Skier surveys the terrain at Vail. © Dan Leeth.
By Shelly Steig
When EnCompass asked me to write a story about Vail’s anniversary, I remembered a special celebration 25 years ago in what used to be a Holiday Inn. My husband Jeff was in the Air Force at the time, and for nine years in a row, he’d been elsewhere on our special day. Our 10th appeared to be no different. He was training in California while I stayed in Nebraska with our three children. So we could celebrate our milestone, I flew to Denver and he drove from California to meet me, then escorted me to our surprise second honeymoon. We spent four blissful days in Vail, wandering the village, dining, shopping and enjoying our romantic getaway. That was my first introduction to the village, and we’ve been back many times.
The Holiday Inn moved across I-70, and the hotel’s former prime village site is now occupied by the stunning AAA Four Diamond Four Seasons Resort. On our most recent visit there, we didn’t dwell too long on reminiscing. We created new memories—sipping coffee on our private patio overlooking the pool and mountains and ordering the tasting menu by Flame restaurant’s chef Jason Harrison.
Vail resort now covers 5,289 acres of terrain, with 31 lifts and the capacity to handle 59,069 skiers per hour on trails with fanciful names such as Gandy Dancer, Look Ma and Whistle Pig.
Vail founder Pete Seibert described how the area looked on a trip he made there with Earl Eaton in 1957.
“After almost two hours in the trees, we broke out into sunny, open terrain and faced a vast landscape consisting only of sun-splashed snowy slopes, dotted here and there with perfectly sculptured spruce and fir trees, rolling up the hill almost as far as the eye could see. ‘My God, we’ve climbed all the way to heaven,’ I said to Earl. He said, ‘It gets better, Pete.’” As they neared the top of the mountain, Seibert wrote, “Beneath the brilliant blue sky, we slowly turned in a circle and saw perfect ski terrain no matter which direction we faced. … We looked at each other and realized what we both knew for certain: This was it!”
Vail resort will mark its 50th birthday with a week of live entertainment Dec. 10–16, 2012, and festivities through the 2013 winter season. Participating hotels and restaurants offer discounts and specials as part of the celebration. Guests who book four nights at the Four Diamond Vail Cascade Resort get a fifth night for 50 cents. Those who stay at the Four Diamond Antler’s at Vail from Nov. 16 through Dec. 13 can take advantage of a 50 percent discount. The Four Seasons is offering a “1962 Package,” which includes a 50-minute massage, $50 credit at Flame and two 1960s classic cocktails.
The founders’ trail
Seibert and Eaton, both deceased, lived long enough to see Vail thrive. But although the resort proved difficult to develop, the two were battle-proven and up for the challenge.Seibert served in World War II with the 10th Mountain Division, which trained for combat as ski and mountain troops. He fought in the Apennine Mountains of Northern Italy, and on March 3, 1945, a German shell shattered his left forearm and nearly destroyed his left leg—leaving him to wonder if he would ever ski again.Undaunted, Siebert returned to Colorado and built a homemade leg brace, so he could work as a ski patroller. Then he continued to build his strength until he made the 1950 Alpine Ski Team. Grooming himself for his future career in the industry, Seibert took a crash course in French and also attended L’Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, the Swiss school of hotel management.
Born in Eagle, Eaton lived on a logging and ranching homestead and ski raced while working for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Glenwood Springs. When WWII loomed, he worked construction at Camp Hale, the training base for the 10th Mountain Division. The army drafted him as an engineer. After the war, Eaton built chairlifts and cut trails. He met Seibert in Aspen.
After discovering the future site for Vail, the partners formed the Transmontane Rod & Gun Club as a guise during early fundraising, hoping anyone paying attention would think they were building a simple hunting lodge. They later named the resort after Charlie Vail, the Highway 6 project engineer who lent his name to the mountain pass. Seibert modeled his vision for a village-style ski destination after experiencing appealing resorts in Europe.
In 1968 Gerald and Betty Ford made the Vail Valley their family’s annual retreat, putting Vail permanently on the celebrity map.
But what draws me most is not the VIPs or the scale of the resort. It’s the place Vail has in my heart.
Shelly Steig, (www.shellysteig.com) pictured here with her husband on a trip to Vail in the 1980s, is a Parker-based freelancer who is more a gaper than a skier.