There’s No Business like Snow Business

How Texans of great and not-so-great means have bought a piece of ski country.

Vail, Snowbird, Steamboat Springs, Loveland Basin. They are among the most progressive ski resorts in the world, each one board­ing and feeding thousands of skiers, moving them up and across slopes and peaks on automated trams with their rented skis and their ski-school diplo­mas all day until night comes and the après-ski nightlife begins. Not Vail, Snowbird, Steamboat Springs, nor Loveland Basin would exist as they do today without big Texas money.

The Snowbird story is typical. Ex-skiing instructor and lodge manager Ted Johnson located almost 100 min­ing claims in the Wasatch Range-Cot­tonwood Canyon area and then slowly purchased the small parcels of land. Johnson couldn’t find financial sup­port among Utah’s bankers or its tax-paying community; his backing came from Richard D. Bass, a Dallas oilman and rancher, who skied and who had a financial interest in other resorts. Johnson and Bass met at a cocktail party in 1969; Bass hiked up the Utah mountain and came down to raise $13 million for what became the Snowbird ski resort.

Vail is a similar story. At the time Pete Seibert, a ski instructor and racer, saw the resort potential for Vail, Colo­rado already had 30 ski areas. Seibert, though, wanted to create a complete ski village with hotels, shops, lifts, and ten square miles of ski area. It would be Sun Valley and Aspen rolled into one Vail. Again area bankers—in this case Denver’s Seventeenth Street bankers—saw no potential. Siebert found his financial backing—the first $5 million—in Dallas with oilman John D. Murchison and the friends he interested in Vail. The development and work took ten years, but now Vail is considered the most successful of the winter resorts. Success for Steamboat Springs, Colorado, was a long time in coming. Its Yampa Valley had always had fine powder snow plus an annual winter carnival that drew tourists. In 1969, LTV Recreation Development, Inc., a subsidiary of Ling-Temco-Vought of Dallas, bought about 1500 acres of prime ski land and all the Steamboat Springs ski facilities. New ski lifts were added, new ski trails developed, and old ones reshaped.

A similar Texan-engineered rebirth occurred at Loveland Basin which is the most popular ski area for Denver­ites. Loveland did moderately well un­til skier-oilman Chester Upham of Mineral Wells, Texas, spent a vacation there. Upham purchased the interests of the Loveland owners and stream­lined the area into a ski site that pres­ently serves every type of skier from first-timer to racer. The Uphams, Murchisons, and the Basses of Texas knew big profit when they saw it; ski­ing has moved from an interest of the wealthy to an interest of families; jets fly skiers to the slopes as individuals, families, or ski clubs. Profits have spread to skiwear specialty stores, car rental agencies, and lodges, where rooms are often sold out weeks at a time. Lift tickets at $8 to $10 each sell like penny candy.

There is also a lot of modest Texas money now flowing into skiing. Many Texas skiers drive to Santa Fe Ski Basin, to Angel Fire, and other New Mexican ski spots. Crested Butte, Colorado, receives so much Houston business that its entrepreneurs now have a ski trail named “Houston.” The Space City Ski Club patronizes Vail. An armed-forces career man who moves across various Texas air bases during the winter, leaves his wife and three children in the Breckenridge ski resorts where they spend their time learning the short runs, which are per­fect for beginners. The Fort Worth Ski Club flies to New Mexico every winter. Houston’s Lee High School drill team spends its yearly holiday at the Sitzmark Lodge in Winter Park; Texas families live in cabins next door to the hostelry. In the lobby of Beaver’s Lodge there is a poster that shows a cowboy-hatted skier soaring valleyward on a saddle. He’s called The Downhill Texan.

Successful Western resorts break operating records. Vail’s shareholders were told in the annual report for 1973: “It pleases us, of course, that net income from operations was $1,122,800, or $1.08 per share on a primary basis and 88 cents on a fully diluted basis. This represents a substantial in­crease over the previous year’s income of $812,000, for 84 cents per share on a primary basis and

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