What’s in a Name? The History Behind Vail’s Trail Names

Posted October 10, 2021
Vail is steeped in legacy, and there’s nothing on this mountain that doesn’t have a story rich in history. Ever wonder how your favorite area or trail at Vail Mountain got its name? Here are a few often-asked for explanations behind some of Vail’s most legendary runs: 

HAIRBAG ALLEY: Named for the “hairbag” long-haired skiers that frequented this gulch out of Northwoods in the 70s. 

COOKSHACK: The ruins of an old logging camp cook shack were found here when the mountain was surveyed for skiing. This run is used for mogul training and can be seen on your right as you are riding up Avanti Express (Chair #2). 

COW’S FACE: A tree-cutter once described a Loveland Basin run as “steeper than a cow’s face, and her a-grazin'”. Vail founder Pete Seibert, then manager at Loveland, remembered the description and thought it fit this trail perfectly. 

CHINA BOWL: Years before it was officially open to skiers, China Bowl had been named for its headwall, visible now from the top of Orient Express (Chair #21).  This long limestone formation reminded early Vail skiers of the Great Wall of China. In 1988, Vail opened Tea Cup, China, Siberia, and the Mongolia Bowls. The expansion more than doubled the size of Vail’s ski terrain.  

WIDGE’S RIDGE: Named for Alice “Widge” Ferguson, an early Back Bowls fan from Denver, who always seemed to bring snow with her when she came to Vail. 

WHISTLE PIG: Whistle Pig is a nickname for the yellow-bellied marmot, western relative of the woodchuck. These alpine rock-dwellers whistle sharp warnings when approached. 

CADY’S CAFE: An early member of the Mountain Operations team with the last name Cady was given the project of overseeing an early waste facility below Mid-Vail – this building became known affectionately as “Cady’s Cafe”. When the building was converted to storage and the waste removal process at Vail was upgraded, the area around building was opened to skiers and the name stuck. 

O.S.: This trail skirts the far southwest boundary of the ski area and then cuts back into Sun Down Catwalk. In Vail’s early days, if a skier missed the cutback and skied on down through the trees, she found herself below the chair and had to walk back up the hill. O.S. meant “Oh, s**t, I missed the turn!” A good reminder always to obey ropes and closure signs!  

Located on the Front Side in the Northeast Bowl, this bowl’s trail names reference the area logging operations that went on in the late 1800s. The name “Blue Ox” refers to the American folk legend of Paul Bunyan. He was said to be a giant lumberjack of great strength and ability whose favorite companion was the equally massive and strong Blue Ox named Babe. 

Cut in 1967, Northwoods was the first trail in the Northeast Bowl and existed long before Highline Express Lift #10 and Northwoods Express Lift #11 were built. It is named for the beautiful, tall trees through which it runs. 

RAMSHORN: The origin of this trail name is somewhat contested. Some say that the trail winds around in the shape of a ram’s horn while others say that the horns of bighorn sheep were found when the trail was being cut. A common and amusing mispronunciation of this trail name is “Ram Shorn”. 

RICKY’S RIDGE: Named for Ricky Andenmatten, a Zermatt, Switzerland native who served as one of Vail’s first ski instructors. 

RIVA RIDGE: As you may know, Vail owes much of its history to the 10th Mountain Division, an elite group of mountain warfare light infantry that trained at nearby Camp Hale and served in World War II. The trail name comes from the infantry’s best-known combat achievement on Riva Ridge in the mountains of Northern Italy in February of 1945. You can see a great documentary and display about the 10th Mountain Division story at the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum

LOST BOY: Lost Boy is named for Martin Koether. When he was 14, he skied into Game Creek Bowl by mistake before it was developed and spent the night in a snow cave under a tree while rescuers searched the mountain for him. He made his way safely out of the bowl the following day. 

IN THE WUIDES: Named in honor of Paul Testwuide, known by his friends as Wuide and a part of the Vail family since the beginning. He was a major force behind the development of Blue Sky Basin.