Beaver Creek ski area ‘founders’ mark 30 years |

Beaver Creek ski area ‘founders’ mark 30 years

DENVER (AP) – Vail Associates envisioned world-class skiing and living not far from Vail when it acquired the Nottingham family’s ranch land in the early 1970s.

After overcoming opposition from environmentalists, a U.S. Forest Service permitting process, and a near brush with Colorado hosting part of the 1976 Winter Olympics, it opened Beaver Creek Ski Resort with six chairlifts on Dec. 15, 1980. French skiing great Jean-Claude Killy and former President Gerald Ford, an early home buyer in Beaver Creek, were on hand for opening day, the resort’s pioneers said.

This weekend, dozens of people involved in launching the luxury ski area 30 years ago are reuniting in Beaver Creek to share stories and memories.

Former director of mountain operations Roger Lessman called the early years of Beaver Creek one of the high points of his career.

“I couldn’t wait to get to work and didn’t want to come home at night,” said Lessman, now 66 and living in California. “I’ve been involved in a lot of things since, but I’ve never been involved in something as exhilarating and fun to work on.”

Though many Vail Associates executives worked to get the ski area going, they also credit shareholder Harry Bass and his brother, Dick, with pushing for development rather than selling the land.

The vision was for a village and resort with European flair not far from Vail, but developers first had to address concerns from environmentalists.

Car traffic was to be limited. Vail Associates helped create a 3,000-acre refuge for any wildlife that might be displaced, and it devised a system to pump water from the Eagle River to maintain streamflows in Beaver Creek if it ever dried up from snowmaking or other uses, said former senior executive Robert W. Parker, now 88.

There was even a system for monitoring the air: If air trapped in the valley got too dirty, a light would alert homeowners to stop using their fireplaces.

The Forest Service finally issued developers a permit in 1976, Parker said.

His attention to Beaver Creek was diverted by a deadly gondola accident at Vail resort that year, when two gondola cars on unraveling cables plunged to the snow.

Though Beaver Creek resort’s trails opened in December 1980, the village wasn’t finished. By the summer of 1980, it was clear that a base facility to put lockers, a restaurant, and ski school and ski patrol operations wouldn’t be done either.

Lessman came up with a solution.

One day while driving to Denver, he passed a bubble that housed tennis courts underneath. “The light went on. ‘We’re going to buy a tennis bubble!”‘ Lessman recalled. “That was our base facility for two years.”

Lessman and former finance director Larry Lichliter remember it as a bad snow year the first year. “Skiing was absolutely terrible,” Lessman said.

Not long after opening, it closed until it got more snow.

Today, Beaver Creek has 17 lifts, 149 trails, four terrain parks and a halfpipe on 1,815 acres.

Those who helped create Beaver Creek said they looked forward to catching up with former colleagues this weekend.

“Like any major project that had a lot of challenges, you get to know the people real well because you’ve been through the war together,” said Chuck Madison, a former chief financial officer for Vail Associates.

“Beaver Creek is the product of the work of dozens of people, some of whom are properly recognized and some aren’t,” Parker said. “Unfortunately, people think just about the discoverers and founders. They don’t think about the dozens and dozens of people who are actually the people who have done the work – and are still doing the work – behind the scenes.”

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