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Rod Slifer, 88, ripping down Lost Boy in Vail’s Game Creek Bowl with Mount of the Holy Cross on the horizon on March 19, 2023 (David O. Williams photo).
Some point not too long after I first started conducting interviews for “Rod Slifer & the Spirit of Vail” in early 2020, Rod asked me, “Can you just wait until I’m dead to publish this book?”
While his wife, Beth Slifer, likely thought I’d never finish and Rod’s wish would come true, I’m glad I disobeyed Rod’s request, because he’ll be alive and kicking Friday, Sept. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Colorado Snowsports Museum & Hall of Fame in the Vail Transportation Center to sign copies at my first-ever book launch event. I’ll be there as well if anyone wants my signature.
You see, I’m a longtime local journalist who’s been published in more than 75 newspapers, magazines and websites, and this whole book thing was new to me and frankly kind of tough. I’m used to the 35-word lede and trying to stay under 1,000 words in general.
The Vail Daily, which published the book (I believe a first for them as well), printed this nice summary recently: “Rod Slifer’s life is an American success story, and you can now read that story thanks to a collaboration between Slifer, local journalist David O. Williams, and the Vail Daily. The new book, ‘Rod Slifer & the Spirit of Vail’, will be released on Friday at an event at the Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail. All proceeds from book sales at Friday’s event will go to the museum. Rod Slifer will be on hand to sign books from 4 to 6 p.m. along with Beth Slifer and Williams.” I would add the event is free and open to the public.
Rod Slifer came to Vail from Aspen in May of 1962 at the behest of Morrie Shepard to help Vail founders Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton build Vail out of the muck of a muddy sheep pasture, and to this day the Slifers still live above Sweet Basil in the heart of Vail Village. In the intervening 60-plus years they have quietly had their hand in building and expanding everything a fledgling ski town needs, from libraries to churches to schools to recreation facilities to cultural programs and venues to nonprofits entities to healthcare facilities. And they continue to do so to this day.
Had I waited to finish the book, and had the Vail Daily waited to publish it, not only would Rod have been spared the embarrassment of a book signing (I tried very hard not to lionize him) but I might have missed out on a career highlight I’ll take to my grave: Skiing with Rod, Beth, Cherry and Dan Gallagher, Mark and Lynn Wurzer – the group that made this book possible – on a remarkable, sunny, classic Colorado day on March 19 of this year. Rod, at 88, still rips on skis.
I’m so stoked the Slifers agreed to all the proceeds for Friday’s event going to the Snowsports Museum – a local treasure trove of Colorado and national ski history run by the amazing Jen Mason (thanks so much for this event) – because now I can unabashedly urge everyone to buy the book because the funds go to such a good cause. Again, Rod and Beth supporting local arts and culture.
Now, back to Rod’s request to me – an obvious underscoring of just how humble he is. Vail Daily reporter John LaConte, a writer who does such a bang-up job on the paper’s “Time Machine” feature, among other things, reminded me Rod’s request echoes a book title featuring another Vail icon, former President Gerald R. Ford.
Newsweek correspondent Thomas DeFrank’s “Write it When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford” carries the same admonition in the title. “Rod Slifer & the Spirit of Vail” features an entire chapter and a sidebar exploring Rod’s relationship with Jerry, or No. 38 as he’s known, quite literally, on the Vail trail map. Rod is recognized with the “Slifer Express” run.
In the Vail Daily and on my website RealVail.com, I’ve delved at length into a 1994 interview I conducted for the Vail Daily with Ford after the death of Richard Nixon (the first reporter to do so) and the ripple effects of impeachment politics then and now. I broke the fact Vice President Mike Pence was in Vail for the holidays in late 2020, receiving frantic phone calls pre-Jan. 6. I’ve explored the role of Vail resident Michael Luttig in our current national nightmare.
All of this, of course, serves as a surreal backdrop to a bygone era, when Rod Slifer walked between Ford and former President Jimmy Carter at a Beaver Creek event and wondered where the photographers were – a story he shared for the book. He talks about bipartisanship, small-town politics and serving as stalwart problem-solver for 16 years on Vail Town Council – 12 of them as mayor. And I love how he speaks as a lifelong Republican of his relationship with Beth as a lifelong Democrat and former high-level staffer for the Carter administration’s EPA. There’s even a little bit of a take from Rod on former President Donald Trump.
I think Ford’s daughter, Susan Ford Bales, best summed it up in the book: “I don’t know why people go into public service. Hopefully, it is to better our nation, which is why my dad got into it. If it’s for personal reasons, I think you’re doing the wrong thing. Hopefully, people get into public service for the right reasons, and I think Rod did, and he’s a brave soul because he’s been through a lot of changes in Vail, so good for him. We need more people like him.”
“Rod Slifer & the Spirit of Vail” also explores the arc of the ski industry from a tight-knit group of ski bums and former ski troopers passing the hat for Denver and Dallas oil money to be able to build a couple of lifts that first season to the global corporate behemoth of today, with Vail still part of the name but with headquarters in suburban Broomfield between Boulder and Denver.
Interviews with ski execs from Harry Frampton to Mike Shannon to Adam Aron to Rob Katz all demonstrate how Rod Slifer was instrumental in always moving the Vail brand forward in a positive way, advancing not only the resorts to international status but the sport itself globally. It’s hard to say if Slifer would be able to ease the tension that exists today between multi-resort ski companies and the ski towns they impact, benefit and profit from, but I would argue that the Booth Heights debacle would never have reached this point if Rod was still mayor.
Rod openly talks about his disappointments in the book, and shares his hopes for the future, and I’m honored the Slifers chose me two tell their story. It’s way more than the tale of Vail’s first local realtor. It’s the story of the love of skiing and the Colorado mountains that brought us all here from flatter, far less exciting places around the world, and it’s an American success story from Brighton (Colorado) to Bridge Street (Vail) and the passion for public service and sacrifice to community that should motivate and inspire all of us in these bothersome but bullish times.