How long will ‘Lionshead’ last?
VAIL ” With Vail Mountain’s popularity with skiers burgeoning in the late 1960s, Vail Associates unveiled a plan for a new village, new trails and a new gondola to the west of Vail Village.
In 1969, Vail Associates brought in an African lion to dedicate a new village for Vail Mountain called “LionsHead/Vail.” The name was taken from a noteworthy rock outcropping ” not in Vail, but above nearby Minturn. The village got its new gondola and trails with jungle-themed names like Simba, Safari, Cheetah and Pride.
As it grew from a separate village to a neighborhood of Vail, it became known simply as Lionshead ” though whether the “H” is capitalized remains a debated point. The base of Vail’s gondola ” the mountain now has only one ” is in Lionshead.
But almost four decades after Lionshead’s founding, the town of Vail embarked on a plan to reinvent the area. Some called its buildings bulky and drab.
“Lionshead lacks the charm, character, appeal and vibrancy expected of a world class resort,” the Town Council said in 1996.
The centerpiece of that renewal is the now-under-construction Arrabelle at Vail Square, a Vail Resorts project that includes a hotel, condos, an ice rink and stores.
When the Arrabelle was being planned in 2004, then-Vail Resorts chief executive Adam Aron floated the idea of renaming all of Lionshead “Vail Square,” town officials said.
“That was certainly a trial balloon that Adam Aron raised while he was here,” said Suzanne Silverthorn, spokeswoman for the town. “I just don’t know how far it got.”
When Arrabelle’s condos sold out last year, Vail Resorts announced the Arrabelle is located in “what is now known as Vail’s LionsHead.”
As the Arrabelle nears completion, talk of renaming Lionshead has died down. But renaming Lionshead might still be a good option, said Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen, especially in this time of redevelopment.
The community ” not the ski company ” would have to initiate the change, Jensen said, and a name change isn’t “critical” to the company. It wouldn’t even have to be called “Vail Square,” Jensen said, adding that Vail Square is, for now, simply the area around the Arrabelle and the gondola.
Locals will call it Lionshead, no matter how it’s rebranded, said Jim Cooper, a manager at Lionshead’s Double Diamond Ski Shop. And a name change might just confuse visitors to Vail who already know the area as Lionshead.
On the other hand, he said, it sometimes seems Lionshead is at a disadvantage because it doesn’t have “Vail” in its name.
“I do have people who come into the store and ask where Vail is,” he said.
It all comes down to business, Cooper said. If it helps his bottom line, he’ll be in favor of it, he said.
“If ‘Vail Square’ means a 20 percent increase in business, then I’ll make sure I call it ‘Vail Square,'” Cooper said.
“You might even call it ‘Aspen East’ if it meant more business,” a customer joked.
Tessa Manning, owner of the Swedish Clog Cabin in Lionshead, seemed taken aback by the idea at first. It’s hard to comprehend renaming Lionshead, she said.
“That sounds so weird,” she said. “Lionshead is Lionshead.”
But she warmed to the idea.
“I like the idea of having ‘Vail’ in it,” she said.
And what would she rename Lionshead?
“I’ll have to think about that all day,” she said.
Shelly Gruner, who works at Performance Sports in Lionshead, said she thinks it’s a good idea that might prevent Lionshead from being known as “the back nine” of Vail.
“I think it would be beneficial to Lionshead,” she said ” even if it’s not called that any more.
Karen Kross manages Mountain Tees, a Lionshead store that’s full of T-shirts and gifts that say “Vail” ” not “Lionshead.”
“We would have ‘Vail Square’ and ‘Vail Village,'” she said. “I think that would be good.”
But Dave Randey, owner of The Boot Lab, said Lionshead will get enough of a boost with all of the planned redevelopment, including the Arrabelle, the Ritz-Carlton and the Gore Creek Townhomes.
“Now, I think (a name change) would almost confuse people even more,” he said.
Those new developments will do more to try to rid the area of its reputation as the “bastard child of Vail,” he said.
Others were indifferent. Packy Walker, general manager of the Lifthouse in Lionshead and a longtime Vail resident, said it never should have been named Lionshead in the first place. It doesn’t matter to him whether they rename it or not, he said.
“I guess it could go either way,” he said.
Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers, said the idea of renaming Lionshead has come up several times. He said he liked an idea in the early ’90s to call it “Gondola Village.” LeVine said he can see the pros and cons of a name change.
“I get mixed emotions,” he said.
Jensen said a different name ” one that includes “Vail” ” might be better for Lionshead.
“Personally, I think a Vail-based name is perhaps a better option, despite the history of Lionshead,” he said.
Guests who don’t know a lot about Vail sometimes don’t realize Lionshead is part of Vail, Jensen said.
On the other hand, Jensen said, “Lionshead” is an important part of Vail’s history.
“It was a name that Pete Seibert and the founders of Vail created,” he said. “There’s some tradition there, and tradition is important.”
Jensen said because of the widespread construction going on in Lionshead, there’s an opportunity within the next year to talk about renaming the neighborhood.
“From a timing standpoint, the window is open now for the idea to be considered,” he said. “It’s critical that it’s considered from a communitywide concept of involvement if there’s support to change it.”
Perhaps the next step is the Town Council choosing a committee to lead a discussion, Jensen said.
But Silverthorn said the town is waiting until it knows what happens with the potential $500 million redevelopment of the Lionshead parking structure. The Town Council is looking to make a decision on that project later this year. Silverthorn also said that a name change might be problematic for stores and condo complexes that have “Lionshead” in their names.
“I can’t see us initiating any kind of conversation on our end on rebranding until that plays out,” he said. “It isn’t anything on our immediate radar screen. It wouldn’t be until a community movement that points us in that direction.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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