Courtesy Vail Resorts
The root of Vail history: Vail co-founder Earl Eaton to be remembered Saturday
August 13, 2008 —
The life of Earl Eaton will be celebrated on Saturday, Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. at Wildwood Shelter at the top of Vail Mountain, in the great outdoors, on the ski mountain he discovered and helped bring into being.
It’s fitting that Eaton will be remembered out of doors. I first met him years ago at the old, family-owned, Vail Trail building, but I felt I had known him all my life. His visage, his legend, was as much a part of growing up in Vail as snow and skiing, though he was often overshadowed by the savvy and extroverted Pete Seibert.
I best remember Eaton’s hands, which were thick like rolls of quarters and slashed with ancient scars. His face, too, was rough and ruddy, like the men I remember from my childhood when the roads were mostly gravel and town, twice a year, would empty of smooth-skinned tourists and only the year-round working families remained.
The signs of what kind of man Eaton was were written as clearly on that face as in his hands and in his own personal history. He wasn’t the first man to see Vail’s Back Bowls, which were very remote in those times, but he was the first to realize their potential for skiing. With Seibert’s help, he helped his dream come alive. While Seibert pooled the funds and made the critical business moves, Eaton operated the nuts-and-bolts side of things, literally. He dug the holes for lift poles, fixed the snowcat with his own hands, and helped dig the gravel pit which supplied Vail Mountain with all the necessary gravel for its construction.
The resulting yin-and-yang partnership between Seibert and Eaton was a success with a legacy we still live today.
“If anyone complains about overpopulation in Vail, they can blame me,” he once told me with a hearty chuckle. “It’s all my fault.”
Eaton was an outdoorsman cut from the old cloth, a prospector, a lifelong Valley resident who moved at the pace of seasons and time. His ideas grew slowly like a good garden, and eventually there wasn’t room for a man like that in the burgeoning company then known as Vail Associates. In the same way that Vail replaced gravel roads with asphalt, and curmudgeonly two-seater lifts with swift high-speed quads, Vail replaced Eaton early on with other men with more worldly methods, and Eaton was left out in the cold, financially and otherwise.
It is only recently that Vail and its people have come to extol Eaton for the man that he was – and more importantly, to embrace his ideas, his mentality, toward life in Colorado’s high country. He is, after all, a man molded in mid-20th-century Colorado. He represents the cultural seed from which our entire Valley grew. We are different now, our town is different, our hands are soft and white and our ski mountain is a publicly held corporation. There is no better time for us remember a man like Eaton and emulate him, his cantankerous self-reliance, his do-it-yourself vigor for life, and his marvelous ability to envision the future.
Personally, I’ll always think of those hands, which seem to me now like the great roots of a tree. And like roots, which though unseen give the verdant tree all life and water, Earl was and always will be remembered as the man who quietly gives vitality and balance to this mountain and this town.
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