Vail’s first gondola nearly too late |

Vail’s first gondola nearly too late

Peter W. Seibert
Special to the Daily/Courtesy Vail Public LibraryA spanking new Bell gondola waited to carry skiers to the slopes on Vail's first opening day, Dec. 15, 1962. If not for the dogged efforts of Bob Parker, however, the gondola would have arrived months too late.

Oilmen George Caulkins and Harley Higbie, for example, designed the water and sewer systems, and Ed Kilby, who had cooked daily meals for the construction crews featuring chicken-fried steak and boiled cabbage, took over the sleek kitchen in the newly opened Vail Village Inn as “French Chef Pierre Killbeaux.”

Public-relations man Bob Parker, meanwhile, laid out the grids of gas pipes in the village. He also made one of the great rescues of our entire operation.

One night in August, Parker was idly examining a pile of requisition orders and work schedules when he came across a horrible glitch: the Swiss engineers had scheduled mid-February 1963 as the time when the gondola – which was to be the resort’s glamorous centerpiece – would be finished. But opening day was to be on Dec. 15, 1962!

Ever calm, Parker phoned Lucerne, Switz., and quietly informed the company of the mistake. He received a typically Swiss response:

“We do not make mistakes. It is February. Nothing can be changed.”

Parker didn’t argue; he just went ahead and changed everything.

“I quickly developed an expertise in shipping matters,” he told June Simonton. “I located a transport expert in Brussels. I spent a lot of time on the phone in the middle of the night talking to Europe. We intercepted gondola shipments, took them off barges or boats, put them on trucks, got them to the airport in Brussels. We totally reorganized the shipping schedule.”

In the end, thanks to Parker’s incredible cool, we got everything in time, and, incredibly, the gondola was up and working on opening day. What was most incredible, however, was that when opening day came, everything else was ready, too.

Months before, we had posted a small sign along U.S. Highway 6 that read: “This is Vail, open for skiing December 1962.”

It was actually going to happen on schedule.

The following is the 44th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter 8, entitled “Building the Dream.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.

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