Before the first chairlifts appeared on Vail Mountain, a group of ranchers and homesteaders knew this idyllic place as the Gore Valley, a tribute to Sir George Gore, the British adventurer who first explored the area in the mid-19th century. A local mountain range and creek bear his name. But what of the legacy of Pete Seibert, the visionary developer who convinced those ranchers that the best and highest use of their rangeland was not for grazing sheep, but for building America’s first from-the-ground-up mega ski resort (named not for Seibert, but after a state highway engineer)? There’s Pete’s Lift and Pete’s Bowl in Blue Sky Basin. But still no physical memorial to the Walt Disney of American ski resorts, who died in 2002.
If Bill Rey and Roger Tilkemeier have their way, that soon will change.
“One of the things that’s always been amazing to me is that there’s no physical Pete anywhere,” says Rey, a longtime valley resident and owner of the Vail Village’s Claggett/Rey Gallery. “It’s his dream and his vision, and there’s no way that Pete’s dream would’ve happened without those ranching families.”
To that end, Rey has commissioned one of his gallery’s artists—Loveland sculptor Herb Mignery—to cast a life-size bronze of Vail’s founder and local ranchers that, with the town’s blessing, will be installed not in Seibert Circle at the top of Bridge Street (there’s no room, thanks to the fountain), but in Slifer Square, the plaza north of the Covered Bridge, which soon will be renovated. But first Rey and his pal need to raise $400,000 to pay the sculptor; as of press time, they had secured $100,000 in verbal commitments.
“I’ve had this idea in my head for close to 20 years,” says Tilkemeier, a close friend of Seibert. “The exact words from the town council when we took this plan to them to get approval were, ‘It’s about time.’”
Roger Tilkemeier remembers the early days in Vail—he and his late wife arrived in the area in 1963—and Seibert’s dream. Vail was a wilderness outpost then, he recalls, where fellow transplants from far-flung cities figured out a life around the mountains—not unlike the original homesteaders—and ranching families still were a frequent presence within the mountain town’s demographic. Mignery’s statue—which the aging artist, who knew Seibert, says will be his last and most important commission—will depict a starry-eyed young Seibert gazing out on Vail Mountain, flanked by a rancher on horseback and a border collie. Its permanent berth in Slifer Square near another Vail Village staple—the 10th Mountain Division soldier (Seibert also was a 10th Mountain veteran)—promises to put the resort’s founder, and its history, front and center as visitors funnel into the village over the Covered Bridge.
While the full-size piece hasn’t been started yet, smaller mock-ups have been well received at community events; a clay model was unveiled at a picnic celebrating the Town of Vail’s 50th year last summer, and guests couldn’t keep their hands off it, says Rey, who keeps a mock-up on display in his gallery. And as much as the piece is meant to keep the memory of Seibert and early homesteaders of the Vail Valley alive, old timers like Rey and Tilkemeier say the statue’s dedication will signify a rite of passage for Vail, as resort pioneers hand off their legacy to younger residents looking for inspiration from the Vail’s past as they build its future.
But if the statue is to be installed in November as planned, Rey and Tilkemeier stress, the public needs to ante in now.
“I talked to a couple of big donors in Vail who said, ‘$400,000? That’s a lot of money!’” says Rey. “If we had hired the guy who did the Steadman bust, it would have cost $1.5 million.... I hope we can make this happen. There really needs to be a place where we can go and see Pete.”