It is difficult to believe, but three winters ago there was no Vail. Truckers, or skiers bound for Aspen, coasting west from the 12,000-foot heights of Colorado's Loveland Pass and the Continental Divide, might have paused to admire the tree-lined trout stream, a herd of mule deer or even a Rocky Mountain bighorn ram, silhouetted on a rim of red rock. They would have seen little else.
Today in the vicinity of Gore Creek, where not even a mining shack existed before, a dozen saunas now flourish. Steam rises from three outdoor, heated swimming pools and smoke escapes from the chimneys of 72 houses, ranging from a ski chateau with walls painted in trompe l'oeil to simple rustic cottages furnished with relics of Colorado silver-mining camps. A liquor store is stocked with western-size bottles of Beefeater and with Pommards and Muscadets that would do a Madison Avenue vintner proud. Blanquette de veau is served in a downstairs bo√Æte called La Cave, where Colorado University students in jeans dance a Wild West version of the Watusi and Long Island ladies in long skirts do genteel versions of the frug.
The chalets, the saunas, the Pommard and the frug are the appurtenances of ski areas around the world. But never in the history of U.S. skiing have they all come so quickly, never has a bare mountain leaped in such a short time into the four-star category of ski resorts. Vail opened in December 1962, financed by a stock investment of $1.8 million, complete with a gondola lift and two double-chair lifts, a lodge and that priceless ingredient, snow (SI, Dec. 3, 1962). Two years later Vail represents a total commitment of $15 million, with a sizable share of that investment in some of the most interesting ski houses in America.
The most important additions to Vail in its short life are the three chair lifts that were built last summer. On Easter Saturday, 1964, the sunny day on which the color photographs on these pages were taken, there was a 20-minute wait for the gondola. That was the day the board, headed by Vail President Pete Seibert, met with its bankers to decide whether or not to build new lifts this year. During the board meeting four college boys, tired of a wait that would be short in New England, decided to push on to Aspen and asked for their money back. The board voted the chairs.
Not only do the new chairs turn the top of the north face into a Rocky Mountain version of Kitzb√ºhel's Kandahar Circus, they also open a new downhill trail that should satisfy critics who claimed there was not enough "go" anywhere at Vail for the expert skier. The trail, says U.S. Olympic Ski Coach Bob Beattie, is as good as any in the U.S. and even as good as such classic European runs as Chamonix's Piste Verte. Unlike many race courses, it combines speed with enough runout here and there to enable a racer to ski flat out without checking. The trail has been named the International in salute to the first American International races, which will bring the top Alpine competitors of France, Austria and the U.S. to Vail next March. These races, the most important competition on the 1965 ski calendar, are designed to fill the off-year gap between FIS and Olympic competition. They will be offered as a memorial to the late Bud Werner, America's best-known Alpine racing man.
With new lifts and trails have come more and more accommodations. Vail can now sleep from 1,200 to 1,500 transient skiers in rental houses and apartments, a 106-unit motel and six inns and pensions. A charming recent addition is the pension built by Vail's pro in residence. Pepi Gramshammer, with an Austrian Bierstube attached.
From the beginning, Vail has been a family sort of area, with most people entertaining at home. The boy-meets-girl set has found Vail pale at night, particularly by Aspen standards. Bill White-ford Jr., whose father is chairman of the board of Gulf Oil, plans to solve this problem, single-handedly if necessary. His new Casino Vail will have a facade like the stern of a 16th century Spanish galleon. An ad Whiteford ran in The Village Voice (a newspaper of Greenwich Village) is an indication of the kind of Gem√ºtlichkeit he plans: "America's most exciting new night club needs attractive, personable girls who can sing or act & who will bartend & wait on tables.... Austrian & German girls especially sought." There will also be a stand-up pub, a balcony bar for adults, a teen-age discoth√®que, a dance floor for 200 and after-ski marionette shows for kids.
All of the apparently disparate building of casinos and houses, apartments and shops could well have turned the village into an architectural abomination. It did not. Vail is a model ski town. The resort's planning board, with resident Architect Fitzhugh Scott in charge, has achieved a harmonious balance. No cars are allowed—or needed—in the village center, which has the pleasing aspect of a Tyrolean village set in the spaciousness of the American West.
The planning board is also looking to the future. A golf course, riding stables and a gun club are projected. When the tunnel under Loveland Pass is completed in 1970, making Vail only 1½ hours from Denver, Vail will need another mountain. The planners have thought of that, too, and another village is envisaged on the back of the mountain at the base of the superb Vail bowls, with more lifts up the peak beyond.
More than half of the private houses and apartments in Vail are for rent when the owners are elsewhere. Most Vail landowners come from the center of the U.S.—from Michigan and Illinois, Texas and Ohio—and, of course, from Colorado. Those with children often come only for Christmas and spring school vacations. The rental of these properties frees many beds for other visitors.
Although Vail has acquired a reputation for being an In place to ski, no chichi or jet-set snobbery has developed. The people you meet on the mountain who ask you to come by for a sauna or tea may have spent a mint on their chalet—or they may have built it themselves.
Over wide, spruce-dotted slopes, skiers ascend from Mid-Vail station to the 11,250-foot-high peak (see illustration on page 62). There is a choice of running back down to the midstation on packed slopes ranging from gentle to pitched, of going all the way to the village on a variety of three-or four-mile runs or of skiing two sweeping bowls that are unique in America.
On the Over Yonder face of Sun Down bowl, six early risers carve serpentine paths in the kind of feathery, knee-deep powder for which the Rockies are famous. Vail's open bowls cover an area of two square miles. In annual Vail Fun Races, Blanche Hauserman is ready to go as husband Dick (center) listens for the countdown. Vail also takes its racing seriously and will be the site of a major international meet in March.
David, Preston and Bill Parish shinny down a rope in the house Architect Fitzhugh Scott designed for their family. Unplaned boards, built-in bunks with sleeping bags, pot-bellied stoves and a huge center fireplace make it the easiest-to-keep house in Vail—ideal for a big family that likes to ski from sunup till the lifts stop.
Richard Pownall, a member of the 1963 American Everest expedition, built his family's chalet himself. He teaches high school in Denver, teaches skiing on weekends and with Ski Instructor Manfred Schoeber has plans for a summer camp for teen-age boys in Vail with emphasis on mountaineering, fishing and pack trips.
John McBride, a former Princeton hockey star now teaching in the ski school in Vail, is another enterpriser who built his own house, using rough local wood and stone. He and his wife, Laurie, furnished it with such Victoriana from Colorado mining towns as a plush sofa and a player piano. John runs the nightly Vail movie.
Two of the most admired structures in Vail are the condominium row houses (below) and a daringly spectacular ski house (right). Both are the work of one architect, Enslie Oglesby of Dallas. The row houses are separated by brick firewalls and are individually owned. There are 12 houses divided into 24 apartments, and each floor plan is different. Some houses are used entirely by one family; others are divided into as many as four apartments. Every apartment has a fireplace and almost every room has a balcony overlooking Gore Creek or the mountains. There are five row-house complexes in Vail, and other ski areas are adopting the idea.
The landscape shaped the $200,000 showplace (right) built in Vail by Texas Financier John Murchison and his wife, Lupe. It snuggles up to and wraps around a wall of lichen-covered rock which helps stabilize its temperature, holding the heat of the sun in winter but remaining cool in summer. The dining room perches on a rock cliff, and a red-carpeted stair circles down to the four levels of the house from the topside entrance. A wall of ordinary plate glass, set directly into the rock, looks through a grove of aspen trees to the village below, and east to the majestic Gore Range. The morning sun on the glass also helps maintain the interior climate. The upper level of the house is right by Bear Tree trail, and the Murchisons can ski home or down to the lifts without crossing a road. A large terrace area on top of the dining room is served by a glass-sided dumb-waiter for outdoor sunny-day lunch parties—nobody has to clomp through the house in ski boots.
The graceful line of an aspen bent beneath the weight of snow inspired the architect to use curved laminated beams of Colorado fir as the major architectural element of the Murchison house. They soar from the ground 80 feet to a window above the dining area with a view of the slopes. The living room, all glass at one end, has a beamed apse at the other. The walls are kept white as a background for paintings and sculpture. Edward Benesch, who designed the interiors, also designed most of the furniture. Pillows covered in rosy wool and fur are used for warm accents in snow country. Lupe Murchison (seated on couch above with Blanche Hauserman, left, and Vanda Werner) entertains frequently at Vail. On the floor beneath the living area are the Murchisons' bedroom and study; another flight down are rooms for their three daughters and John Jr.; and the ground floor houses a game room and sauna. The game room converts into a dormitory, and at vacation time the house can sleep 15 children. Soon to be built is a chair lift to bring family and guests up to the house from a more accessible road below.
GETTING THERE: Vail is 110 miles west of Denver on U.S.6. Continental Trailways buses leave Denver for Vail at 8:45 a.m., 4:30 and 11:45 p.m. Private planes can land at Eagle Airport, 35 miles west of Vail on U.S.6. STAYING THERE: Rooms at Christiania-at-Vail are from $8 per person (double occupancy). Vail Village Inn offers ski weeks (Jan. 9 to Feb. 13) with two meals, three-day ski school and lifts for $125 each (four to a room) to $149 (two to a room). The Lodge at Vail's ski weeks (Dec. 12 to 19, Jan. 9 to Feb. 13, Apr. 3 to 10, Apr. 18 to 25) range from $129 to $158. The Night Latch has four-bunk dormitories and a $106 weekly plan. Gasthof Gramshammer, opening Dec. 18, will have package plans most of the season for $122 to $158. At the Plaza a studio apartment for two with kitchen is $130 per person for a week. There are about 40 houses and more than 100 apartments available through Vail Home Rentals. The smallest apartments start at $20 a day, the three-bedroom houses at $50. Kitchens are really complete. SKIING THERE: The ski school has 42 instructors, headed by Morrie Shepard. They teach the American technique. Lifts are $6 per day. The scope and variety of Vail skiing are revealed in the schematic drawing below. A four-place gondola lift to Mid-Vail, with a capacity of 500 skiers per hour, takes 14 minutes to travel the 9,500 feet, a vertical ascent of 2,000 feet. From Mid-Vail, two double chairs (No. 3 is new) disperse skiers around the trails of the upper mountain. The facilities at Mid-Vail have tripled, and 2,500 skiers can now be fed at lunch. There are 25 miles of trails on the north side. The average run from the top to the village is 3½ miles. The back bowls, Vail's particular pride, face south in two wide arcs that catch both morning and afternoon sun. Chairs 1 and 2 are also new this season and open Vail's superb new downhill racing course, the International.