VAIL, Colo. — In 1962, this place was little more than a big mountain with a lot of snow.
But Vail is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2012-2013 season, and it now encompasses nearly 200 trails and more than 5,000 acres of skiable terrain and back bowls spanning seven miles, making it the largest ski resort in the country.
Vail Mountain opened for skiing on Dec. 15, 1962, with a single gondola, two chairlifts and a $5 lift ticket. In anticipation of the first ski season, the Lodge at Vail, the cornerstone for what would become Vail Village, had opened the month before, jump-starting a symbiotic relationship between the mountain and the town at its base.
During that first season, the U.S. alpine ski team participated in a training camp at Vail, but overall, it was a quiet destination built on a vision shared by founders Peter Seibert and Earl Eaton.
"I remember it was a small-town atmosphere," said Pete Seibert Jr., Seibert's son. "We were pretty much given the run of the mountain."
Though the exact number of visitors to Vail in a given season is proprietary information, judging by the thousands of people on the slopes on any given day, not to mention the tens of thousands on weekends and major holidays, Vail is one of the most popular ski resorts in the U.S.
The ski resort's size and range of options is one of the most appealing aspects for winter sports enthusiasts. The fact that its back bowls offer terrain heading in all directions means that skiers aren't limited to snow conditions on the north side of the mountain.
To mark its 50th season, a new gondola, which the resort bills as the fastest of its kind in North America, with heated seats and WiFi, debuted in Vail Village. The 10-passenger gondola cabins now transport skiers and snowboarders to Mid-Vail in 7.5 minutes, an increase in uphill capacity by 40%.
Over the years, the size and scope of Vail has grown to accommodate its popularity. But the resort has managed to keep a cozy vibe.
And at the end of the day, many locally owned pubs, restaurants and shops in Vail Village that have been around for years offer a place for people to gather.
"We're not losing a lot of the things that made us Vail to begin with," Seibert said.