VAIL—With Vail’s first dusting of new snow up high on Monday and Friday’s influx of founding fathers (and mothers) for Vail Pioneer Weekend, the ski resort’s 50th anniversary season is unofficially underway.
Susie Tjossem, a Vail Town Council member and the executive director of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame, says more than 1,000 pioneers who lived in Vail between its opening in 1962 and 1980 will be in town this weekend to celebrate and swap stories.
Unless you were born sometime between the administrations of FDR and JFK, you probably don’t qualify for this weekend’s festivities, but everyone’s invited for the big “Vail’s 50th” season of soirees starting in November. Tjossem says a variety of events are planned to keep guests and locals engaged in the anniversary all season.
“You have some memories that are cemented in an experience in Vail, whether it’s a culinary experience, a skiing experience, a family-reunion experience,” said Tjossem, a Vail resident since 1972. “You lived here, you worked here, you had some connection to Vail. It’s all of those people that we’re trying to reach out to and say, ‘Sometime during the season, come back; there’s going to be something that’s going on.’”
Tjossem and the ski museum staff were hard at work all week installing a new “Vail’s 50th” display in the old Plum TV office space in the Vail Information Center. The interactive, multi-media exhibit will be in place at least a year, but Tjossem hopes it will become a permanent fixture with an internal stairway connecting it to the main museum at the Vail Village Parking Structure. There’s already a 50th display in the new Lionshead Info Center.
The official kickoff to Vail’s 50th anniversary season is Thursday, Nov. 15 – the night before Vail opens for the season on Friday, Nov. 16. Thursday night is the third annual First Tracks with the U.S. Ski Team -- a public celebration of the 2013 U.S. Alpine Ski Team at Arrabelle Square in Lionshead. Vail’s Lindsey Vonn and a slew of other Olympic medalists such as Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety will be on hand.
“That has a nice correlation because when Vail was first opened [on Dec. 15, 1962, Vail’s first marketing director], Bob Parker, the marketing genius that he was, had the U.S. Ski Team here on opening day and training here for the month of December to get Vail on the race map and to give it credibility early on. From the very beginning, Vail was always envisioned as a racing venue.”
Nearby Beaver Creek will once against host men’s World Cup ski racing on the Birds of Prey course Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 this ski season, and Vail and Beaver Creek for the third time will host the World Alpine Ski Championships in 2015.
Vail’s opening day on Friday, Nov. 16, will feature a dedication ceremony for the new Lift #1, a state-of-the-art Leitner-Poma gondola with heated seats and wifi. The gondola has been under construction all summer to replace the old Vista Bahn high-speed quad and vastly improve access to Mid-Vail, where snow riders can then connects to Chairs 2, 3 and 4 and head to the top of the mountain.
The new gondola is being called Lift #1 because Vail’s first gondola on opening day in 1962 was in the same location. It was removed in the 1970s.
“From a guest perspective, obviously you’re going to see the festivities with the opening of the gondola. That’s going to be a wonderful kickoff,” Vail Mayor Andy Daly said. “The new gondola’s obviously going to have a tremendous impact on access to the mountain, particularly out of the Village. But the rest of the mountain’s going to ski great, with lots of snow. I’ll stake my position on that.”
Then in December the party really gets started. The annual Vail Snow Daze concert series, held in early- to mid-December each year to drive early season enthusiasm, typically features free concerts with some fairly big acts. This season, leading up to Vail’s actual birthday celebration on Saturday, Dec. 15, Snow Daze will feature A-list headliners at Ford Park – not free but at a relatively low ticket price.
“The town has put up additional money to really help the celebration with some name bands that will attract more people than some of the second-level musicians that we tend to get at these types of concerts,” Daly said. “That will be a big deal."
Tickets to Snow Daze, featuring The Shins on Thursday, Dec. 13, Michael Franti & Spearhead on Friday, Dec. 14 and Wilco on Saturday, Dec. 15, are already on sale for between $29.50 and $39.50 per night for general admission. Package deals are also available at www.vail.com.
Also on Friday, Dec. 14, the Vail Marriott will host the premier of a new 50th anniversary film by pioneering Vail filmmaker Roger Brown. And then on Saturday, Dec. 15, there will be a free-to-the-public outdoor party at Mountain Plaza at the base of the new gondola with free birthday treats, fireworks and a celebration of Vail’s earliest pioneers. Go to www.vail.com for more information on those events and to keep up on the celebration calendar throughout the season.
Vail also is promising a major headliner band to play Dobson Ice Arena on New Year’s Eve, although the act won’t be announced until October. And a slew of other events, symposiums, concerts and parties are on tap for later in the winter and all the way into the spring and closing day in April.