Vail offers winter Bavarian vibes without ever leaving Colorado


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.

The alpine architecture of Vail Village is apparent on a snowy day outside the Gastof Gramshammer. (Provided by Gasthof Gramshammer)

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.

The flower boxes at Hotel Sonnenalp and other businesses and residences in Vail Village are reminiscent of Alpine villages.  (Provided by Sonnenalp)
The flower boxes at Hotel Sonnenalp and other businesses and residences in Vail Village are reminiscent of Alpine villages. (Provided by Sonnenalp)

Nearby, the Faessler family has been fine-tuning the guest experience at its Sonnenalp hotel ( since opening its doors in 1979.


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