Vail’s 50th anniversary: The marketing magician
January 1, 2013
VAIL – The 50th anniversary is easy. It’s the first one that’s tough.
It was Sept. 18, 1962, three months before Vail opened, when Vail’s marketing magician, Bob Parker, announced tentative plans for Vail’s first anniversary celebration. The lofty goal was to “establish Vail as the finest winter resort in the Western Hemisphere.”
Job descriptions did not exist in early Vail. Everyone worked together and they worked 14 hours a day.
“We were working at something we enjoyed,” Parker said. “These were guys who had never worked on a ski resort, but had in common a belief in the project.”
Parker was the editor of Skiing magazine from 1955 to 1962, working for Merrill Hastings, who founded the magazine.
We have a couple versions of how he came to be in Vail.
One has Pete Seibert strolling into Parker’s office in 1959 , sitting on the corner of his desk and saying, “We’ve found the perfect resort.”
Parker said, “Oh? Where did you find that?”
Parker saw for himself when he hiked up Vail with Earl Eaton and Seibert and, like them, became convinced Vail would be the next great ski resort and signed on.
Then there’s this version.
Parker was in Europe with Skiing for a ski race and was in the bar one afternoon having a drink with his journalist buddies. Journalists call it, “Covering the story from mahogany ridge.”
Merrill spotted him and sent in a note reminding him not to fraternize with the competition. Parker was patient, but he was also bloodied up in World War II as a member of the 10th Mountain Division.
Parker briefly considered all this, considered his seven years as Skiing’s editor, turned Merrill’s note over and scratched his seven-year itch with this succinct response.
“I quit,” he wrote, or words to that effect.
He needed a job so he picked up the phone in Europe and called his old 10th Mountain Division buddy Seibert in Colorado, asking if they could use some help building their new ski area.
Seibert hired Parker on the spot, March 2, 1962, and sent him to the Bell Gondola’s Zurich, Switzerland, manufacturing plant to make sure Vail’s new gondola was being built on schedule.
The Bell people told him the gondola, the first one in North America and the centerpiece of the new resort, would not arrive until March 1963, months after Vail was scheduled to open. This, Parker decided, would never do.
From Vail, Parker re-worked the delivery system, re-routed shipments, hired what are euphemistically called “professional expediters” to move things along and cut deals with customs officials.
Some gondola parts arrived that summer and others in the fall, but they all arrived.
A letter from Seibert to investors in the summer of 1962 tried to be upbeat, but Pete seemed a little anxious as he wrote that some of the gondola cars were on their way to Vail from the port of Houston, and the rest were on the high seas somewhere.
Eventually everything arrived and Earl Eaton and his crew started stringing cable and hanging cars.
The gondola cranked up opening day, Dec. 15, 1962.