Vail Daily column: Still Vail versus Aspen … really? |

Vail Daily column: Still Vail versus Aspen … really?

Richard Carnes

So we’re going to play the “Aspen, a resort developed around a town, vs. Vail, a town developed around a resort” game again, eh?

Oh, must we? I mean, can’t we all just get along?


One hundred twenty-five years ago, Aspen was a booming silver mining town while Vail was a smattering of private ranches around the corner from a bustling Minturn.

Vail opened in 1962; Aspen opened for skiing in 1946, making it only 16 years older as a ski town. And although some attempt to disagree, both are completely mad-made, as even mining towns are not an act of nature.

Let the stereotypes begin!

Ski magazine’s annual reader’s survey places Vail in the top five every year, and I think Aspen has cracked the top 10 once, maybe twice.

You think Vail has parking problems? Aspen has a Main Street with a standard grid of 1st, 2nd, 3rd street and so on and a cottage industry of parking tickets while Vail has Bridge Street and Meadow Drive with two large parking structures.

What’s the single most important aspect to the sport of skiing? Well, duh, it’s snow, and Vail averages about 5 feet more of the white gold each year, and being about a 1,000 feet higher means it sticks around longer, too.

More often than not Aspen is forced to offer two-way gondola rides in order to have skiers at Thanksgiving, yet Vail almost always offers top to bottom runs. The movie “Dumb and Dumber” was supposed to be taking place in Aspen but was actually filmed elsewhere as the snow coverage was too sparse.

Aspen is known for Hunter Thompson and Kenneth Lay (of Enron fame); Vail for President Gerald R. Ford and Jack Kemp (I’m pretending that Vilar scumbag never existed).

Aspen is known as a bastion of liberalism and environmentalism supported mainly by Democrats while Vail is staunchly conservative and mostly Republican (although the last few elections have shown a trend otherwise).

Aspen has the Wheeler Opera House and the Aspen Art Museum while Vail has the Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

A crowd in Aspen is comprised of art, jazz and film types while a Vail crowd, though similar, is more associated with Wall Street.

Celebrities go to Aspen to be seen; they come to Vail to ski.

Vail is about to host the World Ski Championships for the third time while Aspen has the X Games. Granted, Aspen did host the championships once, but it was way back in 1950, and Vail had yet to be invented.

This past weekend the Vail Rugby Football Club slaughtered Aspen, 50-14, and Battle Mountain will again be whooping Aspen in high school football this season.

Aspen is officially a nuclear-free zone; Vail doesn’t waste time on empty symbolic gestures.

Both offer golf, jeep tours, fly fishing, bike rentals, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, snowmobile tours, sleigh rides, gondolas, high-speed chairs, high-end shopping, high-altitude alcohol and weed buzzes, five-star dining and a host of other things you can’t find at lower altitudes.

To be perfectly honest though, after Vail I would choose Aspen over just about any other ski resort area in Colorado. (Other states don’t even belong on the same scale.) Telluride, perhaps (their mountain views are breathtaking), but never the cattle-car mentalities of Breckenridge, Winter Park or Steamboat.

In a way, we owe our very existence to Aspen, for if not for them hiring Rod Slifer, Morrie Shepard and Pete Seibert as ski instructors, those same three amigos would never have come together during the summer of 1962 to oversee the creation of Vail.

So thanks, Aspen, as chances are we wouldn’t be here without you.

However, after 30 years in Vail I admittedly might be a tad biased about the whole thing.

Richard Carnes writes weekly. He can be reached at

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