Vail’s 40th a "Triumph’ | VailDaily.com
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Vail’s 40th a "Triumph’

Stephen Lloyd Wood

At that time, I’d already edited “Inventors of Vail,” Dick Hauserman’s history of the ski resort and community that grew out of Seibert’s lifelong vision, for serialization in the newspaper throughout most of 2001. The project had been a success for Hauserman, helping him sell more than 4,000 copies of the book to date, and for the Vail Daily in our mission of “bringing communities together.” It was so successful in my bosses’ eyes, in fact, they told me to get started on Seibert’s book, “Vail: Triumph of a Dream.” They said they wanted to see “Triumph” in the newspaper as soon as possible.Seibert, after all, was 77 years old and battling esophageal cancer. We’d heard, too, he was anxious to see his book serialized in the Vail Daily. But that day at Paddy’s – just after ordering creamed corn with mashed potatoes and gravy, a meal he felt he could get past his ravaged throat – he looked me straight in the eyes and told me exactly what he wanted to do.”What sells Vail is best for Vail,” he told me. “Let’s wait for the winter, when everybody’s here. That would be best for Vail. Damn right.”It was at that moment I realized what Seibert’s “vision” was all about. Whether it was building “the most beautiful ski resort in the world,” ordering lunch or seeing his book republished for everybody in what’s now called the “Vail Valley” to read in daily installments, he knew what he wanted – he could see it, and everybody else was going to see it, too.Damn right.Little did we know three months later, on Monday, July 15, cancer would get the best of Seibert, and he would die peacefully at his home, surrounded by his family. I was the second person at the Vail Daily to learn of his passing that night. With only about an hour before our midnight deadline – and a copy of “Triumph” on my desk at home – it became incumbent upon me to write and file the obituary for Vail’s founder in the next day’s edition of the Vail Daily.I’ll always remember that night, knowing everyone in the valley, and in the ski world, would be learning of Seibert’s death in just a few hours.Now, at Seibert’s request, I’m very pleased to present the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream,” a beautifully illustrated, 191-page autobiography of the man who founded what became North America’s – perhaps the world’s – greatest ski resort. The first of 68 installments will appear Sunday, the 40th anniversary of Vail’s opening day, Dec. 15, 1962. The book itself can be purchased at various locations throughout the Vail Valley, as well as online at Barnes&Noble.com or Amazon.com. So far, about 12,000 copies have been sold.Damn right.It will not take you, the reader, long to realize Seibert’s “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” and Hauserman’s “Inventors of Vail” tell roughly the same story about how Vail came to be – but they approach the tale from entirely different points of view. “Inventors,” painstakingly written and self-published by Hauserman, one of the original members of Vail’s board of directors, focuses on the people who made Vail happen, with hundreds of black-and-white snapshots, architectural plans, historical photos and newspaper clips documenting the resort’s evolution from a few sheep ranches in the 1950s to a fledgling ski resort in the 60s to a bustling mountain town in the 1970s. “Triumph,” on the other hand, is an introspective look at the life and times of Seibert himself, written in the first person – as told to a ghost writer, William Oscar Johnson – with the help of Mountain Sports Press, a Boulder-based publisher, and the full support of Vail Resorts Inc., one of the largest ski companies in the world.”It went easy. It was just recalling my life. I long-handed it, corrected stuff Johnson wrote, added to it,” Seibert told me. “I’d thought about it and had it on my mind. It took about a year.”Seibert’s is compelling story, nonetheless, presented in the elegant prose of a master writer – Williams – accompanied by rich, colorful photography and fascinating historical sidebars. For example, the first chapter, “Up the No-Name Mountain,” details the classic tale of discovering Vail Mountain with Earl Eaton. In 1957, the pair took a seven-hour climb to the top of what is now known worldwide as “Vail Mountain.””Beneath the brilliant blue sky, we slowly turned in a circle and saw perfect ski terrain no matter which direction we faced,” Seibert writes. “We looked at each other and realized what we both knew for certain: This was it!”Seibert, playing off Hauserman’s term for the early pioneers who contributed to building the resort, told me if anybody invented Vail, it was Eaton.”Earl Eaton was really the “inventor,'” Seibert told me. “He found it; I was the “founder.’ I give him all the credit in the world.”Damn right.Chapter 2, “Blue Sky Basin,” summarizes Vail’s story from the present to the past, ending with why he wrote “Triumph” in the first place.”I had been thinking for a couple of months that I’d like to write a book about my life, but I couldn’t seem to get started,” he writes. “I thought of my sons and my grandchildren, my friends from the 10th Mountain Division, my friends from Aspen, and my friends who had come to help me build Vail when it was nothing but a big, empty mountain. I watched as the gondola car entered the gloom of the Eagle’s Nest terminal. I exited into the sunshine and looked around me at the magnificent views. And I decided then and there that I would somehow produce a book about Vail and my life. Just then I looked up to see an airliner heading west. The contrails looked like two fresh ski tracks streaming across the sky.”Seibert’s early life as a boy in New England comes in chapter 3, in which he reveals his first thoughts of building a ski resort.”My vision of finding and developing my own ski area first came when I was a little boy living in New England,” Seibert writes. “In that part of the world, the mountains were smaller and the ski runs were shorter and generally covered with hard ice. I didn’t care. Any hill I could ski on became part of my imaginary resort.”Damn right.Perhaps the most compelling passage in “Triumph” comes in chapter 4, “The War Years,” in which Seibert discusses everything from volunteering for the U.S. Army and training as a ski trooper at Camp Hale to that fateful day, March 3, 1945, fighting the Germans in World War II, when he almost was killed by mortar shells in the battle for Italy’s Terminale, receiving serious injuries to both arms, his face and his right leg.”I heard a deafening blast and saw stars in many colors, the predominant one being red,” Seibert writes. “I was spitting teeth, gagging and choking on the blood in my mouth. … Two buddies came by, looked at me, and left without speaking. I wondered if I was already dead.”In the next chapters come his experiences recovering from his war wounds, his toils as a ski bum in Aspen, his racing exploits that led to qualifying for the 1950 U.S. Alpine Ski Team, his experiences as a hotelier-in-training in Switzerland and, ultimately, his return again to Colorado. It’s not until Chapters 7 and 8 that he enters into any details of the financial deals that led to the formation of Vail Associates, the company, and what went into building the Vail, the ski resort. Chapters 9 and 10 are veritable celebrations of Seibert’s dream becoming reality.”I never thought of a small ski resort,” he told me. “I always thought of a large development.”Damn right.”Triumph” isn’t all celebrations/ Chapter 11, “Tragedy on the Mountain,” details Vail’s “worst day,” March 26, 1976, when two gondola cars fell from the cable 125 feet to the snow-covered slopes above Lionshead, killing four people and injuring several more. The aftermath – being sued for more than the ski company was worth at the time – ruined the dream, and soon thereafter, with Seibert still at the helm as chairman of the board, Vail Associates was sold to a rich Texas oil man, Harry Bass. One of the most memorable passages in “Triumph” describes Seibert’s fateful lunch in 1977 with Bass, with whom he had “a humongous personality clash.” After a few pathetic jokes, the Texan tells the New Englander he’s fired.”You know what “git-along’ means, Pete?” says Bass. “”Git-along’ means you got to get along, Pete. You got to get a long, long way from here. Goodbye.””Triumph” also goes further than “Inventors” into the recent history of Vail and the ski company. In the later chapters, Seibert tells about: the making of Beaver Creek; the coming and going of owner George Gillett, who re-hired Seibert; and Vail Associates, until then a privately-held company, going public as Vail Resorts, with Apollo Advisors in charge.”I’m sorry we went public. It takes away from the family atmosphere. But I think the people running things now are doing a damn good job,” Seibert told me. “Heck, I’m still on the payroll.”Damn right.I’ve seen Seibert two other times. I shook his hand on Jan 6., 2000, the day Vail opened Blue Sky Basin, formerly known as Category III. With a few thousand other people, he skied to the bridge over Two Elk Creek to cut the ribbon with Eaton. With a flick of their wrists, Earl’s Bowl and Pete’s Bowl opened to an awaiting throng of powderhounds, dignitaries and representatives from national, state and local media, the place where the pair had gazed from the top of Vail Mountain more than 40 years ago. Blue Sky Basin, after all, had always been the final part of the plan to make Vail “the most beautiful ski resort in the world.””Today was another of those days when the community, and all of us who work with Vail Resorts, had another chance to thank Pete and Earl for the incredible experience they made available to us,” said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer for Vail Mountain. “They had the vision, and they passed it along to all of us.”Damn right.I saw Seibert again a year later, Jan. 5, 2001, the day Pete’s Express Lift was turned on for the public. There was another ceremony, this time at the top of the lift, at 11,570 feet above sea level, at what some people call Resolution Peak. I was late to the affair, which had broken up by time I could reach the top. But from the chairlift going up, I could see an army of happy skiers and snowboarders descending Seibert’s final powder stash.Suddenly, I noticed a lonely soul downloading, an older gentleman dressed in a black Vail Resorts uniform. It was Seibert, in deep thought, gazing west, out across Pete’s Bowl, the Mount of the Holy Cross, the Back Bowls and the Gore Range. I always meant to ask him that classic line of a desperate reporter: “What was going through your mind … ?”Seibert’s funeral, held this summer, July 29 at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, drew an estimated 3,000 people. As Cliff Thompson reported in the Vail Daily, attending the ceremonies was a “multi-generational crowd, ranging from the thinning ranks of World War II veteran 10th Mountain Division troopers, Seibert’s comrades in arms, to former U.S. presidents, captains of the ski industry, children who grew up in Vail, and even their children. All were there to pay tribute to the humble and eminently approachable man whose dream had made their lives in the mountain community possible.”It’s too bad Seibert didn’t quite make it to Vail’s 40 anniversary. Perhaps it was his vision in April, three months before his death, to have the story of his life, “Vail: Triumph of a Dreams,” begin on Vail’s 40th birthday, Sunday, the day his dream was realized.Happy birthday, Vail. Damn right.


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