Before becoming the “King of American Ski Resorts,” Vail, Colorado was a remote area, accessed only by the Ute Indians for hunting grounds and as a summer residence. From playing a role during the Gold Rush, to becoming America’s number one ski resort, Vail has a fascinating story to tell. Let’s take a look into the history of Vail, to learn how it became the town and resort it is today!
Before the 19th century, the Vail Valley was home to the Ute Indians, who used it as their summer home and as hunting grounds. The area was first explored by frontiersman Jim Bridger, and an Irishman named George Gore. Later, Bridger would name the the Gore mountain range after his fellow explorer, giving the mountain range north of Vail its name.
Gold Rush & Beyond
The 1870’s brought the gold rush to Colorado, and the Vail Valley didn’t escape the excitement. Fortune seekers from all over the world came to the area, seeking gold and silver and the chance to be wealthy. With the influx of people came the railroads and mines. Once the area was depleted of all the gold and silver, the miners abandoned their work, leaving the Vail Valley to sheep ranchers.
A Highway and a Name
In 1939, construction began on Highway 6, which makes its way from Denver to the Gore Valley. The construction of this roadway became the source of the Vail Valley’s name: Charlie Vail, the project’s engineer, was the inspiration for the Town of Vail’s name.
Founders of Modern Vail
As anyone who has visited the Vail Valley knows, the country is rugged and wild. Because of the high altitude and rugged surroundings, the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division used the area for survival training during WWII. Struck by the beauty of the Vail Valley, one of the veterans who trained with the 10th Mountain Division – Pete Seibart – returned after the war with his friends Bob Parker and Bill “Sarge” Brown. These three men had a passion for skiing, and were determined to create and build a ski resort.
Building a World-Famous Ski Resort
Uranium prospector and rancher Earl Eaton joined the ski resort project in 1954, and construction began in 1962 after Seibert and Eaton hiked the mountain and found it to be the perfect location for a ski resort. It didn’t take long for the mountain to be discovered: by the mid-1970’s, it quickly became known as one of Colorado’s best ski resorts. And, when Gerald Ford (who owned a home in the Vail Valley) became president in 1974, the entire world knew about Vail. The resort itself expanded as well in the 1990’s, 645 acres of terrain were added to Vail Mountain. And the rest – as they say – is history. Vail has expanded over the years, becoming a summer travel destination as well as a winter retreat. For more great information about the Vail ski resort (and to see photos of the founders as well as the area), watch this video, created on the 50th anniversary:
Today, Vail Mountain is world-famous: With 5,289 acres of skiable terrain, 33 chairlifts, and 7 bowls, it is a favorite of many skiers around the world. Vail is home to over 5,000 people, but it is a destination for millions of people every year. In the 2014-14 ski season, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Vail, and Keystone drew over 5.5 million people, making it America’s number one most visited ski resort. There are countless activities, restaurants, and places to stay in Vail and Beaver Creek. If you’re planning a trip, read our planning guide to get expert tips and advice about the area. If you’d like to learn more about the history of Vail, visit one of our museums!