Snowmass history: What a long, strange ski trip it’s been |

Snowmass history: What a long, strange ski trip it’s been

Richard and Jere Riley on the first lift in Snowmass on opening day circa 1967.
Tony Gauba/Aspen Historical Society |

“Owners Stage Wild Opening at Snowmass,” a headline in “Ski Week” read in January 1968. “The pounding of nails and sawing of boards threatened at times to drown out the popping of champagne corks and the paeans of praise which marked the successful, if frenzied, opening of the year’s biggest ‘If,’ Snowmass-at-Aspen. That 62,000-acre spread of mountains and valleys hard by that other skiing giant, Aspen, has been on the drawing boards for almost a decade and right up until the last day it looked as if things might not jell in the times for the arrival of the 250 invited ski world luminaries and press representatives. In fact, even as guest were arriving, workmen were carrying furnishing into the lodge where they were billeted. At the Leather Jug, the only operative bar, beer was dispensed in paper cups as the mugs were still in transit. The area hired a private plane to fly in the state liquor license for the package store in the village. The local newspaper published a banner headline: ‘Ready or not, here we come.’ Bill Janss, one of the developers of the vast area, and his wife ate their steak dinner sitting on the floor of the Refectory Restaurant for want of chairs. That was the opening day, Friday, Dec. 15. Saturday began with Stein Eriksen doing a gelandesprung through a paper covered hoop to mark the start of the lifts. Flashbulbs popped as the first couple- a California husband and wife who’d booked reservations more than a year ago- ascended the mountain. The dedication banquet went off that evening in an atmosphere of let’s-see-what-will-happen-next anticipation. The only unexpected guest was Peter Seibert, an old friend of Janss who happens to run a pretty fair area himself just down the pike – Vail. Seibert arrived clad in workingmen’s overalls and gloves, with a paint bucket in his arm, and broke up the audience. Janss, who has developed almost 100,000 acres in California and also owns Sun Valley, said, ‘I’m relieved that after 10 years it’s finally open,’ which pretty much summed up the feeling of the executives, workmen and those who live in the vicinity, not to mention all the interested skiers. Technically, Janss was correct. The area is open: five chairlifts are in operation and finishing touches are being put on facilities, which will open in the next few weeks. But there’s much to be done before the new $10 million Snowmass Village – the first of three envisioned for the colossal complex – is completely finished.”

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