Vail Mountain will bring a retro ice cream bar to life to celebrate its 60th anniversary

Vail Resorts is hosting a return of the short-lived Ice Bar from the 1963-64 ski season, with the addition of two mountain ice bars at Eagle’s Nest and Wildwood.
Colorado Snowsports Museum/Courtesy Photo

Vail Mountain fired its first snow cannons on Thursday — a sign that the ski season is imminent for the resort’s 60th anniversary.

According to the Colorado Snowsports Museum, the resort opened its first season on December 15, 1962, with one gondola, two chairlifts, and nine trails. In the years that followed, the resort underwent major transformations and now has two gondolas, around 30 ski lifts and 195 runs.

However, despite all that has changed, the resort is looking to return to its humble beginnings this season, at least a bit, with its homage to the now infamous ice cream bar. The mountain plans to build two ice bars this season – at Eagle’s Nest and Wildwood – as a tribute to the original ice bar, built during its 1963-64 ski season.

“When we were exploring how to bring Vail Mountain’s 60th anniversary to life, we really liked the idea of ​​Vail’s unique afternoon culture,” said John Plack, spokesperson for Vail Resorts. “There are some very strong images from Vail Mountain’s early days that really stuck with us, and we want customers to be able to experience those emotions when they return for this landmark year.”

While the ice bar hasn’t served drinks and food in nearly 58 years, it’s become something of folk and legend, said Jen Mason, executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum, one of those stuff that has become more infamous in the decades since it was actually around. (In fact, Denver artist Olive Moya recently celebrated the ice bar in its mural at the Vail Transportation Center.)

“I’m glad they’re bringing it back for the 60th anniversary because it was done when Vail was really fun,” Mason said. “I think it’s great that Vail is celebrating and embracing its 60th year, and hopefully we can bring some of the fun back to Vail Mountain.”

According to lore, the ice bar was the brainchild of Bill Whiteford – whom Dick Hauserman calls a “lovable, incorrigible scoundrel” in his book “The Inventors of Vail”.

According to Hauserman’s book, Whiteford came to Vail and became one of its first investors in 1959. Whiteford was instrumental in the creation of the mountain and the village, including the Gondola building and the Casino on Bridge Street. Perhaps his most notorious contribution, however, was the ice bar, something Hauserman called “a practical joke that everyone loved.”

Initially, he writes, Whiteford had proposed the ice bar – inspired by “the ambience of the ice bars of the best seaside resorts in Europe” – at a board meeting in January 1964, but he been refused.

However, as “Baron Munchausen of Vail”, as Hauserman put it, Whiteford proceeded to the stand anyway.

The book describes it as “a circular bar thirty feet in diameter” constructed of breast-high concrete and covered in diluted snow. It opened in February 1964 with a full-service bar, pastrami sandwiches, corned beef, pea soup, milkshakes and “other goodies”.

“Bill wanted to show Vail that with a little more effort, they could make guests love Vail even more,” Hauserman wrote.

However, as noted in a copy of the Vail Trail dated February 4, 1972in a section celebrating the mountain’s 10th anniversary, Whiteford’s Ice Bar had a “short life” during the 1963–64 ski season.

“Bill Whiteford is building Ice Bar in Mid Vail. Is shut down by Forest Service (no permit), Health Department (no remediation) and Vail Associates (no simpatico),” the caption read.

However, it wasn’t necessarily a simple one-time stop.

While the bar was closed “without a liquor license or permission from Vail Associates,” Hauserman wrote, Whiteford was undeterred and quickly reopened, citing he had guests on his side.

“It went on for a while until the Forest Service shut it down for advertising foreign liquor on US Forest Service land,” he wrote, adding that this “ad ” was the Carpano (Italian vermouth) umbrellas set up at the bar.

In total, the bar was only open for two months on and off, Hauserman reports.

To celebrate this unique piece of Vail history, the mountain will build two ice bars in Eagle’s Nest, at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, and in Wildwood, which will be serviced by two new lifts. this season.

Different from the original concrete and snow design — as described by Hauserman — the bars will be constructed of ice and snow, Plack said.

“Once we have this structure in place, our grooming crew will continue to pile snow and re-sculpt ice bars whenever we have a storm,” he added.

Additionally, in order to avoid some of the challenges Whiteford faced with the original bar, Plack said both bars would be co-located with the existing food and drink venues on the mountain.

The resort is optimistic bars will open and operate in December — weather and snow dependent, Plack said — with the menu yet to be determined.

As part of the “vintage Vail” experience, the resort is planning additional events and festivities during the next ski season. This includes a partnership with 10th Mountain Whiskey on two spirits (including one in honor of Henry the Avalanche Dog); bookable snow bungalows at Eagle’s Nest; a “new bar experience” at Cucina at the Lodge at Vail, which also opened in 1962; a hot chocolate cart; a birthday party; a mogul competition and more.

This upcoming ski season is currently set to begin Nov. 11 on Vail Mountain.

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