Earl V. Eaton - Sport Builder - 1998


Hall
A long time before skiers schussed down Vail Mountain, Earl Eaton’s family quietly raised lettuce on their ranch up a twisting road along Squaw Creek in Eagle County.  As a kid, Earl roamed the mountains and he had his first experience with skiing at a very young age, when his father built him a pair of skis. They were simple pine boards shaped and steamed to turn up the tips, with a strap across the toe, which came with a single long pole to drag on either side to assist in turning and stopping. Growing up in Eagle County, Earl hiked the ridges of the mountains. He hunted with his brothers and helped with the family’s sawmill operation on Mill Creek. He first saw the back bowls on one of his hunting expeditions, didn’t even pause to take a second look, but in his teens one day he overlooked the back bowls and visualized a skier in that vast expanse. In 1940 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in Glenwood Springs, where they worked on a nearby ski area. Glenwood's proximity to Aspen, provided Earl with the opportunity to become involved in ski racing in 1940, and he became an enthusiast. After the CCC camp, he went to Leadville to work in the mines, and when they started building Camp Hale, he worked on construction in the summer of 1941. In 1943 he was drafted into the army where he served for 2-1/2 years as an engineer in Europe. He later had worked at Climax ski area and Cooper Hill plus a ski shop in Leadville, where he purchased his first "real" skis, boots and poles.  During these years, Earl became obsessed with skiing and started to search for an area to develop. He looked over areas near Leadville, Copper Mountain, Frisco, Vail and Beaver Creek.  He still remembered those open bowls he had seen from the top of Mill Creek. To prepare himself for the experience needed to build a ski area he worked at Aspen Highland, Ski Broadmoor and Loveland Basin. He also spent ten years in Aspen building ski lifts, constructing trails, ski patrolling and even helping with town construction.   Earl was sure the mountain he explored behind the Hanson Ranch along the Eagle River would be a fabulous ski area.  He just had to convince someone who could generate money.  Earl took Left McDonald of Aspen up Vail Mountain and overlooked the back bowls. He also took Roy Parker of Aspen and Mr. Blair, chairman of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. None of the men thought the back bowls were suitable for skiing. Then Earl teamed up with Peter Seibert and together they climbed Vail Mountain in the winter of 1957. Pete agreed that this mountain, which Earl "found," would be a perfect ski resort, so he headed up the search for investors. In 1962 construction on Vail Mountain began with trail cutting and ski lift building (gondola to mid Vail and one chair from there to the top, a mountain top restaurant and another chair in the back bowls). In 1985, in honor of Earl Eaton, Founder's Plaza in Vail was renamed Eaton Plaza to celebrate his contributions to one of the top ski areas in the world. Without Earl’s persistence and his early vision of what could be, those back bowls may not have thrilled the millions who have left their tracks. (Deceased)