Tue Jul 16, 5:28 AM ET

VAIL, Colo. (AP) - Peter W. Seibert, whose passion for skiing led him to launch what became the world-famous Vail mountain resort, has died at age 77.

Seibert had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus last year. He died Monday.

He is credited with forever changing the area by making Vail Mountain one of the premier destinations for skiers.

While working at the Loveland Ski Resort in 1957, Seibert and longtime friend Earl Eaton took a look at what is now called Vail Mountain. After a seven-hour climb and what may have been the mountain's first descent on skis, Seibert and Eaton became determined to build "the most beautiful ski resort in the world."

On Jan. 9, 1960, Seibert gathered a group of nine men together for the first meeting of the board of directors for what ultimately became Vail Resorts Inc., America's largest ski company.

"He's done a lot. He got Vail put together," Eaton said Monday.

Seibert was born Aug. 7, 1924, in Sharon, Mass. He strapped on his first pair of skis at age 7.

"Never have I experienced a more complete sense of joy and adventure than when I first stuck my hunting boots into the leather toe straps and proceeded down the modest hills outside of town," Seibert wrote in his book, "Vail: Triumph of a Dream," published in 2000. "My life changed completely because of those first real skis."

In 1943, Seibert, then an 18-year-old ski racer, joined the U.S. Army and volunteered for the 10th Mountain Division, where he trained for high-altitude winter combat.

On March 3, 1945, as a platoon sergeant in Italy he was nearly killed by mortar shells, shattering both arms and severely injuring his face and his right leg. Army doctors told Seibert he may never walk again.

After 17 months of rehabilitation, he was released from the army, determined to prove the doctors wrong. "One way or another, skiing was going to be my life," Seibert wrote.

After the war, Seibert settled in Aspen, where he worked for the ski patrol and began to ski race again.

Seibert remained chief executive officer of Vail until 1977.

source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20020716/ap_on_re_us/obit_seibert_1