Vail’s 50th anniversary: The facts of fiction
VAIL, Colorado – The truth can now be told, or at least some of it, says Bob Parker, Vail’s original marketing magician.
Parker, Vail’s first marketing guru, is 90 years old and his eyes still twinkle when he tells Vail’s tales.
Like the time he needed some photographs to promote Vail’s gondola. It was to be the first in North America. The problem was that the gondola was way behind schedule and still in Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, where it was being built.
The photo is relatively famous – four nice-looking young people smiling and waving from a gondola car with Vail’s logo emblazoned on the side.
“We faked it,” Parker said grinning.
The photo was shot in Lake Lucerne, not Vail, because it was 1961 and Vail hadn’t been built yet.
Parker walked that faked picture into Salesvertising Art, an ad agency in Denver, and handed it to Gary Kaemmer, who created the artwork for Vail’s original marketing materials.
Besides imagination, they didn’t have much to go on.
Parker had the Vail logo and a photograph of the gondola.
“I’d never seen a gondola,” Kaemmer said. “As far as we knew, Vail was the name of a mountain pass.”
Kaemmer did the poster and all the illustrations for the first Vail brochure. Parker gave him that faked photo, the Vail logo and one week to turn something around.
“If you’re in the ad game, it’s quick turnaround and I work fast anyway. I probably spent about a week on it (the poster),” Kaemmer said.
Nothing had been built in Vail so they had nothing to look at besides Parker’s photo of a gondola that did not yet exist. An illustrator in Denver, Hal Shelton, did stylized art for most of Colorado’s early ski area marketing material, those sweeping landscapes with ski lifts living in harmony with nature. It’s Shelton’s vision of Vail on that first brochure.
Parker’s Vail tale
Parker was the editor of Skiing magazine from 1955 to 1962, working for Merrill Hastings, who founded the magazine.
One fine day in 1959, Pete Seibert strolled into Parker’s office, sat on the corners of Parker’s desk, smiled smugly and said, “We’ve found the perfect resort.”
Parker said, “Oh? Where did you find that?”
Parker saw for himself when he hiked up the mountain with Earl Eaton and Seibert.
Not long after, Parker was in Europe covering the World Cup for Skiing magazine. Parker found himself in the bar one afternoon having a drink with his journalist buddies. Journalists call it, “Covering the story from mahogany ridge.”
Merrill spotted him and sent in a note reminding him not to fraternize with the competition. Parker was patient, but he also got bloodied up in World War II as a member of the 10th Mountain Division.
Parker briefly considered all this, considered his seven years as Skiing’s editor, turned Merrill’s note over and scratched his seven-year itch with this succinct response.
“I quit,” he wrote, or words to that effect.
He said Merrill graciously let him stay in the hotel and keep the rental car until he could get out of Europe.
He needed a job, so he picked up the phone in Europe and called his old 10th Mountain Division buddy Seibert in Colorado, asking if they could use some help building their new ski area.
Pete hired Parker on the spot, March 2, 1962, and sent him to the Bell Gondola’s Zurich, Switzerland, manufacturing plant to make sure Vail’s new gondola was being built on schedule.
The Bell people told him the gondola would not arrive until March 1963, months after Vail was scheduled to open. It was to be the first gondola in North America and the centerpiece of the new resort.
From Vail, Parker re-worked the delivery system, re-routed shipments, hired what are euphemistically called “professional expediters” to move things along and cut deals with customs officials.
Parker says he managed to find one flatbed tractor/trailer available to haul almost everything. The owner/driver’s name is lost to the winds of history, but Parker says he sent that trucker all over the country, New York City, Houston, Long Beach, Calif.
Some gondola parts arrived that summer and others in the fall, but they all arrived.
A letter from Seibert to investors in the summer of 1962 tried to be upbeat, but Pete seemed a little anxious as he wrote that some of the gondola cars were on their way to Vail from the port of Houston, and the rest were on the high seas somewhere.
Eventually everything arrived as Earl Eaton and his crew started stringing cable and hanging cars. Somehow it all worked out.
The gondola cranked up opening day, Dec. 15, 1962.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.