The Man Behind the Mascots
For Brian Hall, the celebrities of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships aren’t the athletes racing in skin-tight unisuits, but the actors clowning around in animal costumes. After all, Hall, the maestro of Eagle-based Blue Creek Productions, has been fielding mascots for Vail Resorts for nearly three decades. It all started in the winter of 1987—or maybe it was 1986—when the ski resort’s chief executive, George Gillett, got to talking with Disney president Frank Wells.
“As the story goes, they rode up the chairlift and decided, ‘We’ve got to do something together,’” says Hall, a native of Boston with a ringmaster’s demeanor who with a troupe of college buddies quit the East Coast for Vail in 1981, spending his first season in the valley going door-to-door for the local cable company while his buddies shoveled snow off of rooftops. “What they came up with was Sport Goofy.”
As in the droopy-eared, bucktoothed star of the 1941 Disney cartoon classic The Art of Skiing, who straps on hickory skis and stumbles down the slopes of Sugar Bowl Lodge screaming, “Ya-hoo-hooie!” To send Sport Goofy “Ya-hoo-hooie!-ing” down Riva Ridge and Centennial, the resort turned to Hall, who in 1987 had been hired to stage live-action shows (the precursors to WinterFest and SpringFest) for kids in the plaza at Beaver Creek. Disney provided the costume and invited Hall and company to attend mascot school at Disneyland, where, after shadowing Mickey and Minnie, they suited up themselves and made the rounds of the park.
“You learn very quickly the power of the famous character you are given the opportunity to portray,” Hall says. “When you are out there and kids are hugging you and telling you what their wishes are, it makes you feel humble. It’s sort of like playing Santa Claus.”
Hall and crew returned to apply some Magic Kingdom magic to the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek. Sport Goofy made his international debut at the 1989 World Championships by cutting the ribbon at the event’s opening ceremony at Red Tail Camp, which was as festive as Herald Square on Thanksgiving Day.
“I happened to be sitting with the vice president of retail and development at Disney at the Golden Eagle when the TV goes live and the camera pulls back on the grandstand, and there’s Sport Goofy in the center of a crowd of people waving flags and ringing cowbells, and she asks, ‘Did you plan that?’” Hall recalls. “It was a very big time for Vail and Beaver Creek. They were leading the way on how ski resorts could focus on the family and carry that focus onto the mountains.”
Sport Goofy hung up his skis with George Gillett’s retirement in the 1990s, so when the World Championships returned to Beaver Creek in 1999, Hall created Dusty, a human-size eagle “who flew down and joined the kids to welcome the world to Beaver Creek.” This time around, when the Vail Valley Foundation asked Hall to create a new breed of mascots for 2015, he considered the cautionary example of Wenlock and Mandeville, mascots of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games, vaguely humanoid twins with giant eyeballs for heads.
“They were supposed to be very edgy and different,” says Hall, “but instead they were very weird and bizarre. ... We wanted to create mascots people would embrace and enjoy, that would be positive messengers of hospitality and welcome.”
They settled on a mountain lion named Pete and a raccoon named Earl, after Vail Resorts cofounders Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton.
“We wanted to pay homage to these two men who had the insight and the diligence to follow through on their dreams,” Hall explains. He hired Toronto-based Sugars Mascot Company—which manufactures mascot costumes for professional sports teams and theme parks—to produce Pete and Earl prototypes, suited up a pair of actors, and trotted them out before the 2015 executive committee. George Gillett, a member of that committee, took one look and started smiling.
“Not only did he get it,” Hall reports, “he loved it.”