The Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail highlights the state’s skiing history

Editor’s note: This is part of our series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we’ll give our take on the best Colorado has to offer when it comes to dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also show you some hidden gems).

As far as I’m concerned, Colorado has by far the most fascinating ski history of any US state. It deserves a museum worthy of that legacy, and I’m grateful it has one: the Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail.

I’ve been there many times, and each time I visit, I’m inspired by the colorful characters who created this legacy and intrigued by the many cool items that help tell their story.

Established as the Colorado Ski Museum in 1976 and renamed after a $2.6 million upgrade in 2018, it is conveniently located within the Vail Transportation Center. Free entry.

It moves me because I am an avid skier, of course, but it goes much further than that. Colorado’s skiing history is largely based on the legacy of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which trained for mountain warfare at Camp Hale near Leadville during World War II before fighting heroically in the Italian Apennines in 1945. When I took a friend there last year, I had tears in my eyes watching Chris Anthony’s film on the 10, “Climb to Glory”, which the museum shows on a continuous loop. When I looked at my friend, she also had tears in her eyes.

After the war, many of these men opened ski areas across the country, including Aspen, Arapahoe Basin and Vail. Not far from exhibits from the museum’s extensive 10th Mountain Division collection is an original Vail gondola, circa 1962. Inside is a monitor depicting images from Vail’s early years, including that of Pete Seibert, the 10th Mountain vet who co-founded Vail.

10th Mountain exhibit includes winter combat gear (white camo), skis, crampons, climbing rope and ice ax used by ski troops in the 1940s, sure to stir your heart of any mountaineer. Visitors can read how 33 Camp Hale soldiers performed the original “Trooper Traverse” when they skied 40 miles from Camp Hale to Aspen on a four-day trip down the Continental Divide, an epic achievement in the annals of the American ski mountaineering.

There are maps, diagrams and descriptions of the 10th century battles on Riva Ridge, Mount Belvedere and in the Po Valley. There is a collection of spoils of war taken from Mussolini’s villa after the 10th occupied it during the last days of the war. (The Italian dictator had fled before they arrived.)

John Meyer, The Denver Post

When Colorado native Mikaela Shiffrin received her crystal globe for winning the overall World Cup title in 2018, there was a crack, visible in the center of the photo. The International Ski Federation sent him a new one, so the stained one is on display at the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail. She won three overall World Cup titles, considered the greatest title in skiing.

Around the corner is a collection of skis and boots through the evolution of skiing; a single chair hanging from Aspen’s Elevator 1 when the zone opened in 1947; and an exhibit honoring the University of Denver and University of Colorado ski teams. They are the two winningest programs in collegiate ski history, representing 44 national championships between them.

The museum has an extensive area dedicated to World Cup and Olympic ski racing which includes the crystal globe trophy which Phil Mahre won when he won the first of his three overall Cup titles of the world in 1981 (he was the first American to win the biggest prize in skiing), as well as the second of three Colorado globes, Mikaela Shiffrin. The one we see here has a big crack. It was already cracked when she received it in 2018, so the International Ski Federation sent her another one, but the cracked lives here.

Nearby are Lindsey Vonn’s Red Bull racing helmet and Picabo Street’s ramshorn helmet (these are the most successful women’s downhills in America). In front of this exhibit is a 19-foot-long interactive monitor that covers 11 decades of the Winter Olympics, as well as the four Alpine Skiing World Championships held in Colorado (Aspen in 1950 and Vail in 1989, 1999 and 2015).

The museum is also home to the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, which has 239 members. An interactive touch screen allows visitors to read biographies and watch videos that tell the story of these Colorado ski icons.

Plus, there’s a great gift shop that sells really cool vintage ski posters, high-quality gifts, and lots of great books. I always find it hard to get by without spending money.

It’s hard for me to visit Vail without also stopping at the museum. After all, it’s right there, on the third floor of the Vail Village parking structure, a short walk from the base complex. Parking is free after 3 p.m.

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