Vail says "goodbye" to its founder
VAIL, COLO — Nearly 3,000 strong, Vail’s extended family came to remember its popular and larger-than-life founder and pioneer, Peter W. Seibert.
Seibert died two weeks ago at 77 years old after a battle with esophageal cancer.
Seibert’s memorial at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater drew a diversity of people emblematic of the socio-economic mix that now populates the resort he conceived and built.
All were there to pay tribute to the humble and eminently approachable man whose dream had made their lives in the mountain community possible.
Vail Mountain opened Dec. 15, 1962, with one gondola and three chair lifts.
Former Vail resident, Rev. Don Simonton, presided over a traditional memorial service highlighted by a high-tech video presentation of Seibert’s life and accomplishments. As he spoke, a golden eagle soared over the valley.
“We’re here to shed a tear and to celebrate a unique and wonderful personality, and to recognize his dream and achievement,” said Simonton.
“We all had a dream too,” added Sheika Gramshammer. “We are here celebrating a dream. He gave us the best mountain in the United States.”
Seibert’s son, Brant, acknowledged the magnitude of his father’s dream.
“He had very big dreams,” Brant Seibert said. “But he had a big respect for those with more modest dreams.”
In a teary moment, he recalled a trip as a young child to a miniature golf course near Disneyland, where with strong, gentle arms, father showed son how to direct the ball.
“Thank you, Pops,” he said in a voice gripped with emotion.
‘All I could see was trees’
Vail pioneer Rod Slifer humorously and tearfully eulogized his friend Seibert and the dream he pursued.
Slifer and Seibert purchased Utah Snow Basin in 1978, but after five years of struggling with high interest and undercapitalization, they were unable to make it financially successful. It was fitting, said Slifer, that Seibert’s vision for the place was validated on the world’s stage at the last Olympics. The racers used the very downhill and giant slalom courses Seibert had envisioned a quarter-century before.
That vision, almost a blueprint in his mind, was so strong that on a hike down Vail Mountain, Seibert flagged trees to mark lifts and trails, asking Slifer what he thought about the layout. Slifer said he had to chuckle.
“All I could see was trees,” Slifer said Monday. “He saw a village and lifts and how it all fit together.
“I always thought he was invincible, bigger than life,” Slifer added.
Slifer’s suggestion that the assemblage applaud Seibert’s life and accomplishments was met with a thunderous, standing ovation.
‘Look for the positives’
“My dad was a connoisseur of the best food, the best skiing and the best people,” said Pete Seibert Jr. “The biggest lesson he gave me was in dealing with adversity. He said look for the positives that you can do.”
Seibert Jr. recalled his father in the recovery room after heart surgery, festooned with tubes and monitors. All he could think of was that he had gained another 10 years from the surgery, Seibert Jr. said.
“At the end, he came back here where he could see what it all had become,” he said.
Fellow veteran and 10th Mountain Trooper Earl Clark said the 10th Mountain Division had lost “a buddy” who has suffered, shared privation and combat. He was joined by 45 of his comrades from the 10th Mountain Division.
Catching the dream
But in the end, Monday’s services were a celebration of Seibert’s vision and dogged pursuit of his dream to build a nonpareil mountain resort.
“He made it possible for thousands of people to live here and for millions and millions of people to ski here,” said Slifer.
Seibert Jr. said his father did not share in the material success Vail Resorts has recently enjoyed, or did he acquire great wealth from his dream.
“Did you ever see so many diverse people in your life,”? asked long-time local Bob Williams. “Only Pete could bring them all together.”
Seibert left unfinished a second book about his heros, “For the love of the Mountains.” He also had a trip planned this fall with his sons retracing the footsteps of the 10th Mountain Division as it fought its way through Italy.
A jazz band kicked off the reception following the memorial with a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
A final blast
Fittingly, Seibert’s remains next winter will soar over Vail Mountain in a cloud-seeding silver iodide-filled rocket launched by Seibert’s children. It will scatter his remains when it explodes to disperse the silver iodide used for cloud seeding. Seibert Jr. said the family will wait for the appropriate storm before launching the remains.
“We’ll wait ’til there’s a pretty good storm coming,” he said. “When you see that rocket, go home early and get some rest because it’s going to be a hell of a powder day.”