Ski pioneer Pete Seibert dies of cancer at 77 | AspenTimes.com

Ski pioneer Pete Seibert dies of cancer at 77

Brent Gardner-Smith
The Aspen Times

Photo courtesy HeritageAspen/Dick Durrance.Pete Seibert in 1947.

Pete Seibert worked as a director of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol during the winter of 1946-47. He won the second-ever Roch Cup ski race held on Aspen Mountain in 1947.

He taught skiing in Aspen from 1947 to 1950 and then again during the 1954-55 season. And he helped Whipple van Ness Jones lay out the original lift and trails on Aspen Highlands in the summer of 1957.

So when the news came Monday that Seibert had died at the age of 77 from cancer, Aspen could say it truly lost one of its own.

And, oh yes, sometime after Seibert left Aspen, he went on to start a little ski area down the road called Vail.

Like many other ski industry pioneers and early ski instructors in Aspen, Seibert was a 10th Mountain Division veteran who trained at Camp Hale near Leadville and skied on Aspen Mountain before Lift 1 was built.

Seibert fought in the battles on Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in Italy and then was badly injured in March 1945 by German mortar fire near Mount Terminale. After spending 17 months in Army hospitals, the 22-year-old Seibert was back in his native New England with a mangled right leg, bandages on his face, and a clear vision for his future.

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“One way or another, skiing was going to be my life,” Seibert wrote in his 2000 book, “Vail, Triumph of a Dream.” “And I was going to start in Aspen, Colorado. This new American Mecca for skiers was about to open in four months. I couldn’t wait.”

Seibert took a train west, got off in Glenwood Springs and “hitched a ride on a coal truck going to Aspen.” He helped work on the mountain – building the patrol headquarters and setting up a primitive phone system – as the world’s longest lift system rose from the top of Aspen Street to the top of Ajax. Then he got a job as a ski patroller under the first Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol director, Curt Chase.

“I broke my leg in February,” remembers Chase, who is 79. “And Pete took over and ran the patrol the rest of the season.”

The next winter, Seibert returned as a ski instructor. And a ski racer. He came back from his war injuries and won the 1947 Roch Cup, which was a combination of results from a downhill race and a slalom race on Aspen Mountain. At the time, it was the most prestigious race in skiing. He qualified for the 1950 U.S. Alpine Ski Team and was preparing to race in the 1950 FIS World Championships in Aspen when he fell in a training race and severely injured his left ankle.

“Pete had a cast on his leg and the doctors told him he would never ski again,” said Howie Mayer, 74, who first started patrolling on Aspen Mountain in 1950. “And he said, ‘Oh yeah?’ and carved out the toe of a boot to go on the front of the cast so he could get it into the mousetrap bindings we had in those days. He was one tough son of a bitch. And a nice guy.”

After the 1950 season, Seibert was ready to leave Aspen, ready to pursue a dream of starting his own ski area. He went to hotel school in Switzerland, ran a hotel in Silverton, and then managed the Loveland ski area from 1955 to 1957.

Then, he took a famous walk with Earl Eaton, another Aspen Mountain ski patroller, up what would one day become Vail Mountain. Seibert immediately recognized the area’s skiing potential, with its wide-open back bowls and its north-facing back, back bowls, now called Blue Sky Basin.

But not everybody shared Seibert’s vision.

“I went over a couple of times to look at it, and it was just a valley, and I said ‘There is never going to be a ski area here,'” said Bil Dunaway, 78, a 10th Mountain veteran and the former publisher of The Aspen Times. “I just couldn’t see it.”

But Seibert could. He found investors, got Forest Service approval, and started construction on the ski area in the spring of 1962. It opened in December with a gondola to Mid Vail, a lift to the ridge, and another lift serving the expansive Back Bowls. Today, Vail Mountain is one of the most popular ski areas in the U.S. and is the crown jewel of Vail Resorts’ ski-area empire.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the sound foundations that he laid for Vail to become the finest resort in North America,” said Andy Daly, president of Vail Resorts.

And perhaps old Aspen can take some credit for filling Seibert with a romance for skiing that helped him build his dream.

“Throughout most of my Aspen days, I lived in the same small, rustic log cabin across the road from the Red Onion,” Seibert wrote. “It was cold in the mornings. But at night, assuming I wasn’t participating in an ‘away game’ in a bed elsewhere, my friends and I would gather by the potbelly stove glowing in the corner of the cabin and talk about today’s skiing and yesterday’s skiing and tomorrow’s skiing.”