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Utes, Miners, and Skiers, Oh My! The Fascinating History of Vail

by | Aug 4, 2022 | Vail

More than 14 million skiers and snowboarders flocked to Colorado this past winter, with many making a beeline for the Vail Valley.

It’s no secret that Vail is one of the world’s most beloved mountain resorts. But what was the area like before it became a Mecca for skiing?

Keep reading as we journey through the fascinating history of Vail, Colorado.

Vail’s First Inhabitants: The Ute Tribe

Long before the first settlers arrived, the Native American Ute tribe would spend summers in the Gore Valley. Then, during the winter, they would transition back to the milder climate west of the Rockies.

As the first settlers arrived in the 1800s, the Utes were gradually forced out of the valley. According to local legend, when the Utes permanently fled the area, they set fires and burned thousands of acres of trees on their way out.

Ironically, the area they burned would become Vail ski resort’s biggest draw — the (still virtually treeless) Back Bowls.

Westward Expansion: Miners & Railroads

California’s Gold Rush of the 1850s prompted many ambitious fortune seekers to head west. When news spread of gold, silver, and copper in the high Rockies of Colorado, many settlers diverted there to stake their claims.

Red Cliff and Minturn were among the first permanent mining settlements in the area. With the arrival of the railroad in 1887, the mining industry was soon booming. Within a few decades, though, most of the natural resources were depleted and the mines were abandoned.

Until the 1930s, the Gore Valley remained a quiet area for sheep ranchers. Then, in 1939, an engineer named Charlie Vail began the construction of a highway from Denver to the Gore Valley. In time, he would lend his name to Vail Pass, Vail Village, and the Vail Valley.

Word War II & the 10th Mountain Division

In 1942, nearby Camp Hale was chosen as the premier location to train a “mountaineering division” of elite soldiers. To prepare for combat in the Alps, soldiers were sent to Camp Hale to learn how to ski, fight, and survive in the harsh, high-altitude climate.

Three 10th Mountain Division troopers — Pete Seibert, Bob Parker, and Bill “Sarge” Brown — returned to Colorado after the war with dreams of starting a ski community. In 1954, they teamed up with a uranium prospector named Earl Eaton to lay out the first plans for what would become Vail ski resort.

The Birth of Vail Village & the Vail Ski Resort

The resort’s architects wanted to create a village that would mimic the mountain villages of Bavaria. The goal was to design a town filled with hotels and shops that exhibited traditional Eastern European architecture.

Construction of Vail Village started in 1962, and the town was officially incorporated in 1966. Vail became home to the country’s first gondola and, by the 1970s, had established itself as one of Colorado’s best ski areas.

Today it’s one of the largest and most beloved ski resorts in the world, boasting more than 5,300 acres of skiable terrain. Visitors and locals alike love it for its natural beauty, its idyllic charm, and — as we’ve discussed — its rich history.

The History of Vail: Then & Now

The history of Vail offers a compelling glimpse into Native American culture, the mining boom, World War II legacies, and the birth of America’s most beloved ski resort.

Today, Vail continues to be a haven for anyone seeking excitement (and relaxation) in the Rocky Mountains. With some of the best day spas in the nation, Vail is the ideal place to get a massage or a facial during your Colorado vacation.

Click here to browse our spa menu and find the perfect treatment for you!