Ski area honors Thayer in preparation for anniversary

January will mark resort's 40th year in business

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— The late Carl Howelsen stunned a crowd of Steamboat Ski Area pioneers Monday by showing up for a luncheon speaking engagement at Hazies restaurant atop Thunderhead.

"I am Carl Howelsen," the patriarch of recreational skiing in Steamboat announced. "I was born 125 years ago. I have been here longer than the WZ license plate. I was here before Billy Kidd started wearing that cowboy hat with the feathers on it!"

He had his guests wiping tears of laughter from their eyes, but of course, the speaker wasn't Carl Howelsen. He was local attorney and Howelsen impersonator Kris Hammond.

The luncheon was convened by Steamboat Director of Skiing Billy Kidd to honor Paul Thayer as the ski area prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary in January 2003. Thayer was the CEO of Dallas-based LTV Aerospace when it acquired the ski area in late 1969 for $4 million, and launched it into an era of national and international renown.

The audience included former ski area chief executives like Jim Temple, Martin Hart, Hans Geier, John Fetcher and Glen Paulk.

Fetcher, the president of the Mount Werner Ski Company in 1963, recalled that Thayer didn't hesitate to give the go-ahead for the original Stagecoach Gondola at Steamboat in September 1969, even though LTV would not close on the purchase of the ski area until December.

"I'll never forget, I was in Europe with Dick Randolph negotiating the price of the Bell gondola when I got a telegram from Hank Perry telling me to return immediately," Fetcher said.

Fetcher recalls the sale of Steamboat was subsequently announced with Thayer in Governor John Love's office.

"After the ceremony we went downstairs to the cafeteria and I asked if I could go ahead with the gondola," Fetcher recalled.

Thayer didn't hesitate to commit the money.

Thayer recalled that it was John McGuyrt who first pitched him the idea of purchasing Steamboat because the company had been pressuring them to diversify.

LTV (the greater company beyond aerospace) already owned meat packing plants, steel mills and Braniff Airlines, among other interests.

Thayer said he surprised himself by falling in love with the valley the first time he gazed up at Mount Werner.

Ironically, Thayer was probably better known here for his exploits on the Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course than on the ski slopes.

A former Navy pilot, Thayer couldn't resist jabbing a couple of old pilots in his audience astronaut Scott Carpenter and multiple fighter ace, Air Force General Robin Olds.

"I have never been a good skier, but I am probably the best pilot that ever lived," Thayer said with a twinkle in his eye.

Thayer said he couldn't visit Steamboat as often as he would have liked after he was promoted from CEO of LTV Aerospace division to CEO of the entire company.

"That took me away from Steamboat except for intermittent visits," Thayer said. "Initially we had a plan to invest $80 million into Steamboat over 10 years. We never got that far."

Ultimately, Thayer said, when you consider the capital LTV invested in Steamboat, the company lost money when it sold Steamboat to a group of investors led by Martin Hart for about $20 million in 1979.

It was Hammond, impersonating Howelsen, who put the luncheon in a celebratory mood.

Howelsen (Hammond) began by clearing up a misconception.

"I did not bring skiing here," he pointed out in a noticeable Scandinavian accent. "People were already skiing, but they were just using skis to get from one place to another. What I did, was I brought yumping to Steamboat, and yumping isn't good for anything but having fun. We yump for the yoy of yumping!"

Ski Area Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth promised an even bigger party when the ski area celebrates its anniversary in mid January 2003.

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