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Red Cliff: Another boom heading its way

Kathy Filgo
Vail CO, Colorado
AE Red Cliff Artist1 SM 8-23-06
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Red Cliff is a funky, quaint little town consisting of a cluster of mature buildings and converted trailers, some that have survived decades but all residing on the lovely vantage point of the little canyon of the upper Eagle River.

The town is about a 25-mile drive from Vail, heading south through Minturn on scenic U.S. Highway 24 and winding past some of the most beautiful views in the state. Embraced by the White River National Forest, Red Cliff was named for the spectacular red quartzite cliffs surrounding the town.

Steeped in colorful frontier history, Red Cliff was established in 1879, and is the oldest incorporated town in the Eagle County. In years gone by it was the home of hundreds of miners during the early days of the silver boom. Miners were so pervasive in the Leadville region during the boom days the only alternative was to prospect elsewhere. They came over Tennessee Pass scouting for better opportunities, resulting in numerous mining camps being formed including that of Red Cliff.



Ore was discovered on Battle and Horn Mountains and the area became populated enough to become a county. Red Cliff was the largest of the many camps in the area and host to sawmills, saloons, a local bank, and an opera house. Formed in Summit County in 1883, Red Cliff served as the first county seat of Eagle County until the county seat was relocated to Eagle in 1921. There is still mining activities in the area.

The area surrounding Red Cliff boasts a rich history as well. Not far north of Red Cliff is Camp Hale, the ski training location during World War II for the celebrated 10th Mountain Division. Many of the men in the 10th Mountain Division, more than any other group, were responsible for the creation of the American ski industry; Vail’s founding certainly intertwined with the history of the famous unit.



Also in the neighborhood is the picturesque ski area, Ski Cooper, in the pristine San Isabel National Forest. It has 1,200 feet of vertical skiing serviced by two chair lifts and two surface lifts giving access to 400 acres for family skiing. There is also access to 2,400 acres of backcountry bowl and glade to be enjoyed by alpine skiers, telemarkers, cross-country skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers.

Ski Cooper also offers to the public a most interesting and unique dining experience in its Tennessee Cookhouse, a large, comfortable yurt. Diners hike, snowshoe, or are transported via Jeep or snowmobile about one-mile up a groomed, wooded trail which opens to a clearing where the yurt entertains the spectacular views of the Sawatch Range. At the conclusion of dinner, diners are given headlamps to hike through the night back down the trail to the base of the mountain to complete a real culinary adventure.

The 1980s brought another boom to the area, though somewhat smaller than the first. People began to move back to Red Cliff, prompted by the newly discovered prominence of Vail. Led somewhat by artists in the area, the town remains today a combination of artists and outdoor enthusiasts, about 303 friendly folks with an independent mountain frontier attitude.



Today it is a quaint mountain community that has maintained its rugged allure to outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and business entrepreneurs.

At an elevation of about 8,750 feet Red Cliff encompasses only about 0.2 square miles.

Many of the town’s original structures remain intact and buildings consist of not much more than the older residences, a post office, and an historic church. In the last several years new home construction can be seen dotting the streets and hillsides above town. There are some commercial amenities. Red Cliff has a restaurant and will soon be entertaining a new 14-room, 8,500 square-foot hotel and convenience store.

There is, perhaps, a big change on the horizon. The Ginn Company has been in negotiations to potentially bring its Battle Mountain development to the area. The company is proposing a 5,400-acre ski development on and around Battle Mountain. As proposed it would consist of 1,700 homes, a golf course, and a ski area. The developer wants to build 80 to 100 employee homes to accommodate the resort area; these homes would be just outside of Red Cliff.

Red Cliff has remained relatively untouched by the expansive and ongoing development to the north in the Vail and Eagle Valleys. It has been a quiet community, somewhat isolated, and with few amenities other than the glories of nature ” all of which the people of Red Cliff, according to some residents, seem to prefer. However, with the insatiable draw of Rocky Mountains and the finite land reserves, it’s difficult to hold back the march of development. The little town of Red Cliff may be facing yet a third boom.

Vail, Colorado


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