It was a warm spring day as we pulled off of a two-lane highway and onto a muddy road that led to the base of a Colorado mountain. We had left Denver and driven over Loveland Pass down into Dillon and then over Vail Pass to what used to be a lettuce farm. There we met up with Pete Siebert and Earl Eaton to share a ride in their small tracked vehicle to the top of their mountain and get my first view of what they would call the Back Bowls.
A very ambitious program had been launched to build another destination resort in the Colorado Rockies and this would be called Vail. I had been invited to come back after the summer construction season and point my cameras at this resort during its startup period.
The shots I managed to get in those now-famous Back Bowls with only two or three skiers and me back there became legendary. Everyone who lived in or near Vail at that time was so busy I had to have skiers drive over every day from Aspen to enjoy the powder. Bob Smith, who was yet to invent his famous goggles, and Starr Walton from Donner Summit carved out some wonderful tracks. The town consisted of Bridge Street and a gondola building, a lodge and a restaurant. I think it had just 42 rooms. Seven months later, when I showed the first movies of Vail in my narration, I said, “Get out here and buy some of this land because they are not going to make any more of it.” Several of the people in my audience made the trip, bought property, started a business and lived out the rest of their lives in Vail.
Some of our friends who we knew from Vail have recently been skiing with us in Montana and it was great to reminisce about those good old days. They have lived their entire adult lives in the Vail Valley and their parents are still upset with them because they left the city after college and found freedom in the mountains on a pair of skis.
And here we are after more than 50 years of all of these people still being called “ski bums” by their friends who stayed in the city and were afraid to move to the mountains because of their parents.
One friend moved there to paint houses. But in the early days there were not enough houses to paint so he started selling real estate and found it was easy to sell from the seat of a chair lift. He became a very wealthy man and followed his ski tips from one real estate deal to the next.
To help build Vail they were selling vacant lots adjacent to the lodge for $10,000 and they threw in two lifetime ski lift passes. Crowds have continued to grow since that epic day the first winter when they sold eight lift tickets.
Now skiers come to Vail from all over the world. They come to enjoy the end result of a lot of pioneers who carved out this Vail Valley into a long thin group of cities that cling to the lifeline that is I-70. Most of them contribute to the payroll for the thousands of people who work for Vail Associates or have chosen to build their own businesses between powder snow days in the winter and trout fishing and mountain biking days in the summer.
If it was not for Pete Siebert, Bob Parker and Earl Eaton and all of those other pioneers who created so many other great ski resorts, the residents and workers would be in a commuting line in front of you every morning in some nameless city somewhere where the flat earth society lives and prospers without freedom year in and year out.
What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
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