Scenes from the Vail That Was

Relishing fond memories amid the excitement of the New Dawn

By David O. Williams February 1, 2011 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2011 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Tower crane gsgaia

My wife and I enjoyed our first kiss under the massive, ornate Chinese dragon on the wall of the old Hong Kong Café in Vail Village. Now the café is a ski shop, and the dragon, last I heard, was languishing in the old State Bridge Lodge, which has since burned to the ground.

A friend of mine once reminisced about his first kiss with a middle-school sweetheart on the old fixed-grip triple chairlift (No. 10), replaced a couple of years ago by a spanking-new high-speed quad. Someone probably has equally warm-and-fuzzy fondness for the old Chair 5, replaced this season in Sun Down Bowl.

Progress in the Vail Valley sometimes plows relentlessly past pleasant memories.

This summer marks my 20th year here, and the “New Dawn” retail, residential, and lodging redevelopment of the last decade has paved over a lot of Vail history—some of it remarkable, much of it mundane.

For instance, the CinéBistro dine-in movie theaters and high-tech bōl bowling alley–cum–nightclub of Solaris at Vail replaced the crumbling, cramped theaters of the Crossroads complex. But it was there that the Ravinos motorcycle-gang-on-skis held initiation ceremonies in the ’70s and ’80s; in the early ’90s, then-unknown musicians like Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews graced the legendary bouncing stage at Garton’s bar. Crossroads also once housed the Vail Daily offices where my wife and I first met.

The Arrabelle at Vail Square in Lionshead—“Arra-Bellagio” to some locals—replaced the old gondola building, the Sunbird Lodge, and Sundance Saloon (affectionately dubbed the Scumbird and the Scumdance). I spent an interesting summer in the lodge, frequenting the bar downstairs—and those memories are mostly good, if fairly fuzzy. And the beautifully remodeled Sebastian at Vail (built brand-new as the Vail Plaza Club just a couple of years ago) now stands on the site of the old Vail Village Inn, whose Craig’s Market served the late-night newspaper staff’s dining needs.

The multibillion-dollar revitalization of Vail started post-9/11 in a competitive battle with other resorts for discretionary dollars, but that was back when times were good. The “New Dawn” then devolved into a race to finish dazzling new properties before funding dried up and structures stood unfinished for years, as they had in the ’80s (witness the Seasons Building in Avon, known as the Concrete Toad, and the Ruins parking structure at Vail’s Westin Hotel, now the Cascade). Incredibly, all of the local projects won that race against the Great Recession. The big winners are bargain-hunting high-end buyers, looking at a surplus of unprecedented inventory, and a new generation of guests ready to create their own Vail memories.

This season marks the debut of the lavish Four Seasons Resort, which was built on what used to be a Holiday Inn and a Gulf (later Amoco) station, and the Ritz Carlton Residences, on the site of the old Marriott parking structure. I have no special memories of the Holiday Inn or the gas station, but I’m sure others do. If anyone has fond memories of the old parking lot at the Marriott, they need to keep them to themselves.

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