Pot tourism? Not on Vail Mountain, officials say

Melanie Wong
A sign posted at the top of Vail's Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead informs skiers that legal marijuana may not be used in public places or on federal lands.
Justin McCarty | |

Where is it legal to smoke pot in Vail?

Essentially, pot consumption is only legal in private areas. According to the town of Vail, “the open or public consumption of marijuana is not allowed in the following locations: public ways, streets, sidewalks, alleys, bicycle paths, trails, golf courses, public buildings, parks, open spaces, parking lots, shopping centers, places of business usually open to the general public, and automobiles or other vehicles located on public property or public right of way. Generally, anytime a person in public or outside a private residence can see another person consuming marijuana, it is a violation.”

Further, if marijuana is smoked, state law prohibits smoking in any public building and within 15 feet of the main entrance to any business. Eagle County law prohibits smoking in any chairlift/gondola line or bar/restaurant patio area.

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VAIL — Since the passing of Amendment 64 in 2012, allowing the retail sale of marijuana in Colorado, Vail Resorts has noticed some obvious effects.

Long before pot sales were allowed to begin on Jan. 1, Vail Mountain employees noticed a rash of people openly lighting up on the slopes — including on the chairlifts and on the decks of restaurants. When employees approached smokers to stop, (as it is still illegal to publicly consume marijuana or possess it on U.S. Forest Service land), they were often met with less-than-polite responses and the insistence that marijuana was now legal.

It became such a problem that the mountain started training employees to deal with marijuana situations, said Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot.

“Many employees weren’t sure what to do, so we made these cards to hand out to people to clarify that it’s not legal to smoke it on Vail Mountain, and we helped train staff to confront (offenders) and know the laws,” Jarnot said, adding that the resort is committed to keeping the place family-friendly.

The card is a simple bullet-point list that outlines Colorado pot law — namely, it’s illegal to consume it in public (and that includes in gondola cabins), adults older than 21 can possess up to 1 ounce, it is illegal to ski under the influence of pot and it is prohibited on national forest lands, where Vail Mountain is located.

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Mountain officials said they’re only concerned about public consumption, not the hidden activities that may go on unseen.

“You will occasionally smell marijuana on the mountain,” Jarnot said. “Our staff is not going to go sniffing in every tree island on the mountain to root out marijuana, but when it’s openly and brazenly used, we will take it on.”

The rules are also backed by the town of Vail and the U.S. Forest Service. The town has been working to educate the public about pot regulations through signs and an entire marijuana FAQ portion of their website. The resort will be pulling passes of people who don’t comply with the laws, said mountain spokesperson Liz Biebl.

Violators who are convicted also face fines of up to $1,000.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at

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