|Left: Overlooking Mount of the Holy Cross
Right: The Sun Down Bowl
The Ute Indians first inhabited the Gore Creek Valley long before white
settlers moved west. The valley offered a cool summer retreat for Indians
and during the harsh winters they moved to the arid lands of Western
Colorado. The Utes nicknamed the Gore Range “The Shining
Mountains.” By the mid 1800’s the first white settlers arrived in the Gore
Valley, forcing the Indians to flee. The area became home to ranchers
with grazing stock.
When World War II began, the United States Army created a training
center south of the Gore Valley at Pando called Camp Hale. The 10th
Mountain Division trained for alpine combat here. The 10th Mountain
troops fought in northern Italy and upon return, they became major
players in the quickly growing ski industry.
A veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, Peter Seibert, returned to
Colorado after the war with injuries. Despite this, he was able to return to
skiing and became a member of the Aspen Ski Patrol, Aspen Ski School
and eventually the manager of Loveland Basin Ski Area by the late 1950’
s. While at Loveland, Pete and Earl Eaton began looking to develop
another ski area in the Rocky Mountain region. While looking for
uranium, Earl discovered a possible area outside of Gore Valley.
Earl Eaton, a Colorado native, began skiing at a young age. By 1940,
Eaton was working for the Conservation Corps camp in Glenwood
Springs and ski racing in Aspen. In 1941, he headed to Leadville to work
in the mines, which eventually led him to Camp Hale for construction. His
early jobs in the ski industry included Climax Ski Area and Cooper Hill.
Eaton eventually went back to Aspen where he worked for ten years
building chairlifts, trails, and ski patrolling. Seibert and Eaton first climbed
Vail Mountain during the winter of 1957. Both agreed that this would be
the perfect ski area and Seibert began to look for potential investors.
Vail Mountain was property of The United States Forest Service (USFS)
and local ranchers owned the surrounding valley. To get the ski area
rolling, Seibert and Eaton needed something that neither of them had,
money. Seibert called lawyers Bob Fowler and Jack Tweedy, appraiser
John Conway, and oilman George Caulkins of Denver. Fowler and
Tweedy were able to create a corporation needed to get the ski area
moving, while Conway was able to convince local ranchers to sell their
property. To obtain a permit from the USFS Vail needed to have one
million dollars in the bank. Caulkins was able to through investors raise
the money with a little persuasion. Investors into Caulkins deal paid
10,000 dollars for a condo unit and lifetime season pass.
With the USFS granting their operating permit, Vail’s opening day was set
for December 15, 1962. During the summer of 1962, construction crews
were busy erecting a Bell gondola from Vail Village to Mid Vail, two
chairlifts, condos, and base facilities. Luckily, that fall Colorado
experienced a late winter, allowing for most structures to near
To the ski area’s disappointment, the warm winter continued into
December producing marginal conditions for opening day. The first year,
ticket prices were set at five dollars. The ski company consisted of one
gondola, two chairs, eight ski instructors, and nine ski runs. One of Vail’s
biggest assets was it was only half the driving distance from Denver to
Once Vail was operating, Bob Parker became the new marketing
manager. Through Parker, Vail was put on the national map stating that
skiers were guaranteed to have a exceptional ski experience. At the ski
area, Sarge Brown headed operations. His knowledge of trail cutting and
grooming created what Vail is today.
During the 1960’s, Vail Village was growing at an incredible rate. By
1968, Lionshead was developed. For the 1968-69 season, the Bell
Gondola Company installed the Lionshead Gondola, a six-cabin
tramway. That same year, President Gerald Ford first traveled to Vail
Valley. The President was so impressed by the valley that he began to
make annual trips, eventually purchasing property.
The 1970’s brought more construction to Vail. Vail Associates erected
new trails and lifts, while the town constructed a transit system, library, ice
arena, and parking structures. By 1976, Vail’s success was tainted by a
gondola accident at Lionshead. Two cabins derailed off of the high
towers, killing four and injuring eight. The gondola closed the remainder
of the season until the Von Roll Lift Company installed a state-of-the-art
monitoring system, preventing any further accidents. Despite this tragic
accident, Vail Village continued to grow. The Colorado Ski Museum was
founded the following year and remains in Vail today.
Denver won the Olympic bid in 1976 for the Winter Games. Vail was
selected, along with the Beaver Creek site to host the downhill events.
Denver voters rejected the games, which upset many in the ski industry.
By 1980, Vail’s sister resort Beaver Creek opened with several chairlifts
and a temporary base lodge.
George Gillette Jr., an avid skier and homeowner in the valley was urged
by his family to purchase Vail and Beaver Creek. Upon doing so in 1985,
Gillette drastically changed the ski industry in Colorado. His main goal
with the resort was customer service and on any typical day, Gillette was
just as likely out skiing with his customers as being in a boardroom.
During the summer of 1985, Gillette hired Doppelmayr USA to install four
high-speed detachable quad chairs including the bubbled Vista Bahn,
Mountain Top, Northwoods, and Game Creek lifts. Before 1985, only
Breckenridge operated a high-speed lift in Colorado. Armed with the
newest lifts, back bowls, and excellent customer service, skier visits
For the 1988-89 season, Vail celebrated its 25th anniversary. The China
Bowl opened this same year with a new quad chair, making Vail the
largest ski area in North America. The next season, Vail hosted World
Alpine Ski Championships, which placed the valley in the media’s
By 1992, Gillette, under financial strains was forced to sell Vail Associates
to the Apollo Partners of New York. The Apollo Partners had a much
different operation philosophy than Gillette, as the key partners were not
avid skiers. Despite this, Vail was awarded the World Alpine Ski
Championships in 1995 for the 1999-00 ski season. In January of 1997,
Vail Associates announced the purchase of Keystone and Breckenridge
from Ralston Purina. With four ski areas, Vail Resorts became the largest
single operator in Colorado’s ski industry. That same season, CTEC-
Garaventa was contracted to replace the old Bell gondola at Lionshead
with a new 12-passenger system.
Category III was Vail Resort’s next major project at the ski area. While
Category III was in the area’s master plans for quite some time, it was
never aggressively pursued. During the 1990’s, the Candian lynx was
reintroduced into Colorado. Category III’s terrain was deemed suitable
for lynx by department of wildlife officials, but actual lynx sightings were
never documented. Despite extreme opposition from local and
nationwide environmental groups, Vail Resorts obtained permission by the
USFS to install three new high-speed quads for the 1999-00 season.
During October of 1998, fire alarms sounded at Two Elk Lodge, Camp
One, Patrol Headquarters, Mountain Top Express, Northwoods Express,
High Noon Triple, and the Sourdough Triple. Firefighters arrived to see
the timber Two Elk Lodge engulfed in flames. While Northwoods,
Mountain Top, and the Sourdough lifts only experienced minor damages,
the High Noon Chair’s drive station was a total loss. The arson fires
baffled investigators, who eventually learned that a radical environmental
group, The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) took credit. The following
summer, construction of Category III continued and the chairlifts were
built by Poma USA out of Grand Junction, Colorado. Along with the
Category III, the Two Elk Lodge and Patrol Headquarters were rebuilt.
In January of 2000, Category III, renamed Blue Sky Basin, opened to the
Poma was brought back during the summer of 2000 to install another high-
speed quad in Pete’s Bowl, directly to the northeast of Blue Sky’s main
lift. Mountain improvements continued. By 2004, the original Lionshead
skier bridge was replaced with a new steel girder structure in preparation
for the Lionshead redevelopment plan. The redevelopment includes a
new high-end condo structure, restaurants, shops and ice rink on the
former gondola-building site.
Investigators finally made a break in the ELF arson fires during 2006. The
four people named in the indictments include Chelsea Gerlach, Stanislas
Meyerhoff, Josephine Overaker and Rebecca Rubin. Chelsea Gerlach,
also known as “country girl” in eco terrorist networks is estimated to be
involved with five other arsons, mostly in the Pacific Northwest area.
|The Gore Range from Avanti
|A cold ride on Northwoods Express
|Overlooking Highline and Roger's Run
|The Sundown Bowl overlooking Mount
of the Holy Cross
|Pros and Cons to Skiing Here:
|Vail's first lift, Chair 1
|+ Most Skiable Acres in US
||- Lift tickets are upwards of
$80/day for a full adult ticket
|+ Back bowls are amazing
||- Weekend crowds are huge
|+ Front Side has excellent
|- The back bowl's conditions can
be variable long after a storm
|+ Blue Sky Basin offers north
facing bowl terrain
|- Lodging is very expensive during
|+ Town has good night life and
ample lodging options
|Insider Tips to Skiing Here:
|Copyright © coloradoskihistory.com
All Rights Reserved.
*Resort Stats Current for 2009-10
The Colorado Ski Museum
- The Lionshead Bell Gondola:
- Gondola 1 (Ran to mid-Vail)
Picture from 1975
- Construction of the Vista Bahn:
Installation of the back
up motor, a Cummins
|^ Pictures thanks to Rich B.
- Founders Pete Seibert and Bill Brown ride the new Vista
Bahn Lift in 1986:
Thanks to Tom M.