Unfortunately, at the time key sections of Beaver Creek were the property of a crusty old rancher named Willis Nottingham, who didn't want to sell. Seibert and Parker developed Vail instead, but Seibert began an annual ritual with old man Nottingham that went on for 10 years. The two of them would share a bottle of whiskey every Christmastime, on which occasions Seibert would casually bring up the subject of buying Nottingham's land. Finally, in 1970, Nottingham said, "All right, I'm older and I've got arthritis and it's tough to get around. I'd like to leave the mountains. If I can find me another ranch, I'll talk about Beaver Creek." In the summer of 1971 Seibert found some property in another section of Colorado and persuaded Nottingham that it was made for him, and the deal was concluded.
It was at this point that the ill-fated drive to bring the 1976 Winter Olympics to Colorado began gathering steam. In the winter of 1972 the Colorado organizing committee came to Vail Associates to discuss using Vail as the site for the Olympic Alpine events, but Vail Associates sold the committee on using the still-virginal Beaver Creek instead.
However, around that time a new political force came to the fore in Colorado—an angry and idealistic crowd of environmentalists. They began the move against holding the Olympics in the Rockies. The crusade was led by a state legislator named Richard Lamm, who rode his white charger into the Colorado governorship in 1974. On the way, Lamm and an increasingly concerned public overturned the Olympic project with a referendum vote in November 1972. The battle was bitter and even now there are angry echoes of those days of conflict.
"Lamm and his people managed to create the impression that there would be negative environmental impact at Beaver Creek and other venues," Parker says. "That and their claim that the Olympics would cost too much are what beat the Games. However, I like to make the point these days—eight years after Lamm and his group shot the Olympics down—that all the environment impacts they projected as likely to happen because of the Games have happened anyway. There was a very carefully conceived land-use plan that would have gone into effect as a protective measure if the Olympics had been held here. When the Olympics were rejected, that plan was automatically out. And no similar plan has been enacted in its place; in fact, there has been no meaningful environmental legislation passed in Colorado since then. It's a small point I like to repeat whenever I can."
Governor Lamm, a Democrat, replies that there has been less pressure for this kind of legislation in recent years and also that both houses of the Colorado legislature have been controlled by the Republicans for the entire 1970s with the exception of 1975-76, and have been relentlessly hostile to such ideas.
The November '72 nay vote on the Olympics threw the Beaver Creek plan into a cocked hat, but Vail Associates still wanted to develop the new area. "The market was growing. We had to expand, to grow as a corporation," Parker says. "The defeat of the Olympics changed our timetable, but we needed a new profit center. And the public needed more ski capacity."
At this point, the Forest Service had completed an environmental-impact study on the Upper Eagle Valley, in which Beaver Creek is located. Even though the Forest Service's research uncovered ho serious environmental dangers in the developing of Beaver Creek, public pressure required a specific study of the area, a much more probing analysis of the ski resort site, which Vail Associates produced for the Forest Service.
That study was finished in the fall of 1973, a year after the Olympic referendum, and an official Forest Service chronology of events leading to the authorization for the Beaver Creek project makes it sound as if things were going swimmingly:
"November 1973—Eagle County Commissioners approved master plan which recommends development of recreation resources in the Avon-Beaver Creek region.... January 1974—Forest Service filed draft environmental statement which included Beaver Creek Management Unit to be utilized as winter sports site.... February 1974—Eagle County conditionally approved Vail Associates Inc.'s planned unit development for Beaver Creek.... August 1974—Forest Service filed final environmental statement with the Council of Environmental Quality.... December 1974—Colorado Land Use Commission held a two-day public meeting to review concerns raised by state agencies about development of Beaver Creek.... January 1975—Land Use Commission recommended to the governor that Beaver Creek be designated a winter sports site.... Jan. 14, 1975—Governor of Colorado Vanderhoof concurred with recommendation of Land Use Commission and recommended same to Regional Forester...."
Ah, yes, swimmingly indeed. But then Richard Lamm was sworn in as governor on Jan. 15, 1975, and almost his first act was to file an objection to the approval his predecessor had given Beaver Creek. "It is very clear that this is a lame duck type of action, precipitously done," said Lamm. Ten days later the U.S. Regional Forester for the area approved Beaver Creek's designation as a winter sports site, and Lamm countered by asking for a review of that decision. Two weeks later, on Feb. 11, 1975, the Sierra Club also requested a review.