Skip to main content
History of Vail, Colorado
History of Vail, Colorado
Building Our Iconic Villages

Vail's History

 From small town to world-renowned.

History of Vail Video Series

Follow the story of hard work and dedication that went into Vail as told by the founders themselves,
starting with the early years and leading up to the present.

 

The Early Years

The Ute Indians first inhabited the Gore Creek Valley long before settlers moved west. The valley offered a summer home for the Utes, who spent winters in the more arid lands of Western Colorado. The Utes called the majestic peaks of the Gore Range that overlook the valley “The Shining Mountains.” Settlers moved west into the Gore Creek Valley in the mid 1800s, turning the area into ranching and grazing land.

During World War II, the United States Army created a training center south of the valley called Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division trained for alpine combat. Made up of excellent skiers and mountaineers, the 10th fought in mountainous Northern Italy. Upon return, they became major players in the quickly growing ski industry, founding or working at over 50 resorts in the U.S.

One veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, Pete Seibert, returned to Colorado skiing after the war to join the Aspen Ski Patrol and Aspen Ski School, and eventually became the manager of Loveland Basin Ski Area. While at Loveland, Seibert and Earl Eaton began looking to develop another ski area in the Rocky Mountain region.

Eaton grew up in Colorado and began skiing at a young age. By 1940, he was working for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Glenwood Springs and ski racing in Aspen, where he met Seibert. Seibert and Eaton first climbed Vail Mountain during the winter of 1957, and both agreed it would be the perfect ski area.

Although local ranchers owned the surrounding valley, but Vail Mountain was property of the United States Forest Service. To get the ski area rolling, Seibert and Eaton needed something that neither of them had—money. Seibert quickly secured investors, which was crucial because Vail needed $1 million in the bank in order to obtain a permit from the USFS. Initial investors paid a mere $10,000 for a condo unit and lifetime season pass.

Vail's Opening Day

To prepare for opening day on Dec. 15, 1962, construction crews worked all summer to build a Bell gondola from Vail Village to Mid Vail, two chairlifts, many condos and base facilities. Winter in Colorado started off mildly that year, allowing work to continue late into the fall as opening day approached.

Unfortunately, the warm winter continued into December, producing marginal conditions for opening day. Lift tickets were $5 the first year, for a skiing experience that consisted of one gondola, two chairs, eight ski instructors and nine ski runs. One of Vail’s biggest assets was that it was only half the driving distance from Denver to Aspen.

Bob Parker became the new marketing manager of Vail that same year. Parker's objective was to put Vail on the national map, stating that skiers were guaranteed to have an exceptional ski experience. William "Sarge" Brown headed operations at the ski area. His influence on trail cutting and grooming created what Vail is today.

Vail Village grew at an incredible rate in the 1960s. During the 1968-69 season, Bell Gondola installed the Lionshead Gondola, a six-cabin tramway for the newly developed Lionshead Base. President Gerald Ford first traveled to Vail that same year, and was so impressed that he began to make annual trips and purchase property in Vail.

The 1970s brought even more construction to Vail. Vail Associates erected new trails and lifts, while the town constructed a transit system, library, ice arena and parking structures.

Denver won the Olympic bid in 1976 for the Winter Games. Vail was selected, along with what is now Beaver Creek, to host the downhill events. Denver voters rejected the games, which upset many in the ski industry.

During the summer of 1985, Vail hired Doppelmayr USA to install four high-speed quad chairs including the Vista Bahn, Mountain Top, Northwoods, and Game Creek lifts. Armed with the newest lifts, back bowls, and excellent customer service, Vail continued to set pace for investing in an excellent ski experience.

Vail celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1988-89. The China Bowl opened that same year with a new quad chair, making Vail the largest ski area in North America. The next season, Vail (and again, what is now Beaver Creek) hosted the World Alpine Ski Championships, which put Vail in the media’s spotlight all over the world.

1990 - Present

In January of 1997, Vail Associates announced the purchase of Keystone and Breckenridge. With four ski areas, Vail Resorts became the largest single operator in Colorado’s ski industry. That same season, work began to replace the old gondola in Lionshead with a new 12-passenger system, known as the Eagle Bahn Gondola today. Blue Sky Basin was the next major project, and Vail Resorts obtained permission from the USFS to install three new high-speed quads for the 1999-00 season.

During October of 1998, fire alarms sounded from both Two Elk Lodge and patrol headquarters. Firefighters arrived to see the wooden Two Elk Lodge engulfed in flames. The arson fires baffled investigators, who eventually learned a radical environmental group took credit. The following summer, construction of the Blue Sky Basin expansion continued and chairlifts were built by Poma USA, a company based in Grand Junction, Colorado. During the same summer, Two Elk Lodge and patrol headquarters were rebuilt.

In 1999, Vail and Beaver Creek hosted the World Alpine Ski Racing Championships again, showing dedication to the sport of ski racing once more.

In January of 2000, Blue Sky Basin opened to the public, offering what is now some of the most popular terrain at Vail. Work began in the summer of 2000 on another high-speed quad in Pete’s Bowl, directly to the northeast of Blue Sky Basin’s Skyline Express lift.

In 2004, the original Lionshead skier bridge was replaced and work began on the redevelopment of the Arrabelle and Lionshead, a multi-year project including new condos, an ice rink, and many new stores and restaurants.

In 2008, Chair 10 was replaced with a high speed quad, Highline Express, which accesses some of the best mogul terrain at Vail. The original Chair 5 was replaced with the High Noon Express quad in 2010. 2011 brought The 10th restaurant to Mid Vail, as well as Gondola One to replace the Vista Bahn.