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Shortly after that first visit, Seibert, Eaton and some Denver friends formed a little front organization called the Transmontane Rod and Gun Club and bought up the ranch property at the bottom of the mountain where the Vail base area is now being completed. "We didn't want to tip our hand before we had the place sewed up," Seibert explained. "The club seemed like a logical front."
It was—but it didn't fool anyone. "Rod and Gun Club, your mother-in-law," snorted an Aspen friend. "Seibert has found his mountain."
He then began finding money for his mountain. At the summit he put up a Quonset hut. Next he got hold of a snow tractor and a skiing friend named Bob Parker to help promote the place. Whenever a live financial prospect popped up, he would be invited to Vail. Seibert and Parker would drive him up the mountain in the tractor, wine him and dine him in the Quonset and then, if the man could ski, one of them would lead him down the slopes. Sometimes the leadership was a little blind: one Texan skied into the creek at the base area. But when he thawed out he was ready to put up some cash. So were a lot of other investors, $1.8 million worth of investors, more boodle than any U.S. ski resort had ever had to start with.
Seibert had the capital Dec. 22, 1961, before he so much as started building the first lift. Since then, he has found so much more that when Vail opens on December 15 some $5 million will have gone into it, and all of this has gone just where Seibert wanted it. "I'd seen ski areas suffer because people who were writing the checks and calling the plays didn't know anything about the ski business," he said. "I didn't want that to happen to Vail."
It didn't. Seibert called all the plays and then saw that they were run off properly. First, 1,000 acres of land were acquired on both sides of the road at the base of the mountain so that no real-estate speculator could muscle into the middle of the Alpine village Seibert planned. Then 10 square miles of the mountain were leased from the White River National Forest. This doubly insured exclusive control, since the Forest Service owns all the adjacent terrain and never lets one lift builder crowd another. Of the 10 square miles of mountain, six will be opened to skiers this winter by a 9,500-foot gondola, two double chair lifts and a Pomalift. The gondola rises to the base of one of the bowls. There the skier has his choice of sitting down to enjoy the view from the sundeck of a restaurant or riding one of the chairs to the summit.
When he gets to the top, he will see a great sprawl of open terrain and high peaks that look more like the Tyrol than the Rockies. But when he starts down, if he is a real expert, he may be a bit bored with the descent. The slopes on the back side of the mountain are good enough for anybody. But the very best skiers will find the face of the mountain a trifle slow, especially between the top of the chair and the top of the gondola. The lower two-thirds of the mountain has a kind of endless feeling, too. Willy Schaeffler, director of ski events at the 1960 Winter Olympics, concurs in this judgment: " Vail has the vertical drop—2,700 feet—but I'm not sure it has the steepness, the sharp concave terrain features that challenge really fine skiers. The better runs may be there somewhere, but I haven't seen them yet."
Siebert, who has observed the long financial struggles of such havens of the ski expert as Alta, Utah, couldn't care less about the hotshots. " Vail isn't designed for that fraction of 1% of American skiers," he says. "It is designed to provide the most enjoyable conditions for the average skiers." In this he has succeeded admirably, not only in the contours of his ski trails but also in the character of the village at the base of the mountain. All the buildings are designed in the same style, a not unattractive combination of old Swiss and Howard Johnson. And they are clustered right at the bottom of the gondola—the SI million lodge, a ski shop, a cafeteria and a 52-unit motel complete with service station, restaurant and a bar. Surrounding them are 27 private homes, all done in a harmonious mode and a majority belonging to investors in the ski development. "It is masterfully done," says Schaeffler.
Apparently the customers think so, too; the place is booked solid from the opening through the Christmas holidays. There seems no good reason why it should not keep on that way, through the winter and into the summer, too, for Vail's gondola and chair lifts will operate as tourist attractions come thaw time. The restaurant up on the mountain will stay open, as will the lodge, the motel—both of which are putting in swimming pools—and a couple of the shops. Seibert is even providing horses for guests who like to trail-ride, and he is pushing fishing and hunting for the cold but still snowless days of late fall and late spring.
"We've got everything people want," says Pete Seibert, in the new happy vein of resort men. "We'll make it and we'll make it big."
At Alpine Meadows out in the Sierra, John Reily and his associates have already made it, though not so big and not with quite so sure a touch. They began in December of 1959 and relied on a recently developed law of ski economics that says that if a new resort is built next to a flourishing old one, then both places will get a double dividend of prosperity. In December 1959 what semi-old ski resort was flourishing more than Squaw Valley, where the Winter Olympics were about to be held?