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Carnes: Diamond (not exactly in the rough) jubilee

Forty years ago this week, the Westin in Vail opened. After multiple personalities and name changes, it’s now called the Grand Hyatt Vail, but it is still the only hotel in town with its very own chairlift.

Fifty years ago this week, the West Vail Liquor Mart and Copper Mountain opened, both becoming local institutions in their own right.

Yet each pales in comparison to the opening of Vail Mountain 60 years ago this very week.



It was 1962, the first James Bond flick (“Dr. No”) lit up theaters, the “Beverly Hillbillies” lit up the boob tube, John Glenn lit up the orbit above Vail (he passed six years ago this week and owned a home up in Potato Patch), and Pete Seibert, Earl Eaton, Rod Slifer and Morrie Shepard ignited the entire ski industry with what quickly became the most enviable ski resort on the planet.

Hyperbole?

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Nope, not in the least.

It had been an incredibly difficult and challenging year, but was all about to pay off as the above locals had spent the previous year creating the ski runs and lifts, upper and lower terminals, Mid-Vail, the base buildings, the first homes, etc. and they did it all with no cell phones, TV’s, computers, and newspapers that arrived a few days late in Minturn by train and AM radio only if you stood on top of Vail Mountain with one leg in the air and holding a ski pole just right toward Denver.

They were concerned about $5 being too much for a lift ticket and having too few ski instructors.



They were concerned tourists (whom we refer to as “guests” nowadays) and would feign shock at the muddy streets, dismay at the ratty trailers used for worker housing and that Gopher Hill was a stupid name.

They were concerned, as original investor Dick Hauserman pointed out, that spending $1.6 million for all of the construction that summer would force them to charge $11 per square foot to build a house on Beaver Dam Road, and that just might put the buyers’ market out of reach (for perspective’s sake, the town of Vail spent more than $2 million on the Famous Flatulating Fountain up at Seibert Circle).

Luckily for us, their concerns, while fiscally responsible and well-intentioned, proved to be tiny gopher holes in the overall avalanche of success the resort quickly achieved, and they were smart enough to change Gopher Hill to Golden Peak in a heartbeat.

I was barely out of diapers down in Dallas on Opening Day, but moved here in time for the 22nd anniversary, yet don’t recall any anniversary events until the 25th in 1987, when Pete, Earl and Hauserman gave speeches next to the Covered Bridge. I have a video of a frozen me holding my semi-frozen 9-month-old just in front of the stage (he survived just fine and that’s why I’m a granddad now). There was a four-tiered ice cake lit up from the inside and Ute Indians lit up the stage with their always promising snow dance.

The 50th in 2012 was spectacular, with a couple of Rob’s — Katz and Slifer — and then-Gov. John Hickenlooper giving speeches and a giant hologram of sorts shining on Pepi’s Face (the run, not the Austrian). We finished the evening watching Jonny Mogambo playing at Pepi’s. Happily, some things never change.

So enjoy being here for the 60th diamond jubilee and cherish the idea of still being around for the 70th platinum jubilee.

My family and I certainly hope to be.

Richard Carnes, of Avon, writes weekly. He can be reached at poor@vail.net.


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