Vail is just a 25 minute drive west on I-70 from the Frisco Inn on Galena and well worth the drive for a day of skiing or riding. Vail is the largest resort in the United States with 5,289 acres of the most diverse and expansive skiing in the world, blessed with over 300 days of sunshine a year.
Vail Mountain is accessed by three base areas: Lionshead, Vail Village, and Golden Peak. Lionshead is home to the Eagle Bahn Gondola and Born Free Express (Chair 8). Mountain access out of Vail Village is currently the Vista Bahn (Chair 16), which in 2012/2013 will be replaced by Vail’s new state of the art gondola. Golden Peak is home to the Riva Bahn Express (Chair 6), accessing the terrain park and Northwoods Chair 11, and the race course. Also at Golden Peak is Chair 12, the Gopher Hill Ski School beginner lift.
The Front Side of Vail is home to the most groomed terrain on the planet. Wide, long runs such as Riva Ridge, Born Free, and Simba, Lodgepole, and Bear Tree are popular. Check the daily grooming report for up to date info on where the best places are to ski groomed terrain. The Front Side is also home to Kid’s Adventure Zones, three Terrain Parks, Game Creek Bowl, The Black Forest Nastar public race course, and mountain dining restaurants at Eagles Nest (including Bistro Fourteen), Mid-Vail, the 10th, and Larkspur at the base of Golden Peak.
The World Famous Back Bowls offer wide open skiing and amazing views. Start by exploring Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls, and work your way back to China and Teacup Bowls. China Bowl offers the only groomed blue run runs in the Back Bowls (access from Front Side via Sourdough Express #14). If you are feeling adventurous, make your way all the way out to Siberia Bowl and the surface T-Bar style lift #22 and Inner and Outer Mongolia Bowls!
Not enough terrain for you yet? Follow signage from Patrol Headquarters back to the three high speed quad lifts and Blue Sky Basin. Ski the steep and snow filled sections under Skyline Express #36, or explore the runs on Pete’s and Earl’s Express lifts (#38 and #39), named after Vail’s founders Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton.
Vail Mountain has three sections: The Front-Side, Blue Sky Basin, and the Back Bowls. The mountain is the third largest resort in North America after Whistler Blackcomb and Big Sky Resort at over 5,200 acres (2,100 ha). Most of the mountain is wide open terrain with trails of all types, from cruising runs from most Front Side and Blue Sky Basin lifts, to the wide open Back Bowls, glades, chutes, and moguls in the Northwoods area, cornices in Blue Sky Basin, and much more. Vail Village is modeled on Bavarian village styles, with pedestrian streets.
Unlike other Colorado ski towns such as Aspen, Breckenridge, or Steamboat Springs, which existed as mining towns prior to the establishment of their ski resorts, the town of Vail was built when the resort opened.
Vail Ski Resort was founded by Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton in 1962, at the base of Vail Pass, which was named after Charles Vail, designer of the highway that passed through the valley.
During World War II, Seibert joined the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division which trained at Camp Hale, 14 miles south of Vail between Red Cliff and Leadville. During the training Seibert and Eaton became familiar with the surrounding terrain, areas of which would become resorts in later decades. They discovered a peak that believed to be well-located and with good snow, calling it No-name Mountain, which later became Vail.
Construction of the resort began in 1962 in the uninhabited valley. It opened six months later on 15 December. There were three lifts: one gondola that ran from Vail Village to Mid-Vail on the line where Gondola One operates. Several double chairlifts were also built: Golden Peak, which ran from Golden Peak base area up to the Riva Bahn Express midstation; Giant Steps, which ran from Vail Village to the bottom of the Avanti Express lift; the Avanti double chairlift; and two double chairlifts out of Mid-Vail, the Mountaintop and Hunky Dory lifts. A double chairlift, High Noon, serviced the Sun Down and Sun Up Bowls on the back side of the ridge. Vail quickly grew to become a popular ski resort, a village formed at the base, near the gondola, which was taken down in the 1970s and replaced with a Lift Engineering double chairlift.
Also at that time, the construction of Interstate 70 had begun, replacing highway Route 6. During the 1970s, the Eisenhower Tunnel was completed and President Gerald Ford and family vacationed at their Vail home, bringing it international exposure. Vail grew into a super-resort, with skiers and vacationers paying European trip prices for a Colorado vacation. Later, Vail Village was expanded. In 1970, Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics with Vail selected to host the skiing competitions. However, Colorado voters denied funding by a 3:2 margin in November 1972 and, three months later, the games were awarded instead to Innsbruck in Austria.
By the mid-1970s the mountain had been greatly expanded, with a second gondola added in the Lionshead area, which also included a residences and shops at the base of the slopes. On 26 March 1976, disaster struck the gondola when carrying cable snagged on a support tower and two cabins derailed, killing four people and injuring eight. The gondola was closed for the remainder of the season. Soon after the original gondola in the village was replaced with a double chairlift.
In 1989, Vail hosted the Alpine Skiing World Championships with great success. The championships were held in Vail/Beaver Creek again a decade later (Vail 99), to even bigger fanfare.
In 1985, Vail entered the high speed lift world when Doppelmayr constructed four high speed quads on the Front Side, making Vail the second mountain in the country to use them, after Breckenridge Ski Resort, and first with multiple quads. These lifts were the Game Creek Express (#7), Mountaintop Express (#4), Northwoods Express (#11), and Vista Bahn Express (#16). The Vista Bahn Express replaced the double chairlifts out of Vail Village, bringing skiers from Vail Village to Mid-Vail. The Mountaintop Express lift replaced a Lift Engineering triple chairlift running from Mid-Vail to Patrol Headquarters, while the Northwoods Express and Game Creek Express lifts replaced Riblet double chairlifts.
In 1988, Vail celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of their 25th anniversary, Doppelmayr constructed two more high speed quads. On the front side, the Born Free Express (#8) replaced a Lift Engineering double chairlift out of Lionshead. In the Back Bowls, the Orient Express lift (#21) opened the China, Teacup, and Siberia Bowls. A year later, another high speed quad, the Avanti Express (#2), was built to replace another Lift Engineering double chairlift.
In 1992, Vail purchased a triple chairlift from Beaver Creek, the former Upper Horseshoe lift, and installed it in Sun Up Bowl as the Sun Up (#17) lift.
In 1993, Vail changed primary lift manufacturers, from Doppelmayr to Garaventa-CTEC, who installed three high speed quads. The first was the Pride Express (#26) in 1993, which serviced the upper part of runs on the west Front Side, and combined with the Born Free Express supplemented the Eagle Bahn Gondola with an alternate way to Eagle’s nest. In 1995, the Wildwood Express (#3) was built at Mid-Vail to replace Hunky Dory, a Lift Engineering fixed grip quad. The lift reused the tower foundations of the original lift. In 1996, the Riva Bahn Express (#6) was built out of Golden Peak, improving access from Golden Peak to the rest of the mountain. That same year, the Eagle Bahn Gondola (#19) replaced the original Lionshead Gondola.
Vail Associates bought Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Heavenly in California in 1996. The company allowed skiers to buy an all-mountain pass that granted admission to all of their resorts.
In the late 1990s, Vail decided to carry out a new terrain expansion known as Category III, later renamed Blue Sky Basin. It had been in the resort’s master plan for a while. Despite widespread opposition from environmental groups over the potential that Blue Sky Basin would destroy lynx habitat, Vail received approval from the U.S. Forest Service to expand into Blue Sky Basin in 1999. In protest to the expansion, in October 1998, the Earth Liberation Front set fire to Two Elk Lodge, Camp One, Patrol Headquarters, and four chairlifts, causing US$12 million in damage. Most of the lifts suffered only minor damage. However, the drive station for the High Noon lift was destroyed, and later rebuilt (of the four lifts damaged, the only one still operating is the Northwoods Express, as the Sourdough and High Noon lifts were replaced with high speed quads in 2007 and 2010, and the Mountaintop Express became a high speed six pack in 2013). Two Elk Lodge was a total loss, so for the 1998-1999 ski season, Vail replaced it with a temporary aluminum structure named “One Elk.” A new Two Elk Lodge and Patrol Headquarters were built the following year.
In 1999, Blue Sky Basin, an intermediate-expert back-country area with moguls, tree skiing, cliffs, glades, and ridges, directly across a creek from the Orient Express lift, opened. The expansion was serviced with three new Poma high speed quads: the Teacup Express (#36), the Skyline Express (#37), and the Earl’s Express (#38). The Teacup Express improved access to the Teacup Bowl trails, which beforehand had required riding the Orient Express lift out and then traversing along the ridge and past Two Elk Lodge via a pair of rope tows. The new lifts opened in February 2000. The following winter, another high speed quad, the Pete’s Express (#39), was opened and added an additional four trails on the east side of the Basin.
Vail has been the number one ski resort in the United States 14 times in a 17 year period.
In 2004, the original Lionshead skier bridge was replaced. At the end of the 2005-06 ski season, Giant Steps, the last double chairlift in operation since the early 1960s, was replaced. In 2006, Vail began offsetting all of its power usage by purchasing wind power credits. They were the second largest corporation in the United States to do so.
In summer 2007, after seven years without a new chairlift, Vail undertook a massive lift upgrade project on the East Front Side, as Leitner-Poma built two new high speed quads. The lower of the two lifts, the Highline Express (#10), replaced a Riblet double chairlift that had been in operation since 1973. This lift reduced the ride up the Highline trail from 15 minutes to 8 minutes. It services several long mogul runs on the east part of the Front Side, and is also one of the less-crowded sections of the mountain due to its remote location. Above the Highline Express, the Sourdough Express lift (#14) replaced a triple chairlift. It services a small pod of beginner trails, but is also used by regular skier traffic to move from Patrol Headquarters to the China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin. The new lift follows a slightly different alignment so as to eliminate a traverse from the original lift to Two Elk Lodge. The West Wall rope tow, which ran along the ridge between Two Elk Lodge and the top of the Teacup Express and Sun Up lifts was removed, redirecting ski traffic down the Whiskey Jack trail to the Sourdough Express. The original Sourdough triple chairlift was relocated to Eagle’s Nest and reinstalled as the Little Eagle (#15) lift, replacing a Lift Engineering double chairlift.
A new plaza was opened at the bottom of the Vista Bahn Express in Vail Village in 2008. On 27 February 2010, one of the original black diamond trails into Vail Village, International, was renamed Lindsey’s to honor Vail’s Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn. The trail is next to Giant Steps and one of two flanking the defunct Giant Steps lift line.
In 2010, Leitner-Poma constructed another high speed quad in the Back Bowls. The High Noon Express lift (#5) replaced a Doppelmayr triple chairlift that had been in use since 1979. The new quad improved capacity to the Sundown and Sun Up Bowls, and was intended to reduce lengthy lines that the lift often received, especially on powder days. The construction of the High Noon Express lift meant that all of Vail’s terrain, with the exception of the eastern edge of the Mongolia Bowl, was accessible from high speed quads. The High Noon Express was also meant to alleviate lines at the Northwoods Express lift, providing an alternate route from the Teacup Express lift to the central and west Front Side in the afternoon.
In 2011, Vail opened a new ski-in/out fine dining restaurant at mid-Vail. The Tenth, built between the Wildwood Express and the Mid-Vail facility, is named for the famed US Army division that trained nearby and several Vail founders once belonged.
For Vail’s 50th anniversary in 2012, Leitner-Poma constructed a new 10 person gondola, replacing the Vista Bahn Express. Gondola One provides a fast, warm and sheltered ride between Vail Village and the Mid-Vail area.The construction of Gondola One saw the return of a gondola to the line that had contained Vail’s original gondola until 1976, then contained a double chairlift until 1985, and then the Vista Bahn Express from 1985 to 2012.
For the 2013-2014 season, Vail undertook another massive lift upgrade. At Golden Peak base area, the last of the resort’s double chairlifts, Gopher Hill (#12) was replaced with a recycled Doppelmayr triple chairlift purchased from Beaver Creek. Gopher Hill had operated at Beaver Creek as the Centennial lift from 1980 to 1986, after which it was replaced by a high speed quad in its original alignment and relocated, becoming the Rose Bowl lift. The lift ran as Rose Bowl until it was again replaced by a high speed quad in 2011. After a year in storage, it was installed at Golden Peak as Gopher Hill. Gopher Hill increased uphill capacity for the ski school, especially for three-to-six year old skiers and riders who must ride the lift with an adult. The bottom terminal was slightly moved from the original location.
More significantly, Vail received its first high speed six pack, as Doppelmayr installed the Mountaintop Express lift, which replaced an existing high speed quad with the same name. It is the first new Doppelmayr chairlift at Vail since the Avanti Express lift in 1989 (as Sun Up, Gopher Hill and Little Eagle are all relocated triple chairlifts). It increases uphill capacity on the lift line by 33% from 2,800 people per hour to 3,600 people per hour, matching the uphill capacity of the new Gondola One. The new lift follows a slightly different alignment from the old lift, with the bottom terminal being moved 90 feet east of its original location to decrease cross-traffic in the area. It is the first detachable chairlift in North America to utilize a conveyor belt at the loading area, a system that is widely utilized at European ski resorts, shown to cut down on stops and slows, shortening the ride time.
White River National Forest
Vail Resorts operates on National Forest System lands under special use permit to the White River National Forest. Master Development Plans, Winter and Summer Operations Plans, Construction Plans, and every phase of the permit holder’s skiing operation is approved by the federal government annually prior to construction and operation. In exchange for the use of National Forest system lands the resort pays an annual fee to the U.S. Treasury amounting to about one dollar per skier visit. Twenty-five percent of the fees collected are returned to Eagle County, Colorado, for roads and schools, in lieu of taxes. The federal government supports the objective of providing healthy recreation opportunities in quality natural outdoor environments. Millions of national and international users during all seasons of the year appreciate the opportunities provided by Vail Resorts and White River National Forest through the public and private partnership on federal lands.
Reference: Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36: Parks, Forests, and Public Property, Part 251—Land Uses, § 251.51 Definitions. Ski area —a site and attendant facilities expressly developed to accommodate alpine or Nordic skiing and from which the preponderance of revenue is generated by the sale of lift tickets and fees for ski rentals, for skiing instruction and trail passes for the use of permittee-maintained ski trails. A ski area may also include ancillary facilities directly related to the operation and support of skiing activities.
Forest Service Feasibility Studies
In 1972 the White River National Forest analyzed the terrain surrounding Vail, Colorado, to determine ski area feasibility of the greater regional area and identify additional opportunities for public parking and access to National Forest lands between Vail Pass and Lake Creek above Edwards, Colorado. The investigation was stimulated by the planned construction of Interstate 70 in Colorado over Vail Pass, or alternative Red Buffalo Corridor, and the awarding of the ’76 Winter Olympic Games to Denver, Colorado. by the International Olympic Committee with the showcase downhill event planned for the yet to be developed Beaver Creek ski area. New parking areas on Shrine Pass, Battle Mountain, Meadow Mountain, Minturn, Stone Creek, Avon, and Lake Creek were identified as development sites, base areas, and potential new skier entrance portals. Integration of Vail Ski Resort, including Blue Sky Basin, with skiing terrain on Battle Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Meadow Mountain, Stone Creek, Beaver Creek, and Lake Creek were analyzed and considered physically feasible as an integrated mega-resort with multiple portals. Twenty-eight ski lifts were planned for Grouse Mountain above Minturn, which was rated comparable to Snowmass in overall size and capacity with significant amount of terrain in the intermediate category with good snowfall. Findings were presented to William Lucas, Rocky Mountain Regional Forester, by Thomas Evans, Forest Supervisor, and Erik J. Martin, professional landscape architect, lead member of the Blue Ribbon study committee for ski area planning feasibility, and program manager for ski area administration. Grouse Mountain above Minturn was highly rated for developed alpine skiing and conceived by White River National Forest skiing experts as a potential future phase of a large mega-skiing complex on National Forest System lands linking the existing Vail ski area and Battle Mountain east of Minturn with Grouse Mountain, Beaver Creek, Meadow Mountain ski area, Bachelor Gulch, and Arrowhead on the west side. Development of Grouse Mountain did not occur due to the high cost of development, rejection of the ’76 Winter Olympic Games, vocal public opposition at the local and statewide levels, and a desire by Vail Resorts to fully develop Beaver Creek and Vail Mountain prior to expansion. The opportunity to provide developed alpine skiing on Grouse Mountain was eliminated from future consideration with the establishment of the Holy Cross Wilderness in 1980.
The 2002 Revision of the 1984 Land and Resource Management Plan Forest plans, White River National Forest, Chapter 3-Management Area Direction, 8.25 Ski areas – Existing and Potential, pages 3–80 through 3-8, and 8.31 Aerial Transportation Corridors, page 3-84, establishes long-term planning direction for Vail Ski Resort. Lift access from remote areas and new portals, including Minturn, were analyzed in the plan. The theme of an 8.31 aerial transportation corridor designation is to serve the principal purpose of transporting people to, from, and within communities, and ski areas. The theme of an 8.25 land allocation is to allow ski areas on federal lands to be developed and operated by the private sector to provide opportunities for intensively managed outdoor recreation activities during all seasons of the year. The 8.25 management area prescription includes existing developed ski areas and undeveloped expansion areas with potential for future development. Ski areas provide winter sports activities and other intensively managed outdoor recreation opportunities for large numbers of national and international visitors in highly developed settings. In some areas, use in the summer may be as intensive as in the winter. The White River National Forest forest plan addresses vegetation management, intensity of use, seasons of use, and motorized access. The 8.25 management area includes existing resorts that have already been permitted and developed, as well as additional suitable terrain into which development is planned for the future. The 1984 Forest Plan and 2002 revision were authored by Erik J. Martin, Program Manager for Ski Area Administration, to identify future expansion opportunities and alternative special-use permit boundaries for Vail ski area. The 1984 Land and Resource Management Plan [Forest plan] was revised in 2002, and analyzed in a Final Environmental Impact Statement. A summary of the Final Environmental Impact Statement to accompany the Land and Resource Management Plan – 2002 Revision is available to the public at local Forest Service Offices, public library, or National Forest web site.
- Base: 8,120 ft (2,470 m)
- Summit: 11,570 ft (3,530 m)
- Vertical Rise: 3,450 ft (1,050 m)
- Skiable area: 5,289 acres (21.40 km2)
- Trails: 193 total (18% beginner, 29% intermediate, 53% advanced/expert)
- Longest run: Riva Ridge – 4 miles (6.4 km)
- Average annual snowfall: 370 inches (9.4 m)
- Terrain Parks: 3
- 1 Superpipe
- Bowls: 10 (7 official)
- Sun Down Bowl
- Sun Up Bowl
- China Bowl
- Siberia Bowl
- Tea Cup Bowl
- Inner Mongolia Bowl
- Outer Mongolia Bowl
- Pete’s Bowl
- Earl’s Bowl
- Game Creek Bowl
- 31 total
- 1 Gondola (12 person)
- Eagle Bahn Gondola (#19)
- 1 Gondola (10 person)
- Gondola One (#1)
- 1 high speed six pack
- Mountaintop Express (#4)
- 15 high speed quads
- Avanti Express (#2)
- Wildwood Express (#3)
- High Noon Express (#5)
- Riva Bahn Express (#6)
- Game Creek Express (#7)
- Born Free Express (#8)
- Highline Express (#10)
- Northwoods Express (#11)
- Sourdough Express (#14)
- Orient Express (#21)
- Pride Express (#26)
- Teacup Express (#36)
- Skyline Express (#37)
- Earl’s Express (#38)
- Pete’s Express (#39)
- 1 fixed grip quad
- Cascade (#20)
- 3 triple chairlifts
- Gopher Hill (#12)
- Little Eagle (#15)
- Sun Up (#17)
- 9 Surface Lifts
- 1 Gondola (12 person)