The History of Vail
Fifty years ago, the foundation of Vail Ski Resort was built upon the partnership of one soft-spoken visionary and one tenacious skiing soldier—both of whom carried a dream. In the late 1950s, partners Earl Eaton and Pete Seibert saw that though Vail Mountain as yet had no name, it held considerable promise to become a world-class ski resort.
It was Eaton, an Eagle County native who had hunted, hiked and explored these peaks as a boy, who first recognized the potential held in their powder-blessed bowls. But by the late 1930s, idyllic boyhood dreams were replaced by battle scenes. The world was at war for a second time, and the United States would soon be drawn into the fray. When the United States Army came to his beloved mountains in 1941, Eaton helped construct Camp Hale, a military training center established south of Vail in the White River National Forest. He was later drafted into the US Army, serving two and a half years as an Army engineer in Europe.
Pete Seibert trained at Camp Hale as a member of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, a group of elite fighters skilled in mountain and winter warfare. While serving in the mountainous northern region of Italy, Seibert was seriously wounded at the Battle of Riva Ridge. Told he would probably never walk again, much less ski, the resolute soldier proved he was a fighter in every sense. Not only did he walk and ski again, he placed third in the giant slalom at the US Nationals.
Through it all, he never relinquished his dream of opening a ski resort.
After the war, the men returned to Colorado where the two met while working and skiing in Aspen. In March 1957, Eaton led Seibert on a seven-hour climb to the summit of his mountain with no name. Gazing down from the peak to the slopes and bowls below, Seibert instantly recognized that his friend's "secret" mountain would make the perfect North American ski resort.
The friends set to work—Eaton to mapping the mountain, cutting trails and building lifts; Seibert to securing funds. The vision that was Vail had become a bold venture.
December 15, 1962 marked the very first Opening Day at Vail Ski Resort. An unseasonably warm start to winter threatened a lackluster first season for the fledging resort, until a blizzard blew in on December 17. A $5 lift ticket during the '62/'63 season granted skiers access to nine ski runs via two chairlifts and a gondola.
The resort's popularity grew by bounds during the 1970s as Vail blossomed into a super-resort. New trails and lifts were added on the mountain, while the town proper added a transit system, ice arena and parking structures. The European-style base village expanded as well.
In 1972, Vail and Beaver Creek were selected to host the downhill skiing events in the 1976 Winter Olympic Games. However, Denver voters declined the honor, sending the XII Olympic Winter Games to Innsbruck, Austria instead.
The resort's success was tainted by tragedy on March 26, 1976 by a gondola accident at Lionshead that took the lives of four and injured eight others. The gondola remained closed for the remainder of the season while the Von Roll Lift Company installed a state-of-the-art monitoring system designed to prevent further accidents.
The following decade, Vail once again took center stage among the international skiing community when it hosted the 1982 Alpine Skiing World Cup to incredible success. Portions of the Cup were held in Vail again in 1992 to even bigger fanfare.
Vail christened five high-speed detachable quad lifts in 1985, becoming only the second mountain in the country to use them, after Breckenridge.
In 1996, Vail Associates acquired Vail Breckenridge Ski Resort and Heavenly Ski Resort. In a move that marked a huge change for ski resorts in Vail Valley, the parent company allowed skiers to purchase a single all-mountain pass that granted admission to all of their resorts.
Tragedy struck again in 1998, this time in the form of eco-terrorism. Arsonists from the Earth Liberation Front set fire to the Two Elk Lodge restaurant, Camp One picnic area, ski patrol headquarters and several lifts, causing $12 million in damage. Two Elk Lodge, ski patrol HQ and Camp One were rebuilt, with the restaurant enjoying significant upgrades. The destroyed lifts were replaced with new high-speed quads.
In 2000, the resort unveiled Pete Seibert's ideal skiing vision—Vail's Blue Sky Basin. This intermediate-expert backcountry area, which offers mogul, gladed and tree skiing in addition to glorious cliffs and ridges, has been heralded as one of the best skiing experiences in the world.
Vail has been named the #1 Ski Resort in the US 14 times over the past 17 years. With a rich and storied history, it is the ski experience that sets Vail apart. As the resort celebrates its 50th anniversary season, Vail will continue to set the standard for great North American ski resorts in the decades to come.