Editor's Note: The Ice Ages

By Ted Katauskas November 28, 2022 Published in the Winter/Spring 2023 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Bill Whiteford tending his infamous Ice Bar at Mid-Vail circa February 1964. The Ice Bar, which operated on and off for two months, will be reprised this ski season.

I find it Hard to believe that an entire decade has passed since I became the editor of this magazine. The day my inaugural issue hit local newsstands in November 2012 was the day Vail Resorts debuted the centerpiece of its namesake mountain’s 50th anniversary celebration: Gondola One, a luxurious modern upgrade (featuring Wi-Fi-enabled cabins with heated seats, one vinyl-wrapped in faux gold leaf) named for the original lift that began whisking skiers (in then state-of-the-art four-passenger, unheated fiberglass cabins made by Bell Aerospace) from the top of Bridge Street to Mid-Vail on December 15, 1962.

The logo of Vail-Beaver Creek’s Holiday 2012–13 edition was likewise gilded, referencing a cover story chronicling the history of Vail’s first 50 years in a pictorial retrospective that since has become a collector’s item. For Vail’s diamond anniversary, this issue’s logo (and Gondola One) is bedazzled.  And the cover story (“Inherit the Winter,” p. 80) focuses on interviews with the scions of Vail, the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of the resort’s founders, who through recollection resurrect many of the departed souls who birthed from whole cloth the ski mountain and village Aspenites deride as  “Plastic Bavaria” and imbued this place with its indelible spirit. With this telling I also included an artifact that ran along the bottom of every page of our golden anniversary cover story: a timeline charting key moments and figures from the resort’s first 50 years, updated with 10 more. For me, a personal highlight from that next decade was the afternoon I spent visiting with astronaut Scott Carpenter in his East Vail living room, not long before his death in 2013. Wearing an aviator’s jacket, Carpenter recalled the day he first skied China Bowl in 1962 with Vail bigwigs  Dick Hauserman, Bob Lange, Pete Seibert, and Morrie Shepard with as much clarity and awe as his recollection of the day he had  rocketed into orbit alone atop a Mercury-Redstone a few months earlier  (“I fell a bunch in that deep powder, but I never forgot that day. It gave me a chance to commit a deadly sin: envy. I wanted to ski as well as those guys did.”).

As it happens, Carpenter wrote the forward to Dick Hauserman’s 2003 historical memoir The Inventors of Vail. Hauserman, who served on the resort’s original board of directors and designed Vail’s iconic logo, dedicated an entire chapter to a character who shaped early village life, titled “Bill Whiteford: The Lovable, Incorrigible Scoundrel.” Whiteford, a self-described “trust-fund baby” (the Stanford-educated son of an Oklahoma oil executive) settled in Vail in 1962 and directly across Bridge Street from Pepi’s opened The Casino, which was named for and modeled after Kitzbuhel’s Reisch Tanz Casino. The restaurant (with a two-story dance hall dubbed the largest discotheque in the state) quickly established Whiteford’s bona fides as an entrepreneur, and the fledgling resort as a must-visit destination (attracting acts like Dizzy Gillespie, and scandalously Miss Bo Peep, a stripper that Whiteford, a serial practical joker, hired to entertain a 1965 convention of wool merchants who had asked for a Greek belly dancer). More famous/infamous than the Casino was the Ice Bar Whiteford opened atop Mid-Vail in February 1964. Without permission from resort directors, “William the Good,” as he was known, somehow managed to build a 30-foot-diameter circular chest-high concrete bar encased in snow and ice that operated off and on for two months before it was shut down permanently by the US Forest service for want of a license. “Bill,” Hauserman wrote, “wanted to show Vail that with a little more effort they could make the guests like Vail even more.”

To that end, for its 60th anniversary season, Vail Mountain sagely will reprise Whiteford’s Ice Bar (presumably with the required permits). Although I never met Whiteford (who died in 2008), I will raise a glass at Mid-Vail this winter in his memory.

—Ted Katauskas
[email protected]

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