The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Editor’s note: This winter, we’re honoring five Colorado resorts celebrating milestone anniversaries, including Copper Mountain, Vail Ski Resort, Eldora Mountain, Steamboat Ski Resort, and Telluride Ski Resort. Read more about their history, hear from their fans, and learn how you can join in on the fun.
On March 19, 1957, a 10th Mountain Division war hero and a Vail Valley native strapped on their skis and climbing skins and huffed up 3,050 vertical feet of untracked snow to the top of Ptarmigan Ridge. The trek took Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton seven hours, reports Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine, but their exertion was well worth the effort: At the top, a 6-mile tongue of gladed snow unfurled below them. The skier’s paradise was complete with what Seibert deemed “the most mind-blowing landscape of all: a series of bowls stretched to the horizon, a virtually treeless universe of boundless powder, open slopes, and open sky.”
That's only $1 per issue!
This winter, the ski area built on that “mind-blowing” terrain celebrates 60 years as Vail Ski Resort. “In the late ’50s, the ski resorts that were really well-known at the time catered to the one percent of skiers—the best, most expert skiers,” says John Plack, senior communications manager for Vail Mountain & Beaver Creek Resort, adding that the bowls’ green- to black-level pitches made them ideal for the remaining 99 percent of skiers. “To have something like the Back Bowls that can be approachable but still aspirational really builds upon Seibert’s first vision. It’s what makes Vail different.”
On its initial opening day, December 15, 1962, the fledgling ski area charged $5 for access to two chairlifts, America’s first gondola, and nine ski runs, including terrain in the Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls.
With 33 lifts and nearly 200 ski trails open to the public today, there’s no question the humble ski area Seibert founded has changed considerably. Vail ranks as the fourth-largest ski resort in North America, as well as one of its busiest, with A-list celebrities like the Kardashians among its visitors. The base area that began with a single lodge and a handful of outbuildings now features five-star hotels, independently owned boutiques, and a bevy of coffee shops, fine dining establishments, and après hotspots. Nearby, multi-million-dollar homes (and second and third homes) dot a landscape where sheep once grazed. “I’ve seen change in the valley,” says Guest Services Manager Jeffery Wiles, who’s worked at Vail for more than 30 years, “but the Back Bowls, the thing that makes Vail Vail, those bowls are skiing the same way that they did in 1962, 1963.”
Next up: facilitating opportunities for more people to experience Vail’s “mind-blowing” terrain, especially those from historically underrepresented groups, and taking measures to achieve a zero-net operating footprint by 2030. That comes to life through a focus on more partnerships with diversity-, equity-, and inclusion-focused organizations like the National Brotherhood of Skiers (Vail will host its 50th Anniversary summit February 4–11) and SOS Outreach, along with a continued commitment to its adaptive snowsports programming and energy efficiency. “This is where the ski industry needs to go: creating a welcoming environment for everyone,” Plack says. “It does go full circle into that first vision of the Back Bowls and making sure that we get as many people as possible to enjoy these amazing outdoor spaces.”
How to Celebrate
The best way to celebrate Vail’s 60 years is, of course, with a powder day in the Back Bowls. But if that’s not in the cards, plan a getaway for February 25–27, when Vail celebrates its Legacy Weekend, which honors founder Pete Seibert and his fellow 10th Mountain Division soldiers. Weekend highlights include a parade, a Blackhawk helicopter landing at the top of Chair 2, and a memorial group ski down Riva Ridge, a run named after the World War II battle in Italy where 10th Mountain Division fighters helped cement ultimate victory for the Allied Powers. The Spring Après Series (dates yet to be confirmed) will also feature a special 60th anniversary touch.
All season long, guests can celebrate with their taste buds at Wildwood Smokehouse—the crowd-pleasing chicken and wild rice soup returns this season—and the Remedy Bar at the Four Seasons Vail, where the multi-course, 60th Anniversary Menu is just $60. Another way to get into the spirit of things: Order up a glass of the Vail Mountain 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Bourbon (expect smooth sipping with notes of cinnamon, chocolate, and spice), available at on-mountain spots like the two throw-back ice bars located at Eagle’s Nest and Wildwood, as well as the Lodge at Vail, the Arrabelle at Vail Square, and the 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company tasting room. The new, full-bodied Henry’s Rescue Bourbon, named after the first K9 member of Vail Ski Patrol, will also be available at the tasting room. Youngsters will be more excited by the Signature Hot Chocolate Cart inside the Arrabelle’s lobby, which features hand-crafted cookies, candies, and toffees along with house-made cocoa.
For a more sentimental take on the festivities, step into the Legacy Hut at the top of Chair 4 for a quick warm-up and a peek into Vail’s past via the photos and artifacts adorning the walls. While you’re there, pick up one of the free, anniversary-themed postcards and send “wish you were here” sentiments from 11,250 feet; Vail will pick up the postage. After lunch at Wildwood, snap selfies in front of the new mural, an homage to the original opening day signage. For another photo opp, keep your eye out for (or better yet, catch a ride in) Gondola One’s single diamond white (for the resort’s diamond anniversary) gondola cabin. Want to take home a piece of history? Mid-Vail’s 60th Anniversary Pop-Up Shop will have anniversary memorabilia for sale. Our pick: a retro-inspired, cable-knit sweater featuring the vintage logo
One Run to Try
Locals, employees, and the finest magazines all call out Riva Ridge as a must-do, intermediate-expert level run thanks to its length (close to four miles) and vertical drop (3,000 feet). Catch it at the top of Mountain Top Express (Chair 4). If you’re looking for powder pockets and you dig tree-skiing, hit up Shangri-La in China Bowl or Champagne Glade in Blue Sky Basin.
Where to Stay
U.S. Forest Service permitting provisions back in 1962 required that Vail Ski Resort have an on-site lodging option. The (aptly named) result: the Lodge at Vail. Book one of the luxurious rooms (or a multi-bedroom chalet) and wake up to views overlooking Gondola One. Come après time, order an Old Fashioned made with Vail Mountain 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Bourbon at their on-site restaurant, Cucina. The Arrabelle is another great choice, both for its prime location in the heart of Lionshead Village and the complimentary apple strudel (a nod to the hotel’s Euro influence) and 10th Mountain Whiskey samplings offered to guests upon arrival.
Vail, in the Eyes of a Local Legend
As a veteran of nine World Extreme Skiing Championships who’s been featured in 28 Warren Miller ski films, Chris Anthony has tackled many of the world’s most iconic slopes. High on his list of best ski runs: any of Vail’s Back Bowls on a powder day. “This is very, very special,” says the Colorado Snow Sports Hall of Famer, who’s lived in the Eagle River Valley (where Vail is located) for nearly 40 years. “Being on the mountain when they drop a rope for the Back Bowls and being one of the first to be able to drop into uncut snow and lay down first tracks is a dream.”