In his book Vail: Triumph of a Dream, the resort’s founder, Pete Seibert, recounted the winter day in 1957 when he and a friend, Earl Eaton, first ascended some seldom-seen slopes in the middle of the Colorado Rockies, a few miles west of what is now Vail Pass, on Interstate 70. “In all our backcountry explorations, we had seen nothing like this,” he recalled. “Beneath the brilliant blue sky, we turned slowly in a circle and saw perfect ski terrain no matter which direction we faced…Much of it was better than the finest recreational ski sites in all of Colorado—hell, in all of North America!”
My own experience on these same slopes dates to 1978. Although Vail had by then grown into a world-renowned resort, with attendant crowds and sophisticated shops and lodges, I clearly remember standing at the long ridgeline of Vail Mountain and feeling much the same awe as I stared, almost in disbelief, at the vast terrain. Dozens of north-facing trails rolled and tumbled through the trees at angles from gentle to alarming, ending down in the Bavarian-accented ski village right on Gore Creek.
Off to the south was an even more astonishing view: a series of enormous treeless bowls full of powder that stretched into infinity, “a landscape so vast that it was best described by the name we would later pick for one of the most famous slopes of them all: Forever,” as Seibert wrote.
Today, Vail has grown beyond anything even the visionary Seibert could have imagined. It’s now the largest single-mountain ski resort in North America, with more than 5,000 skiable acres, and regularly sits atop Ski magazine’s ratings of the country’s best ski resorts. The name Vail evokes a prosperous, well-groomed summer and winter resort with restaurants, shops and nightspots that befit its stature. Real estate prices this summer topped $3,000 per square foot for some new projects.
At the same time, Vail can be extremely crowded on a warm spring weekend, and yes, the highway noise from that interstate can remind you that progress has its downside.
But what remains for me, after the last bottle of excellent California Pinot Noir is drained at dinner at the Larkspur restaurant, after I’m tucked under a cloudlike down comforter at the Sonnenalp Resort, is the allure of same ski slopes that so captivated Seibert and Eaton. “We looked at each other,” Seibert wrote, “and realized what we both knew for certain: This was it!”
Read our founder’s highly subjective list of favorite spots for spring skiing.
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