Explorers and miners transform the region.
The Ute American Indians used the site of modern-day Vail as a hunting ground and summer residence until the mid-19th century. At that time, the first explorers began to venture into the region, including Irishman George Gore and American frontiersman Jim Bridger. From 1854 to 1856, these two explorers spent their summers hunting and exploring the mountains northeast of today’s Vail. When Bridger returned to the area a few years later, he named the mountain range and valley after fellow explorer Gore.
Later, in the 1870s, crowds of fortune seekers flocked to Vail’s peaks in search of gold and silver. They built mines and railroad tracks to transport these precious metals, driving away the native Ute American Indians in the process. When the Utes left, they allegedly set fire to thousands of forested acres -- creating what is now known as Vail’s famed Back Bowls.
Vail gets its name.
Eventually, the miners exhausted the region’s mineral riches and moved on. The area was quietly occupied by sheep ranchers until the construction of Highway 6 began in 1939. The Vail Pass, and later the town of Vail, were named after the project’s engineer -- Charlie Vail.
During World War II, the Army's 10th Mountain Division conducted their backcountry survival training across the mountainous Vail terrain. When the war ended, many of these soldiers returned to the region -- including Pete Seibert, one of Vail's founding fathers. Seibert and his fellow soldiers Bill “Sarge” Brown and Bob Parker envisioned creating a mountain ski community in the area. In 1954, Seibert teamed up with uranium prospector Earl Eaton to draw up a plan for such a ski resort.
A ski resort is born
Vail Ski Resort construction began in spring 1962, and the town of Vail was incorporated 3 years later. At its beginning, Vail was home to 6 square miles of ski terrain and the United States’ first gondola as well as two double chairlifts and a beginner poma lift. As the town grew, several restaurants, hotels and a medical clinic were established around the resort.
By the mid-1970s, Vail had earned a reputation as one of Colorado's best ski areas and became a favorite vacation spot for discriminating skiers. The ski town gained even more attention when Gerald Ford, who owned a house in Vail, became president of the United States in 1974.
During the early 1980s, the area began to attract visitors as a year-round resort. Golf courses and mountain-biking trails were constructed, and gondolas and chairlifts were used to transport sightseers instead of skiers. The town also began hosting hot-air balloon rallies, tennis tournaments and diverse musical concerts during the summer months.