After Laurie and I got serious about each other we decided that instead of hanging out together at Sun Valley where we both had deep roots we would settle somewhere else. So we wound up in Vail and before I knew it we had become good friends with the new owner, George Gillette, and really liked everything about Vail except its lack of steep runs such as Exhibition and the canyon, both favorites of ours in our younger years in Sun Valley. When I invited an old Sun Valley friend to come and ski with us there he said, “Last time I skied there I got hurt very badly.”
“What happened?” I asked. He replied, “I was skiing and fell asleep and hit a tree.”
In spite of that comment, we found the perfect spot to build our first house together and made a lot of new friends. We lived a short walk from Lions Head and on a powder day we could ski most of the day in untracked powder finding little stashes of snow among all the Lions Head runs instead of racing to the bowls.
One day while skiing with George Gillette, I took him to the top of the Game Creek Bowl, which looks down toward Minturn and is a great powder snow run all the way down to the little town. I pointed out a building in the far distance on the skyline and asked him to identify it. He couldn’t quite make it out and I told him, “That’s the restaurant half way to the summit of Beaver Creek.”
The rest of my idea unfolded for him. “George, you can park 4,000 cars on the railroad siding in Minturn. Why don’t you build a chair lift from the bottom of Game Creek down to Minturn and one from Minturn up to Beaver Creek and link your two resorts?”
Becoming my usual persistent self (better than pushy, right?) I pursued that idea at every chance we had while we lived there. People got tired of listening to my story about it. Late one spring Vail had a town hall meeting and the subject was, “What would you do to improve the ski experience at Vail?” I thought this would be a good time to shout out my idea of the Minturn interconnect for everyone in town to hear about it. I told them to hire Dave McCoy, who built Mammoth Mountain with his own blood, sweat and tears and told them to loan him a D-10 bulldozer and over a weekend he could carve out the best ski run in Vail or Beaver Creek that would lead down to Minturn.
I talked about the 4,000 parking places that still existed then and how you would be able to ski from Arrowhead to the far reaches of the China Bowl and beyond. It would generate incredible revenue for the small businesses in Minturn as well.
Why not? The two chairlifts would eliminate a lot of back and forth between the two major resorts and make the area a lot more like a French resort such as Courchevel, where it is 14 airline miles from one end to the other.
Unfortunately, my idea got no response whatsoever from anyone who worked for Vail. After the town hall meeting was over I chatted in the parking lot with the mountain’s manager Paul Testwuide about hiring Dave McCoy. He said, “That’s not necessary. Just give me a couple of six packs and I can have that ski run built in one day.”
There was a lot of backlash from the tree huggers who asked, “What about the elk migration patterns?” What about them? The elk go down to the lower country when the snow is deep so they can live another winter. There is no food for them in the winter where the snow is deep enough to ski on.
It took me a lot of years to realize that among ski resort owners and a lot of their employees I was always perceived as someone who only made ski movies. They forgot that I was able to talk with ski resort owners all over the world and I paid a lot of attention to things that worked and, just as important, things that did not work.
I know in my hundreds of thousands of miles of travels that I saw a lot of things or ideas that would work somewhere else, but I finally gave up trying to be the carrier of new ideas. It was a better idea to film the good ideas some place and show the idea to thousands of people in my film the following year and then my customers might ask for it the next time they skied Mount Perfect.
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