Vail’s searing summer sun scorches my exposed neck, though I barely notice as I roam the twisting, pedestrian-friendly streets, the nearby music from a churning stream forming the soundtrack to my ramble. I’m far too entranced by what my companion, Molly Eppard, a former New York art dealer, now Vail’s Art in Public Places Coordinator, has to say. Acting as the mountain hamlet’s veritable curator, Molly sources and installs Vail’s burgeoning collection of masterpiece indoor and outdoor public art in collaboration with Art in Public Places’ (AIPP) esteemed board. “I call this town a gallery without walls,” she says, as we stop for a moment to ponder a 13-foot-tall, 7,000-pound bronze sculpture that depicts a ski trooper, marching in winter, his white camouflage gear completed with ski equipment.
“The Tenth Mountain Division. That’s really what this town’s all about,” she says. Offering customized “Art Walks” in season, Molly joyously points out some of the town’s trove, a collection of 60 or more pieces by both established and emerging artists. Framed by spectacular nature, each unique piece contributes to the fabric of this 1960’s-era, new-built ski village, a charmingly unusual oasis of Dolomite-inspired architecture and culture conceived and built by one of Vail’s founders, Pete Seibert, who served in Italy’s Alps in the 10th Mountain Division, a soldier on skies, during World War II. Vail, poised at 8,150 feet, where I’ve come to ski and play for most of my life, may not have the Victorian history of Aspen, but its gravitas and unique allure comes from passion, vision, an homage to far flung places — and a damn imposing mountain. As a lover of Europe and student of history, I have been impressed forever that a soldier, who trained for battle on Colorado’s slopes, then fought on skies in Austrian-influenced, northern Italy, would return to pay tribute to those years by lovingly recreating the backdrop.
Today the 10th Mountain Division legacy (Vail’s lifeblood) lives on at places like The Hythe, A Luxury Collection Resort, Vail, which sits slope-side at Lionshead Village, one of the two base ski mountain villages that compose Vail. Kitted out within the bones of a former hotel, The Hythe emerged luxuriantly after a complete concept and design redo. The staggering $40 million spent on the renovation proved up to Vail’s swanky standards — and well worth the expenditure.
References to the 10th Mountain Division
Amid the contemporary ski-lodge-evoking interiors by Wilson Ishihara Design, The Hythe honors the 10th Mountain Division and the Alpine spirit in various ways. The fine dining restaurant, Margie’s Haas, for example, was named in honor of a woman who generously fed the 10th Mountain Division from her Valley home. Not only does the exceptional menu offer alpine-American cuisine (think: Raclette and Tyrolean Speckknoedel with Wild Mushrooms), but windows frame mountain views and decor, such as Tyrol-inspired, grey felt banquettes, set a mood. With a nod to M-rations consumed by the 10th Mountain soldiers during their service, Mountain Ration, located just off the lobby, brews coffee, sells gastronomic picnic supplies, s’mores ingredients and grab and go snacks and meals. Along with other compelling artwork, antiques (or replicas) of vintage skis or ski accessories adorn walls. And, most obviously, the lobby bar features a serendipitous partnership with homeboy distillery 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company, pouring nips of their own brandy, bourbon, rye, vodka, single malt whiskey, and moonshine.
The Rooms and the Vibe
Both guest rooms and common areas enwrap guests in chalet chic: leather, fur throws, stone, copper, and Colorado’s famous marble, quarried just hours from the hotel. The heart of the lobby, a bi-level glass fireplace invites cuddling or après ski tête-à-tête with friends. My guest room on the 6th-floor wasn’t large, and seemed to be a connecting room to a suite next door. It did not sport a bathtub, which for me is a must after days spent burning calories and firming muscles outdoors in any season. But, it had a terrace with outstanding views, was dog-friendly, and had a sumptuous bed. Bath lovers: be sure and request a tub, as some rooms do have soaking tubs. Service throughout the hotel is friendly, efficient, and five star.
Well & Being Spa
The spa, situated on the lowest floor, next to a state-of-the-art gym, continues the Alpine theme with treatments meant to counteract the sometimes negative effects of the mountains. Whether a CBD Balancing Restoring Body Wrap or a Anti-Aging Oxygen Facial, the rituals hydrate, enhance circulation and boost relaxation. Don’t miss the marvelous Himalayan Salt Inhalation Lounge, where guests have the opportunity to inhale beneficial particles of salt-infused air, a practice that helps with sleep and can improve lung issues. Don’t miss the festive pool, which sits at the foot of the mountain. Sportspeople: get your gear in the Adventure Room, a cornucopia of bikes, skis, snowshoes, boards and more for guests to rent, as desired.