Looking for a little getaway in a European mountain village? You can experience it without ever leaving the state. Just head to Vail. Wander the cobbled streets of Vail Village, cross half-timbered bridges, admire Bavarian-style buildings, and dine on raclette and fondue for a taste of the old-world ambiance reminiscent of the Alpine villages of Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
Vail was designed to look like an alpine village, says Jen Mason, executive director of the Colorado Snow Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in Vail. Many Colorado ski towns grew out of old mining towns and still reflect that Old West style, but Vail was purpose-built as a ski town with European influences.
Upon their return from Europe after World War II, Mason explains, Pete Siebert and his fellow soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division searched for mountain locations where they could build ski areas and towns reminiscent of those they found so beautiful in the Alps.
The world famous ski resort was not even a blot on the map in 1957 when Siebert climbed to the top of what is now Vail Mountain (11,570ft). He looked over the vast desert hinterland and knew his search was over. You can imagine his excitement as this vantage point revealed what are now called the seven “legendary back bowls of Vail.”
“You can’t talk about skiing in Colorado without talking about the 10th Mountain Division,” Mason says. Like Aspen, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone, Vail is the result of a passion for skiing that developed during their founders’ military training in Colorado and wartime service in the Alps. In Vail, in particular, “people can see how all of this (Vail Village) is connected to Bavaria and how our roots came to be,” says Mason.
Ski instructors lured from Europe were among the first residents of Vail when it opened in 1962. Famous Austrian ski racer Pepi Gramshammer and his wife, Sheika, from an Austrian innkeeper family, built the one of the first alpine-inspired lodges and restaurants. in 1964. They named it Gasthof Gramshammer, which translates from Austrian as “a house for guests”.
The exteriors of the Gasthof and other buildings in the village reveal intricate carved wooden features, murals, detailed stone and plaster work, and other special touches of Alpine culture like the flower boxes that illuminate the village in spring and summer.
Nearby, the Faessler family has been fine-tuning the guest experience at its Sonnenalp hotel (sonnenalp.com) since opening its doors in 1979.
Owner Johannes Faessler came to Colorado as a teenager with his parents from Ofterschwang, Germany, where the extended family has operated a hotel in the Bavarian Alps since the early 1900s. They heard that the Colorado ski area was ripe for hotels like theirs and decided to give it a shot.
“We wanted to create a carbon copy of what we did successfully in Bavaria and bring it here,” says Faessler. Since they didn’t know how to get supplies from America, they took everything with them – sheets, curtains, uniforms, furniture, table settings, even the pictures on the walls. “We packed it in big shipping containers and shipped everything from Germany, then we unpacked it and unrolled it. Everything fits perfectly. »
Over the years, the Sonnenalp has improved its offering to customers and developed what Faessler describes as “Alpine culture meets Colorado style.” Faessler loves winter and the snow it brings to the slopes. “I’m a big fan of ski racing, it’s an extraordinary event, says the passionate skier. The hotel has hosted German ski teams in World Cup events and still invites guests for dinner. The FIS Alpine Skiing World Championships have been held in either Vail or Beaver Creek three times, in 1989, 1999 and 2015. In December, Beaver Creek will host three World Cup events in men’s Super-G and downhill.
What started as a dream of creating an alpine village in Colorado has blossomed into something much bigger: a world-class mountain resort. But visitors can still experience Vail Village’s European vibe, from old-world charm to modern alpine vibes. Here are a few places in Vail Village to get you started.
Lodging in Vail
Sonnenalp Hotel and Spa: elegant and luxurious, several restaurants on site
Gasthof Gramshammer: cozy and charming restaurant on site
Christiania in Vail: small Bavarian-style lodge
Dinner in Vail
AlpenRose: Specializing in the little details that enhance the dining experience, there’s plenty of atmosphere here. You’ll feel satisfied eating a pretzel and beer, but there’s so much more to try. This gem retains the charm of “old Vail” while serving authentic Austro-Bavarian family recipes.
Pepi’s: Choose the outdoor terrace at Pepi’s for après-ski (try to sit in the heated terrace section). Choose from a variety of Austrian beers or specialty drinks and pair them with bison bratwurst. https://pepis.com/pepis-restaurant-and-bar/
Swiss Chalet: Treat yourself to authentic Swiss cheese fondues and raclette. For lovers of real cheeses, specialty cheeses are imported from Switzerland. Good pairings from Wine Spectator’s award-winning wine list are almost guaranteed.
Entertainment in Vail
Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame: Admission is free for this fascinating look at Colorado snow sports. Learn about the history of the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division here. You’ll see authentic uniforms, exhibits of skis, and other memorabilia from Vail’s early days to the present day.
Ski or Ride in Vail
Opening day at Vail is set for November 11 (the first opening day ever!)
Vail turns 60
Vail will turn 60 on December 15 and a big party is planned. Festivities and special events will be plentiful as Vail Mountain brings a modern twist to the 1962 Vintage Vail. Watch for details of Vail’s 60th anniversary activities. on line.
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