Larry Lichliter, 68, whom many in the ski industry are remembering this week as a key leader who brought Vail and Beaver Creek resorts into premier status, died Feb. 18, 2011 at his home in La Mirada, Calif. after a lengthy illness.
"Larry is an icon in the ski industry," Mike Shannon, former Vail Associates president and current managing director of KSL Capital Partners, told OnTheSnow. "He was a close business partner of mine for 25 years and was one of the finest men I have ever known. His contributions to the ski and golf industries were extraordinary."
Lichliter was executive vice president and chief operating officer for Vail Associates from 1984 to 1992, when he joined Shannon in forming KSL Recreation (Kravis, Shannon, Lichliter) as a portfolio company of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
"Lich," as he was known, came to Vail from the accounting world, first with Samsonite at its corporate headquarters in Denver. He moved to Vail in 1973 as controller for a local developer. He was hired by Vail Associates in 1976 as finance director for the start-up resort of Beaver Creek. Vail Associates is a predecessor to today's Vail Resorts.
"I came on the scene to develop the real estate potential of Vail and Beaver Creek," said Harry Frampton, who preceded Shannon as Vail Associates president from 1982 to 1986. "I had no idea how a bullwheel worked on a chairlift and nothing about mountain operations.
"Everyone suggested I promote Lich to run the mountains and he took it upon himself to teach me about the industry. He just took me under his wing. He was one of those rare people who came from a numbers background but had such good people skills. He was just a wonderful guy," Frampton told us.
Lichliter was promoted to the top mountain job, filling the already legendary shoes of retiring Bob Parker, who earlier had led the marketing efforts that put a fledgling Vail on the map.
"I was having lunch with Lich one day years after Vail had introduced the VistaBahn in 1986," said Pat Peeples, president of Peeples Ink, an industry-leading public relations firm based in Vail and the resort's former PR chief. "I told him I had come to see the new lift and was so impressed with how Vail was always going all out when they did things. I was working in PR at Winter Park at the time.
"Lich told me that day was one of the most stressful in his life. He said, ‘We'd never done anything that big before and I was just hoping that when we turned the switch on that morning that we had enough juice to run it,'" Peeples recalled. The Vista Bahn was the first covered quad chairlift at an American resort.
Vail Resorts Co-President John Garnsey told OnTheSnow: ""It is a very sad day with Lich's passing. The ski industry has lost one of its good ones. Lich was always a class act and a true professional. He always had a smile for you no matter what the circumstances."
Lichliter oversaw the build-out of Beaver Creek and the expansion of Vail Mountain into one of the largest and best-known ski resorts in the world.
But, what set him apart was a warm leadership style that worked equally well with employees and resort guests. Former Vail owner George Gillett told The Vail Daily, "He was a good guy, great with people, but particularly good with our guests."
Lichliter and Shannon's KSL Recreation grew into the largest independent owner and operator of major resorts. Lichliter served as its president as KSL acquired and ran world-class properties such as the Grand Wailea in Maui; Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix; La Quinta PGA West in Palm Springs; and the Doral in Miami. KSL Recreation was sold in 2004 to CNL Hotels & Resorts for $2.4 billion. CNL now has a large portfolio of ski resort properties.
Lichliter retired in 2005. He was born in Cortez, Colo., in 1943, grew up in Grand Junction, and served as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, prior to attending Mesa State College and the University of Denver. He graduated with an accounting degree in 1969.
He was involved in numerous civic programs in both Colorado and California, including directorships of the Vail Valley Medical Center, Colorado Ski Country USA, and the Bob Hope Classic in the Coachella Valley.
Lichliter is survived by Martha T. Brown; his son and daughter-in-law, Wade and Shannon Lichliter; one granddaughter and two great granddaughters; and his former wife, and Wade's mother, Sandra. He was an avid outdoorsman and expert fly fisherman.
The family requests that charitable gifts and tributes be made in his name to Partners for Access to the Woods (P.A.W.), P.O. Box 348, Granby, CO 80446. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m., March 5, 2011 at La Quinta Resort and Club in Southern California.
(Editor's Note: I, too, worked with Lich in the 1980s at Vail and it is with much sadness, laced with good memories, that I write this article. So many stories about the kindness and warmth of a great industry leader - so little space to tell them. But, none are exaggerated. -Craig Altschul)
Vail Resorts is the parent company of Mountain News Corp., publishers of OnTheSnow.com. This newsroom operates independently of that ownership. Vail Resorts is a publicly held company traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: MTN.)