Vail’s 50th anniversary: The spirit that built the best |

Vail’s 50th anniversary: The spirit that built the best

Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum | Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado – When Dave and Renie Gorsuch moved to Vail to open their ski shop, the were required to join the local merchants association.

“Bob Parker and Pete Seibert wanted everyone pulling on the same end of the rope,” Dave Gorsuch said.

Vail in the 1960s was wonderful and woeful, the center of the universe and completely isolated. The streets were dirt when they weren’t mud, but it was fun being part of something brand spanking new.

“It was easy then. We were trying to put it together,” Dave said in a video interview.

Talk to folks who’ve been around long to have some perspective and they’ll tell you about the spirit of the place.

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“There was no class structure. Everyone was in it for quality of life,” said Diana Donovan.

John and Diana owned Donovan’s Copper Bar, a legendary local libation location.

“There was the time a local bar that ran out of lettuce. Another bar cut their heads of lettuce in half and shared it. That’s just how we did things. We were all in this together,” Donovan said.

When Sheika and Pepi Gramshammer built Gastof Gramshammer, Red Lion owner Marge Burdick loaned them curtains and helped them get open in time for the 1964 ski season.

“It was a good bunch of people who came here for the right reasons,” Donovan said.

They came for the same reasons then as we do now – the skiing.

“About everyone here in the beginning was a skier. All the extroverts put on skis and stayed. Introverts put on skis and became extroverts,” said Morrie Shepard, Vail’s first ski school director.

“Many of the businessmen put on skis, tried skiing and said, ‘Vail is never going to make it.’ They’d take off their skis and never be heard from again,” Shepard said.

What we have in common

Most of our stories share some common elements: We came here from somewhere else intending to stay for a bit, then head back to reality, wherever that is.

“Many came here for the one tour and never left. No one came here to stay,” said John Donovan.

Rod Slifer and Shepard came over from Aspen on the same day, May 1, 1962. The company had originally planned to pay Slifer $600 a month, but could only come up with $550.

Slifer came anyway, saying he had nothing to lose.

“It was the most money I’d made in my life,” he said.

Slifer, like everyone else, did everything all the time. There were no job descriptions; everything was everyone’s job.

“The spirit of the people in Vail in those days was adventure and creativity. ‘What do you think? We can do that!'” Shepard said.

No one was from here. No one lived here.

“We all helped each other. It was a wonderful team effort with the vision of creating something. They wanted to be part of it,” Shepard said.

Dave Gorsuch said people told him over and over how Vail wouldn’t work, and yet somehow it did.

“People knew Lionshead would never work and China Bowl wasn’t needed because it was too flat and who needs that much skiing anyway. Beaver Creek was out of the question. It would be a day area and dilute what we have here in Vail,” Gorsuch said. “I learned you can’t really listen to the naysayers. Vision and experience work. I saw it many, many times through all those experiences.”

Shepard still skis all the time and meets some of those naysayers.

There are things they’d do differently, but they know what we really have going for us, Vail Mountain, can’t be screwed up.

“If you know what you have as an asset, you can make it work,” Gorsuch said.

“Every week or two I meet someone on the lifts who had a chance to buy a condo for $10,000 and they tell me, ‘I didn’t think it would ever make it,'” Shepard said. “When we built it we thought Vail was the best ski resort in the world. We still do.”

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

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