Vail was founded in 1962 by ski bums Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton. It is a place built by skiers for skiers.
Of course, after the duo first glimpsed the Back Bowls, big money horned in. Hordes followed. Today Vail is an urban microcosm in the mountains-an urban ski center with world-class ballet, theater, concerts, great restaurants, and bars. It's filled with intriguing, educated transplants and all the baggage they bring with them: unaffordable housing, overcrowding, traffic, and strip malls. An interstate highway bisects the valley. There's even a Wal-Mart.
There's a down-to-business side of Vail that some find deficient in soul. Hardly-this is simply a no-nonsense town that exists to be the best, most efficient mountain resort on the planet. Laid-back, it's not. Energy and adventure pulse beneath the faux Bavarian façades, outside the high-brow restaurants, past the cement parking structures. At its heart, Vail is about skiing. A key indicator: the lack of a traditional hierarchy. You might be a busboy at The Red Lion, but if you rip, visiting CEOs are damn glad to meet you. Real skiers can relax and blend into any Vail scene. Republicans flock here, but the town's a democracy.
Locals embrace the anonymity of living in this urban mountain setting. That, and the wide array of job opportunities, make Vail as attractive to single 20-somethings from the East and Midwest as it is to middle-aged start-overs. In Vail, you really can work at something other than making French fries or slippery nipples (the drink, of course). Vail remains a heady mix of urban and mountain cultures.
BUSINESS MOST NEEDED: a locals' bar.
DON'T FORGET TO PACK: Simple-brand clogs.