I’m accelerating down the in-run of a natural terrain jump – a “kicker” in today’s parlance. It’s in the sparse trees, skier’s right of the cliffs above Mid-Vail. I’m nervous because I’ve never taken this jump before – hell, I’ve never been to Vail before!
I hit the lip and the jump launches me straight up. I get my first look at the landing which falls steeply for about 50 feet and ends in a wall of evergreen trees! There is no runout! My body instinctively heads back to where I came from, leaving me almost horizontal in the air. I land butt-first in a “whoof” of Colorado powder. As I regain my bearings I hear our “guide”, Paul, laughing hysterically.
In 1969 Clint Demeritt, Mike Weisel, Patricia Wigg (now Weisel) and myself were on our first trip West to ski. We had just picked up our rental car at the Denver airport when a stranger approached us and asked if we were going to Vail. No, we were headed for Aspen. He said that was OK since Vail was on the way to Aspen.
His name was Paul and he worked at the Christiania Lodge in Vail. He had returned a rental car to Denver and needed a ride back to Vail. So off we went with Paul riding along.
Paul was a useful addition since he knew the route to follow. He proved invaluable in talking us through Loveland Pass. He also shared Colorado history and facts as we passed various landmarks along the route.
When we dropped Paul off in Vail, he said we really ought to come over for a day to ski Vail. Thursday was his day off and he’d be glad to show us around. His final comment was memorable: “Oh, you’ll like Aspen, but you’ll love Vail!”
So on Thursday we drove back to Vail right up to the Christiania (that’s something you can’t do today.) We asked for Paul and it took some time to locate him. When Paul came out, the look on his face sort of indicated that he hadn’t expected to see us again. Now he was going to have to spend his day off with a bunch of “turkeys” from back East.
But Paul was a man-of-his-word and off we went. In navigating our way up the chairlifts and over to Mid-Vail, Paul began to realize that we weren’t your typical turkeys. The pace picked up and Paul led us to almost everything Vail had to offer. There was Look Ma, Riva Ridge with its Tourist Trap, and Prima. And of course we hit the Back Bowls where we could still get first tracks even though it hadn’t snowed for more than a day (you can’t do that today either!)
Then Paul had to show us his favorite “jump.”
It was a fun day for all of us including Paul. And Paul was right: we did love Vail. Through the years we returned as tourists, as ski bums, and as professionals. Mike Weisel, now of Underhill, worked for Vail Associates as a civil engineer and helped design Beaver Creek.
Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton were both members of the 10th Mountain Division who trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, in World War II. During training exercises they had explored the terrain that would become Vail. In 1957 Seibert and Eaton returned to Vail Mountain and vowed to build “the most beautiful ski area in the world.”
Vail first opened on December 15th, 1962 so this year Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. Bob DiMario and John Ahern both correctly answered last week’s trivia question.
As for the link between Hannes Schneider coming to North Conway and the founding of Vail? Pete Seibert was one of those kids in North Conway who formed a ski pole arch to welcome Hannes Schneider!
In 50 years Vail has become the largest ski area in the United States. What started as a small European-style village is now a megalopolis that begins as soon as you descend from Vail Pass and stretches down I-70 all the way to Avon.
Bob Burley reminded me that this Saturday, February 25th, will be Emile Allais’ 100th birthday…and Emile is still skiing! Allais was a racer, coach, ski instructor, ski designer, ski area manager, and ski area developer!