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History of Skiing: Learn About Vail, Colorado

The Ute Indians were the first to settle in the Vail Valley in search of a better life. Living off the land, they knew a good thing when they found this fertile valley surrounded by majestic mountains. Of course, that was long before the peak-strewn, startlingly beautiful area was called Vail.

Today, skiers and snowboarders flock to Vail seeking adventure and a break from their daily routines in a town that holds a special place in Colorado ski history. What they find is a magnificent playground of endless fun, relaxation and rejuvenation. This is why they come back again and again, and sometimes never leave.

“Welcome to Vail,” Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton, the co-founders of Vail, would say in joyful unison.

Uncover the History of Skiing in Vail

Ski History: How Vail Came to Be

Seibert, who had a dream to own a ski resort from the time he was 12 years old, partnered with Earl Eaton, a local rancher and skier, after he returned from serving in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. Knowing his friend’s quest, Eaton led Seibert up to the top of what seemed like an insignificant mountain — a literal blank spot on the map of Colorado at the time. Earl knew what he was doing though. “Wait for it,” he said, smiling to himself. He knew what was on the other side.

This momentous hike happened on March 19, 1957. The snowy uphill climb took seven long hours to complete. Once they finally summited, they gazed in awe at Vail’s Legendary Back Bowls. Seibert declared, “We’ve climbed all the way up to heaven.”

Inspired and amazed by the treeless bowls, bountiful powder and magnificent vistas, Seibert knew this was it. This revelation motivated him to recruit investors and buy a parcel of land. Then on Dec. 15, 1962, he welcomed excited skiers to Vail. Lift tickets on opening day were $5; however, few were sold due to lack of snow. Before long, however, Vail’s reputation as a great ski resort in 1963 resulted in its skiable terrain tripling in size. Needless to say, lift tickets were now being sold, and the rest is ski history!

The secret was out about the breathtaking Back Bowls, and serious skiers wanted to see for themselves what all the hype was about. (That same Vail vibe is alive and well today, we might add). By 1967, Lionshead and Golden Peak flanked the heartbeat of Vail, known as Vail Village. Faithfully following the master plan, Seibert and his team guided the development of the Tyrolean-style village with cobblestone pedestrian-only streets, a clock tower and footbridges.

Because of Pete and Earl’s vision and perseverance, Vail continues to be a world-class ski destination where the history of skiing is celebrated with every turn. Thank you, Pete and Earl, for climbing Vail Mountain in 1957 and working tirelessly to create one of the best, biggest and most spectacular ski resorts in the world. Few ski resorts rival her badassery; Vail is truly queen of the mountain resorts.

How Did Vail, Colorado, Get Its Name?

A little trivia: Vail is named after a former chief engineer of the Colorado Highway Department, Charles D. Vail. Yep, that’s right. Vail is named after a brainy guy who designed highways. What? Sports Illustrated reporter William Oscar Johnson believed (and rightly so) Vail should have had a different name and wrote about it in “A Vision Fulfilled” in Jan. 20, 1989: “If anything, it should have been named Mount St. Peter, or Ski Seibert, or Pete’s Peak, for no one did more to force Vail into existence and then push it into prominence than Seibert.”

Alas, Johnson’s suggestion was a few years late and the name “Vail” stuck. Vail is now a word synonymous with sophistication, adventure, leisure and world-class hospitality.

Find the Ski Museum in Vail

Want to learn more about this history of skiing? Colorado Snowsports Museum & Hall of Fame has you covered. Not only is admission free, you can learn about 10th Mountain Division troops who trained during World War II at Camp Hale, now a national monument. See special ski artifacts connected to Olympians with Vail ties, or join a walking tour to learn about Vail ski history with an expert.

Learn More About Ski History in Vail