Vail’s 50th anniversary: Back Bowls or bust |

Vail’s 50th anniversary: Back Bowls or bust

Vail's founder Pete Seibert, left, and the first ski school director Morrie Shepard are all smiles as they prepare for opening day in 1962. The two skied on ahead to watch the fun when they opened Vail's Back Bowls for the first time in 1962.

VAIL, Colorado – As Vail and Beaver Creek opens more terrain this season, it harks back to Season One.

Vail opened Dec. 15, 1962, with a little snow but lots of potential.

The ski company they called in the Ute Indians for a snow dance and 50 years later it remains a mystery whether it was a publicity stunt or if Vail Associates honestly thought it would help, but suddenly they had plenty of snow.

One morning a couple weeks later Pete Seibert announced that they were going to open Sun Up Bowl for the first time. It seemed like everyone on the mountain was crouched behind the rope, ready to be the first to spring into Vail’s already famous Back Bowls.

“It looked like the Oklahoma Land Rush. No one had ever seen anything like it,” said Morrie Shepard, Vail’s first ski school director.

Support Local Journalism

When Shepard and Seibert skied past the rope and stopped, looking for a better view, someone in the crowd yelled, “They’re going to ski it all out!”

It wasn’t possible then and it’s still not, Shepard said.

“We dropped the rope and we heard whoops and laughing and we knew it was going to be a success,” Shepard said..

A week or so prior to that, Seibert and Shepard took Vail’s new ski instructors into the Back Bowls for the first time. They skied down Milt’s Face in 6 inches of sugary powder with grass and weeds up to their knees.

There was a little whispering among the instructors that they didn’t think the average tourist would be able to ski the back side of Vail Mountain, but they didn’t complain to Shepard or Seibert.

Back Bowls or bust

In the beginning, 1962, Vail’s originals were struggling to come up with enough money to build the dream. Faced with a brutal decision, they were leaning toward postponing opening the Back Bowls, and using the money they’d save to build more hotel rooms for guest.

Bob Parker, Vail’s original marketing magician, stood up and declared that he needed those Back Bowls to put Vail on the map. They’d have to find some other way to raise the money, Parker insisted.

George Caulkins, Harley Higbie and Keith Brown came up with a scheme to sell additional shares and at the last moment put the money together.

“Vail is successful because of the Back Bowls,” said Dick Hauserman, author of “The Inventors of Vail.”

Fast forward to the late 1980s when China Bowl opened and thousands of skiers were waiting behind a rope, waiting to careen down.

Vail Mountain President Mike Shannon made a brief speech about terrain expansion and how this would shorten lift lines and distribute skiers more evenly around the mountain. As the rope dropped, Shannon shouted into his microphone, “Lift lines are a thing of the past in Vail!”

So many people skied down so fast that it took 45 minutes to ride out.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

Support Local Journalism