Vail Valley Feature

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Vail History

Vail is one of the least likely success stories in skiing. Seen from the village, the mountain doesn't look at all imposing. There are no glowering glaciers, no couloirs, and no chutes slashed from the rock. Even local historians admit that the Gore Creek valley in which Vail sits was an impoverished backwater, too isolated to play a prominent or colorful role in Colorado history, until the resort opened its gates in 1962.

In truth, the men who lent their names to the valley and resort deserve more notoriety than notice. Sir St. George Gore was a wealthy, swaggering, drunken lout of a baronet who went on a three-year bacchanal in the 1850s and butchered every herd of elk and buffalo in sight. Charles Vail, the otherwise obscure chief engineer of the Colorado Highway Department from 1930 to 1945 was—according to townspeople who dealt with him—an ornery cuss who was rumored to accept kickbacks from contractors.

Then two visionaries appeared on the scene: Pete Seibert, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division that prepared for alpine warfare in the surrounding Gore and Sawatch ranges during World War II, and Earl Eaton, a uranium prospector who had grown up in and surveyed these ranges. In 1957 they ascended the mountain now known as Vail, and upon attaining the summit discovered what skiers and riders salivate over: the Back Bowls, more than 3,000 acres of open glades formed when the Ute Indians set "spite fires" to the timberland in retaliation for being driven out by ranchers and miners. After five years of bureaucratic red tape and near financial suicide, Seibert's dream became reality, and the resort known as Vail was created.

Vail wasn't much to look at in the early years—at the base of the mountain there were a handful of buildings vaguely resembling a Bavarian hamlet. Today's visitors only get a sense of that ambience in the heart of the village, now surrounded by condo complexes, hotels, and upscale homes in a large village that sprawls for miles along both sides of I–70 and climbs up the sides of the mountains. It's informally sectioned into residential East Vail, upscale Vail Village, and more modest and utilitarian Lionshead.

The 1990s were an era of consolidation in the ski industry, and many of the major resorts were snapped up by companies that were, or shortly became, publicly traded. In 1996, in a move that surprised the ski industry, Vail purchased Breckenridge and Keystone resorts, then began selling stock as Vail Resorts. Since then, the company has purchased Canyons Resort in Utah, Heavenly in California, Snake River Lodge & Spa in Wyoming, and lodges at several other resorts. Among the positive aspects of this consolidation was the creation of the seasonal Epic Pass, which allows unlimited skiing at all eight mountain resorts and Arapahoe Basin (all for the cost of about six daily lift tickets).

Updated: 2014-01-16

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