By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Meanwhile, the century-old ranching town of Eagle, 35 miles “down valley” from Vail, has done a booming business catering to the 24-hour news cycle, selling out motel rooms and party tents. Its 3,500 residents are mostly professionals and resort workers who can’t afford the rarefied airs of Vail, which is sparsely populated with nearly 80 percent absentee homeowners.
Eagle residents, pragmatic denizens of the county seat, profess their disgust at Cirque du Kobe while simultaneously cranking up their cash registers. Bryant’s next hearing is scheduled for October 9, with his trial expected to begin later in the fall — if Bryant’s attorneys don’t seek a change of venue.
The broader economic implications for Vail Resorts, owner of the most popular single-mountain ski area in North America, are unclear. California is Vail’s fourth largest out-of-state market, and the ski company is in negotiations with American Airlines to continue direct flights from LAX to the Eagle County Airport next ski season. Resort officials have distanced themselves from the fray, professing obliviousness in the face of a rising tide of venomous e-mails from enraged Kobe fans, some threatening boycott. And despite a reputation for coddling celebrity and keeping them off the radar screen rather than celebrating them Aspen style, Vail may already be a less attractive destination for the rich and the famous. Even before the Bryant debacle, Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford sold their Cordillera home for $7.7 million in 2000 because they were tired of rubberneckers.
Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz is not concerned: “We’ve treated [celebrities] very well for 40 years, and I think we’ll continue to.”
Notorious: Vail’s brushes with infamy
Ski instructor Julie Cunningham disappears from Vail on March 15, 1975. Just before his execution on January 24, 1989, mass murderer Ted Bundy confesses to a Vail police officer that he lured Cunningham to his car with the ploy of needing help as he fumbled with his ski boots while struggling on crutches. Bundy says he buried her body near Rifle, but it has never been found.
Four people die and eight are injured when two gondola cars derail because of a frayed cable and fall to the ground on Vail Mountain on March 26, 1976.
Spanish Prince Alfonso de Bourbon is nearly beheaded January 30, 1989, during the World Alpine Ski Championships at Beaver Creek after skiing into a cable used to suspend finish-line banners at the bottom of the men’s downhill course. He dies instantly, and the tragedy is covered by the worldwide media in town for the ski races.
While on a routine training flight in Arizona on April 2, 1997, U.S. Air Force Captain Craig Button breaks out of formation, flies 495 miles without any communication and slams his A-10 Warthog into the side of Gold Dust Peak south of Edwards. The Air Force calls the crash a suicide, and Button’s mother accuses them of a cover-up. The plane’s four 500-pound bombs have never been found.
On April 20, 1997, the final day of the ski season on Vail Mountain, Vail Resorts employee Nathan Hall skis down Riva Ridge at a high rate of speed, loses control and slams into Allen Cobb of Denver. Cobb is killed by the edge of Hall’s ski, which sails through the air like a missile. An Eagle County jury on November 16, 2000, finds Hall guilty of criminally negligent homicide in a case that goes all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and sets a ski-industry precedent. Hall is sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Still thought to be the worst act of ecoterrorism in the history of the United States (perpetrated in the name of the tuft-eared Canadian lynx), seven separate arson fires rip through structures and chairlifts on Vail Mountain in the early-morning hours of October 19, 1998. The fires cause $12 million in damage, including leveling Two Elk Lodge, but no suspects have ever been named and no arrests have been made.
—Compiled by D. O. W.