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Vail Daily column: History shows a ‘Vail Way’

Don Rogers
My View
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

John Horan-Kates asked himself and many others this question: Is there a “Vail Way” in how our pioneers and next generations of leaders built our community?

Pardon this stab at profundity, but the Sufi poet Rumi advised, “Look for the answer inside your question.”

Well, John did. The result is a tome you must add to your collection of Vail history, right beside Dick Hauserman’s, Pete Seibert’s and Shirley Welch’s books on the subject.

John’s book touches on some of the lesser-known stewards in the beginning and fills in the gaps up to today. It’s also the first to get into political science, too.

Is there a Vail Way, a connection running from Eaton and Seibert on through to us and beyond? I know we like to think so.

Now, Vail was just one of many, many ski resorts to open during skiing’s golden age. I counted 106 new resorts opening in the 1960s, including Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Park City, Steamboat Springs, Keystone, Durango, Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Sunlight (outside Glenwood), Powderhorn (Andy Daly’s place), Wolf Creek, Canyons, Grand Targhee.

Impressive list, actually. Who are we to claim predominance?

Well …

Vail is the biggest, the best (according to me; it’s my column after all) and the lone ski resort to spring out of nothing and build a town and at least arguably a true community out of the mountains and thin air.

Sure we’re mocked — mainly by a still red-faced, jealous Aspen. For springing out of nothing at all and daring to compete with them. For Vail and Beaver Creek’s European motif and feel. For pedestrian centers free of cars. For too much popularity, too much innovation, escalators (that is mockable), whatever.

Aspen and Breck and Crested Butte and Steamboat are old towns with ski hill add-ons. The others are resorts without towns.

Vail began as both a community and a ski resort pretty much at the same time. Yes, I think there is a Vail Way distinct from the others.

John’s book isn’t concerned so much with comparisons to other places. He focuses on people like Bob Parker as well as Pete Seibert and Rod Slifer. And he gets past the first wave of pioneers fairly quickly. All the better to complete the story that hadn’t been told yet. No one until John chronicled Harry Frampton and George Gillett and Jack Eck and Richard Steadman’s places in our formation like this. My favorite chapter might be about Kim Langmaid and how she built what became Walking Mountains Science Center.

Sniff, I didn’t see Jim Pavelich and his role in founding the Vail Daily in 1981. Pavelich embodied the Vail Way, too — the restaurant waiter who saw opportunity and built what has turned out to be among the most popular and valuable community papers of any across the entire country.

Let’s put it this way: There’s good reason the Western White House was in Vail, not Aspen or Jackson Hole or Park City, fine towns all. That the Epic Pass wasn’t invented at Steamboat Springs or Sun Valley or snooty ol’ Aspen. That Beaver Creek and Vail missed out on hosting the Olympics only because a governor fought it off tooth and nail. That we got all the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in America after Aspen hosted them way back when in 1950.

John Horan-Kates had a little something to do with getting our first championships, in 1989, as the marketing director for Vail Associates and a chief ambassador. He also played the lead role with Harry Frampton in starting the Vail Foundation and serving as its first executive director, founding and leading the Vail Leadership Institute, as well as helping build the Vilar Performing Arts Center and Vail Christian High School.

He’s been a bigger part than you might think in shaping the modern history he captures in this book: “The Making of a Community: The Vail Way.”

The Sufi quote fits because John has lived the answer to his question, and we’re a better of community today for his contributions. Including this book.

The book explores the Vail Way to success, which only is the truth. The place rose from sheep grazing land to worldwide success — I would argue top of the world most years. While we have our share of gritty, painful failures too, you won’t find a lot of that in this book. This story really is about how we overcame challenges.

You’ll have to read something else to wallow in the pointlessness, hopelessness and despair of humanity. That’s not John, it’s not this book, and not the Vail Way. Thank God.

“The Making of a Community: The Vail Way” is available at the Bookworm in Edwards. Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2920.


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