Gustafson: A Golden Moment – just add people!
On the eve of Dec. 15, 1967, a mad scramble was on. Carpets were installed, shelves erected, sheets were spread upon mattresses delivered that day and everyone was night-watching a light flurry of snowfall, anxiously anticipating Snowmass Ski Area’s grand opening.
Some had spent their life’s savings, others had uprooted their families to move to a far off place called Snowmass and many had gambled it all on a dream. They had held their breath when the experimental Snowmelt Road had been turned on, just three days prior to opening. It was the only roadway access to the five chairlifts and five lodges. No one knew for sure if it would even work, but it did!
The frenzied pace at which these pioneers had been working throughout the nine short months from ground breaking to grand opening seemed plagued by delays and hurdles. There were strikes and floods; one condominium building was even framed backward. Mudslides closed the new Brush Creek Road, blocking deliveries of food and furniture until the day before opening. The regional electric service had to increase its power all the way up from Glenwood, and no one knew if Holy Cross could even handle the capacity, but the lights came on.
And though the word had been spread far and wide, there was still the concern that perhaps it had not been enough to put this place on the skiing map. John Cooley, who was in charge of marketing, had launched a scheme inviting 130 journalists to come to Snowmass for a press olympics and to witness the opening ceremonies, which added an additional layer of pressure as any failure would be well documented.
Two days before the opening, the visitors who were here were served beer in paper cups at the Leather Jug since the beer mugs were still in transit. At the Refectory, steak dinners were served to patrons, including Bill Janss, who were sitting on the floor for want of chairs. At the Mountain Chalet, guests were arriving and the toilets weren’t even installed. At the Wildwood, some guests were checking into rooms that did not yet have doors. Two days before showtime Dick Moebius, who operated and managed the construction of the Silvertree Hotel, and his wife, Barb, personally helped haul the queen-size mattresses and box frames, that did not fit into the elevator, up the five flights of stairs.
With no time to haul out the trash on the eve of opening day, bonfires were burning in the Mall plaza to dispose of the construction debris. While Moebius was tossing in the Silvertree scraps, Jim Hooker was pulling planks out from the other side of the fire to finish off the shelves for his new liquor store.
Still, the lifts were ready. Stein Eriksen’s instructors had pressed their uniforms and were resting up in their six-man bunk room where Big Hoss now resides, or at least they had been instructed to do so by Stein. The rest of the instructors were sleeping at the Silvertree because their trailers had not yet arrived. But the kegs were tapped, the shop shelves were stocked and excitement and snowflakes filled the air.
While just a day earlier Snowmass Village was a mess with debris and signs of construction everywhere, with the dawn a brand new resort awoke, dressed to impress in 9 inches of fresh powder, ready for opening day.
Many described a wild energy at their personal moments of peak self-actualizing, and the questions on everyone’s minds were the same:
“Will they come?” “Will it work?” And, “will it last?”
Franz Zedlacher, one of Stein¹s original instructors reminisced
They had a paper hoop with a sign “Welcome to Snowmass” that Stein would jump through. He told us, he’ll be out in front, and if anybody falls they can pack their suitcase and go home.But the new team of instructors followed Stein through the hoop and no one fell.
And now, 50 years later, here we are at a new golden moment, and it is safe to say, yes, it worked, they came, they stayed, we grew and it lasted!
A half-a-century later, we once again scramble to prepare ourselves for the unexpected; an influx of skiers the likes of which this mountain town has not seen on our slopes in one single day in early December over the past 50 years of skiing. Yes, virtually free skiing is a juicy incentive, and with a price tag of just $6.50 — to match the original opening day price — it has caused an explosion of ticket sales for Friday. This town is once again in a final countdown to the unknown. Oh right, and someone forgot to tell Mother Nature to send some snow.
Despite somewhat unintentionally recreating that opening weekend madness, marketing efforts have once again subjected the resort to national scrutiny, which ironically feels like a fun way to celebrate our golden anniversary.
However, this time around I’m not entirely sure if we are all in this together either by chance, default or through genuine enthusiasm. Still, much like that bygone era, we will all need to step up our game if we hope to provide an experience that pays homage to those who successfully pulled it off 50 years ago.
Much of those early gumptious characteristics are the covalence that bonded this place, and the chemistry remains, as do many of the folks who built this unique place which I feel fortunate to call home.
And this weekend is about them, not about the marketing strategies to put heads-on-beds. It’s a celebration of what those early pioneers built here for all of us to later enjoy. They should be honored and remembered and respected, for I’m not sure my generation would have had the grit to pull off that feat.
I have the utmost respect for their creative minds and entrepreneurial spirit and the way they came together with one common goal during those early years. They were striving to impress our guests and show them just what a magical place we have here to share. I’d love to see that synergy return. That masterful sense of ownership and pride for our place as a single unit. A collective effort to be the community ambassadors for our village, a vacation Shangri-La.
In those early years, everyone from the hotel owners to the bartenders, ski instructors to shop owners and, of course, their families who were settling into a new life, believed in Snowmass and wanted it to be a success. Or at least their nostalgia heightens the memories of that sense of camaraderie.
We could do for a strong dose of that these days. We need to truly believe in this place once again.
And when it comes to our visitors, it isn’t us and them, our vacationers make this possible for us; we are the hosts and they are our guests. From those who see themselves as the “elites,” to those some refer to as “young-punks,” like it or not, it’s best to cordially usher them in. At the very least, welcome them the way in which you might an in-law or distant cousin who comes for a stay.
In those early years, the barriers between all levels of class and socioeconomic status were equalized on the slopes. Visitors watched in awe the skills acquired through sheer mountain mileage, some pioneering passion, all coupled with hints of dare-devilish prowess that one can only acquire through familiarity. Sure that isn’t so much the case today, but I know where the G_____ is and if you live here you have that place too.
We can always take some solace in the ostentatiously outfitted, overzealous or disgruntled tourist, even when he looks down his nose and scoffs at the snow conditions or the price tags. For in his wake remains our economic sustenance. Remind yourself, through a gritted smile, that he will leave and we will still call this place home when he is back in the city breathing smog and battling gridlock, while we are sitting on the deck soaking up Colorado rays and counting our tips.
On the cover of the inaugural issue of the Snowmass Villager, which would one day become the Snowmass Sun, the headline read, “All you add is people …” True, this place speaks for itself, a majestic valley with a mountain made for skiing. All you add is people who bring it to life, and for better or worse we are the beating heart, leaving it up to us to keep this place alive.
Now we just need to come together to reinvigorate or rediscover that early energy that made everyone want to return year after year.
If our intentions are pure and our love and belief in Snowmass is genuine, it will shine through, like the flecks of gold that decorate our celebratory banners.
We should take this opportunity to celebrate gratitude for what came before, bringing back the passion for both working and playing here, and we should be thankful. Let’s break down the bureaucracy and social barriers and reunite with common cause. Let’s reawaken that sense and spirit. Gold is the color of our marketing materials, but it was in the colors of mud and snow, sweat and blood that brought our village to fruition, and this is our time to be a part of something unforgettable. It’s just up to us as to whether or not to make it happen or just let the powers-that-be make all of the decisions. All we really need to add is people … and some snow!
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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