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Vail’s New Look

Kevin Cooley Vail, Colorado

Photo: Kevin Cooley

When 22-year-old bob lazier and his wife, Diane, first came to Vail, Colorado, in January 1963, they spent the night sleeping in their Morris Minor woody station wagon. It was bitterly cold. The resort had been open for just 19 days, and Bob and Diane had little money and no jobs. What they had was a passion for skiing and the optimistic grit of youth. "The next day she got a job as a waitress," Lazier says. "I made beds."

Today Lazier, now a vigorous 68, stands in a cavernous penthouse loft with three decks and magnificent views overlooking the steeply forested Gore Range in two directions. When it was furnished last month, the Laziers’ new 3,500-square-foot apartment became the crowning touch on a $30 million, basement-to-shingles rebuild of their 62-room Tivoli Lodge. Situated right at the edge of the ski mountain, built of hand-dressed stone and outfitted with custom cabinetry, the family’s new homestead mashes up the coziness of old-timey Tyrolean Alps with digital-age comforts, like computer-controlled lighting systems and Swedish walk-in showers with body jets.

The Laziers’ changing lifestyle echoes the evolution of Vail itself. What began 45 years ago as a speculative gamble by a handful of young skiing enthusiasts has long since morphed into a playground for affluent boomers and their progeny. And the renovation of the Tivoli is just a tiny part of a new wave of transformations that in coming years will turn Vail into an even glitzier, pricier version of its top-drawer self. Dubbed the Billion-Dollar Renewal, this aggregate of independent building and renovation projects will do more than add another level of sheen. It will change what the Vail experience is all about—and point the way for the future of the ski industry as a whole.

Though vail is the largest ski mountain in the United States, and long regarded as one of the best (it has topped Ski magazine’s annual poll 14 times in the last 19 years), the resort has always defined itself in relation to its rival 96 miles down the road. Aspen is West Coast, wild, celebutastic. Vail is East Coast, quieter, more family-oriented. Aspen is Hollywood; Vail is Wall Street. Aspen has the quaint village, an old mining town in authentic 19th-century Western vernacular. Vail has the mountain, a collection of peaks that harbors a seemingly endless series of vast bowls—5,289 acres of wide open slopes, most serviced by lifts, some reachable only on foot. From the beginning, both have drawn crowds who passionately love to ski and, increasingly, to spend money.

Founded in the early 60’s by veterans of the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division, Vail was quiescent until the early 70’s, when it underwent an epic boom. Scads of condos sprang up around a new gondola building a mile west of Vail Village, an area dubbed Lionshead (Born Free being the pop mania of the moment). Developers put condos and time-shares on the market before they even broke ground, and the public snatched them up, fueling more construction—until the whole thing crashed amid the oil crisis of 1973. Not groovy.

The worst part of that Nixon-era legacy wasn’t all the cookie-cutter plywood façades but all those condo owners’ associations. In order to change anything, you’d have to get a majority of the owners to go along. Yet there was no alternative: hemmed in as it is by mountains, the only way that Vail could grow was by tearing down and starting over.

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