $16 where an all day lift ticket used to cost $4.

To help build Vail, they were selling vacant lots adjacent to the lodge for $10,000, and they threw in two lifetime ski lift passes that today are virtually priceless. Or they used to be until they lowered the season pass price, and the crowds have grown from that epic day the first winter when they sold eight lift tickets in one day to crowds today in excess of 25,000 skiers.

Robert Redford, who owns his own small ski resort in Utah called Sundance and produced a movie here in Montana called “A River Runs Through It” is rumored to be planning a ski movie in Vail that will be called “A Highway Runs Through It.”

Every winter, the snow covers any blemishes that the earth might have, covered with a great mix of powder snow and chairlifts. That is then covered all winter by skiers who come from everywhere in the world. The come to enjoy the end result of a lot of pioneers who carved out this Vail Valley into a long thin group of cities that cling to the lifeline that is I-70, which brings the skiers and snowboarders here from all over the world and carries the money down to the big city of Denver. Most of it will be the payroll for the thousands of people who work for Vail Associates or have chosen to build their own businesses between powder snow days in the winter and trout fishing and mountain biking days in the summer.

If it was not for Pete Seibert, Bob Parker and Earl Eaton and all of those other pioneers who created so many other great ski resorts, the residents and workers would be in a commuting line in front of you every morning in some nameless city somewhere where the flat earth society lives and prospers without freedom year in and year out.

What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto

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