April 26, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Vail — The premier resort community 

The Colorado ski area has always aimed to be the ultimate winter resort

Anyone who has lived in Whistler for any length of time, is usually a bit curious of Vail Resort. Whistler was, after all, developed with many of the same village design principles as our American cousin.

Vail is located a 90 minute drive west of Denver, Colorado via Interstate 70. The four-lane highway winds through the Rocky Mountain foothills, peaking the Continental Divide and the 10,666 foot Vail Pass. The Town of Vail lies in the narrow Gore Valley, surrounded by snowy peaks, challenging terrain, and bisected by the elevated Interstate.

Vail Village is accessed from Exit 176, where you must first circumnavigate the two roundabouts and then park in one of the two massive parking structures.

A few steps from your car the interchange is transformed into a text book example of a vibrant pedestrian-oriented ski resort. The village has a European flair, offering consumptive accessories, trendy cafes, a rushing mountain creek, a quaint covered bridge, and inspirational displays of public art.

Vail is best known as the template for North America’s thriving new generation of ski resorts. It combines excellent intermediate ski terrain with a full service, destination resort village. In this era where developers punch out cookie cutter designs for resorts in a few years, it is important to realize that the concept for Vail Resort was developed over many decades.

Vail was the dream of a few US soldiers who had trained in the 1940s with the 10 th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, near Leadville, Colorado, for high country combat in the Second World War. In the late 1950s 10 th Mountain Division veteran Peter Siebert – at that time the head of Aspen’s ski patrol – took his extensive knowledge of the Colorado backcountry and his understanding of mountain resorts in Europe, and set out to plan the ultimate winter resort. By the end of the decade, on the recommendation of partner and fellow recruit Earl Eaton (an Aspen ski patroller and a part time prospector), Siebert explored and later purchased – for a mere $130,000 – a total of 1,000 acres of land situated on the west side of Vail Pass.

Vail began as an entirely private development that introduced innovative ideas to secure the required capital for lift and accommodation development. (The real challenge was convincing the skeptical Forest Service to provide the required conditional use permit for the ski terrain.) The early development was constructed by the founding company, Vail Corporation (changing to Vail Associates in 1966 and Vail Resorts, Inc. in 1997), that imposed strict design guidelines to imitate a Tyrolean mountain village. The aesthetics of the village design, the unprecedented ski experience and the lack of bureaucratic process, together with the completion of the I-70 through to the resort, ensured dominance of the U.S. ski industry. As Hal Rothman wrote in Devil’s Bargain : "Vail was not really a community but a script, a collection of buildings designed for the comfort of transient visitors."

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