Person of Interest

Spiritual Lift

Beaver Creek master mechanic Carl Eaton, son of Vail co-founder Earl Eaton, maintains his father’s legacy by keeping the resort’s chairs spinning.

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

I was born in 1965. Vail was 3 years old. Now I’m going into my 40th year on the mountain. A lot of the jobs out here find us, we don’t find them. I started as a lift operator in 1983 when I was 18. I did that for two winters, and in summers I was a maintenance helper. After college, I came back to Vail. In 1988, I went and worked at Aspen for almost a year. It was a lot of fun. I lived on top of the mountain, upstairs in the patrol shack. Then I got recruited back to Vail and was sent to Ski Broadmoor [in Colorado Springs] for a winter, which Vail managed. I ended up being acting mountain manager. After that, I came back to Golden Peak, in 1990, then was asked to go to Beaver Creek two weeks later. I haven’t looked back. I have one kid, Cash, who’s 12. He’s very bright. I could see him being an engineer. I’m not going to encourage him to be a lift mechanic though. It’s a hard life, physically. We’re the first ones up on the mountain—we wake it up. But we do get some really beautiful sunrises and moonsets. Hopefully, we do our job right in the summer so we don’t have to fix breakdowns in the winter. Summer is our busy time—when we do our big maintenance.

Before he hiked up [the future] Vail Mountain in 1957 with Pete Seibert, Dad hiked up with many other people he was trying to get interested in Vail over the years. He would take snow measurements monthly. Some people were skeptical that the Back Bowls, with the southern exposure, would hold snow. One summer, Dad hiked up the mountain from Minturn and came out on top of [what is now] Game Creek Bowl. He was walking through a tree island and kicked up an arrowhead. It was his lucky arrowhead, the one and only he ever found.

When he brought Pete up there, they were both working at Loveland. Dad was running the ski patrol, and Pete was the GM. Dad knew Pete from Aspen years before. He talked him into coming over to look at Vail. They hiked up old logging roads to the top of Ptarmigan Ridge. When they overlooked the Back Bowls, the mountain sold itself, I guess. Vail and Beaver Creek both have exceeded Dad’s and Pete’s vision. They thought it was just going to be a quaint ski area in the valley.

At one time, Dad looked at Mt. Massive as a ski area, and he almost got a permit for it. But skiing at 14,000 feet isn’t exactly good for your lungs. A lot of places he looked at didn’t have what Vail had. They didn’t have enough snow, or were super windy, or were too out of the way. Vail and Beaver Creek had it. Dad taught me a lot about the lay of the land and exposures. He and Pete, until Pete passed, they were still looking at places to start another ski area.

My dad was an inventor, a tinkerer. He built his own ski bike (ski bobs were what they were called back then), and he used to do a ski bike tour. He’d bring a dozen folks up Spraddle Creek into Bald Mountain on a snowcat. I was 10, and for a couple of years, I would go up on my weekends and backcountry ski while my dad gave ski bike lessons. My brother would go occasionally, too. My mom didn’t like it, because of the avalanche danger. But we knew what terrain to stay away from.

Eaton, with his son, Cash, on the McCoy Park Express Lift.

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, we had to write a report on a hero. That’s when I first became aware of my dad as a visionary. My mom said, “Why don’t you choose your dad?’’ I remember learning about the history of what he’d done. He was a very humble, pretty soft-spoken man, but once you got him talking, which is something I was able to do a lot, he’d start telling stories.

I have memories from my childhood, when I was pretty young, of driving up to Beaver Lake on an old logging road when the sawmill was still there. Beaver Creek opened when I was in high school. My friends and I would go because nobody was there. We would ski groomers and ski fast. We had a  “don’t be last’’ attitude.

The opening of Eaton Haus [last season] was a pretty special day. My son fought coming along tooth and nail; he didn’t want to ski McCoy Park because there weren’t any black trails. I told him, “It’s not about the skiing, buddy. It’s about honoring your grandfather.’’ But then he enjoyed it—all of the gladed runs. My dad’s father and grandfather both homesteaded up Squaw Creek [now Colorow Creek] three valleys to the west from Beaver Creek. My great-uncle Denny and great-uncle Melvin both homesteaded at Beaver Creek. I probably get up to Eaton Haus at least once a week. It has one of the best views anywhere.

Dad was looking at linking Vail and Beaver Creek for quite a few years. He made proposals to Vail Resorts; he had all the maps. It probably would have been a gondola or tramway going down Meadow Mountain to Grouse Greek and then one spanning to Eagle’s Nest. The other portal he looked at was going from the parking area at East Vail—where the second runaway truck ramp is—and adding a lift up to the top of Mushroom Bowl.

Up until about a year before he passed away, he was looking for gold, around Brush Creek and New York Mountain. One of the false stories was that he was looking for uranium when he discovered Vail’s potential. But he was really looking for a ski area and happened to get some readings for uranium on his Geiger counter. Dad was a lifelong prospector.

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