Tucked away in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Beaver Creek Resort has had a rich history since it first opened to the public in 1980. Located in Eagle County, Beaver Creek is a major ski resort owned and operated by Vail Associates. The valley that houses Beaver Creek Resort lies just south of Avon and was first settled in 1881. Many early pioneers moved to the area under President Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act (1862), farming hay and raising cattle to feed local miners. Beaver Creek remained a lightly populated farming area through the middle of the twentieth century.
During the 1960s, skiing in Colorado transitioned from a practical and necessary mode of high-country transportation to a recreational sport. New resorts, some now defunct, sprang up all over the state, particularly west of Denver where the newly opened Interstate 70 facilitated transportation. Popular destination resorts such as Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mountain all opened between 1961 and 1972. Beaver Creek is the most recent addition to the long list of ski areas along the I-70 corridor.
Planning and negotiations for Beaver Creek Resort commenced in 1970. The ski area was initially intended to help host the 1976 Winter Olympics, an exciting prospect for many Coloradans. With Denver as the formal host for the Olympics, the Olympic committee planned to construct Beaver Creek to host the alpine events. In a referendum, Coloradans voted against the Olympic event by a margin of three to two. Voters cited concerns with the transportation, hurried development, and environmental consequences. Nonetheless, many saw the potential for a ski resort in the area, and Vail Associates (owner of Vail Ski Resort) looked to make Beaver Creek Resort a reality. Among the many impediments, the proposed ski area was under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service. In order to obtain proper permits for the ski terrain, Vail Associates had to evaluate and solve the various environmental concerns that arose, such as preserving the air quality in the face of increased automobile traffic as well as protecting the fragile natural ecosystems that lie alongside the most attractive ski terrain.
Recent developments in environmental policy—such as the National Environmental Protection Act of 1970, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and amendments to the Clean Water Act—gave opponents of Beaver Creek Resort a legal foothold to challenge the proposed development. The environmental impact of the ski area was scrutinized by many agencies, principally the Sierra Club, which filed an appeal to block the development, and the US Forest Service. It was not until 1976 that the Forest Service granted Vail Associates permission to use the land as ski terrain with the approval of Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof. This was much to the dismay of Vanderhoof’s successor, Governor Dick Lamm, a major opponent of the 1976 Denver Winter Olympics. Lamm vowed to never let the Beaver Creek area be developed into a ski resort.
Like many environmentalists, Lamm did not want the Western Slope of Colorado to be commercially developed. However, he was unable to stop Vail Associates from securing the authority to develop Beaver Creek Resort. The fierce opposition and proliferation of environmental law that hampered the development of Beaver Creek discouraged ski corporations from developing additional resorts. Beaver Creek was the last major ski area to be constructed in the West.
Groundbreaking for Beaver Creek Resort took place in July 1977, leading into its inaugural ski season, in 1980. On December 15, 1980, Beaver Creek Resort opened for skiing with six chairlifts and a slope-side lodge. A few years later, the resort saw the opening of Beaver Creek Golf Club, and throughout the next few decades various improvements and upgrades were made both on and off the ski area. After the failed Olympic bid in the ’70s, both Beaver Creek and Vail Ski Resorts hosted the world’s premier downhill skiing competition—the International Ski Federation’s Alpine World Ski Championships—in 1989. Vail and Beaver Creek would go on to host the Ski Championships again in 1999 and 2015.
In 1993, Vail Associates purchased the neighboring Arrowhead Ski Area, and four years later it was connected to Beaver Creek Resort, greatly expanding Beaver Creek’s skiable terrain. Today, Beaver Creek Resort boasts 1,815 skiable acres and twenty-five chairlifts, and the resort receives an average annual snowfall of 310 inches.