Vail – a bit of Zermatt in the "raw wilderness’
Three of Colorado’s major ski areas – Aspen, Telluride, and Breckenridge – originally were colorful old mining towns full of character and Victorian architecture. But Vail Village grew out of raw wilderness and bare grazing land.
I knew from the start I wanted a town that contained pieces of several ski resorts in the Alps: St. Anton and Kitzbühel in Austria; Meribel, France; and Zermatt, Switz., the classic Swiss village at the bottom of the Matterhorn.
I had visited Zermatt several times and admired it so much that I eventually memorized the town blueprints, with the idea of bringing Zermatt to Colorado. I even measured the length and width of its streets and took photos of buildings that were especially appealing.
Zermatt has no cars, and the only way to get there then was by train through the mountains. During one visit I followed a crowd of skiers down a narrow street away from the train station. Soon I noticed that many brightly lit shops had sprung up along this seemingly out-of-the-way street. Why?
I turned a corner, and there was a new ski lift on the edge of the village. The idea seemed logical: Lead skiers past tempting shops to bring them to the ski lift.
I replicated this concept in Vail Village, designing Bridge Street so that it would curve neatly past a large assortment of shops, bars and restaurants on the way to the mountain lifts. And we decided to allow no cars in the town. The parking lot was across Gore Creek, between U.S. Highway 6 and the bridge over the creek, which later became the Covered Bridge.
All of this began in that waterlogged spring of 1962, when the village pioneers began to wander into this primitive outpost to seek their fortunes and carve a new hometown out of rocks and thin air. There were maybe 75 permanent residents, and life was harsh at times.
Our “great communicator,” Bob Parker, described it this way:
“As with any pioneer community, the streets were unpaved, so there was a lot of mud, a lot of dust, and a lot of dogs. Walking along Bridge Street, you’d see horses hitched to the street light posts. In summer from about mid- to late-June, sheepherders would drive their sheep through the middle of town and up the road on the other side to spend the summer on the mountain. One time, a dog chased a sheep through a ground-floor apartment window. The owner came home to find a live sheep, a broken window and sheep’s blood all over her new white carpet.”
Editor’s note: This is the 42nd installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter 8, entitled “Building the Dream.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.