Map of Colorado’s Vail ski resort in its earliest years

Hal Shelton, Vail[:] COLORADO . . . SKI COUNTRY USA. Colorado Springs: Looart, ND [but ca. 1965.]
Poster printed in color, 28 3/8”h x 20”w at neat line plus margins, mounted on canvas. Very minor wear and soiling at edges, else excellent.

An attractive 1960s bird’s-eye view of Vail ski resort, one of the America’s iconic Winter destinations.

The main image is a bird’s eye view of the resort’s front bowls, trails and lifts, complemented by a view of the back bowls at lower right and a photograph of the base resort at lower left. It was probably issued in the mid-late 1960s, prior to the opening of the Lion’s Head Gondola and base area.

Vail had opened in late 1962, founded by Pete Siebert and Earl Eaton, the former a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division. In retrospect, their earliest investors got a whopping deal: $10,000 in return for a condo unit and lifetime ski pass. On the other hand, that initial investment took a certain amount of foresight, for when first opened the mountain had just three lifts and nine runs. Today of course it is one of the colossi of the American ski scene, with a vertical drop of nearly 3500 feet, 195 trails and more than 5000 acres of skiable terrain… all fueled by an average annual snowfall of 354 inches (I write this at my desk in western Mass., during yet another snow-less Christmas holiday week, and it is all I can do to maintain my composure.)

The two views were painted by pioneering American ski artist Hal Shelton:

“The first notable ski map artist in North America was a California native named Hal Shelton, born in 1916. During his early career Shelton worked as a cartographer for the U.S. Geological Survey, and is known for his innovative ideas regarding natural color maps and contour shading (Patterson & Kelso 2004). By the early 1960s Shelton was an established cartographer living in Colorado at the epicenter of the ski resort construction frenzy. Shelton’s professional training in cartography, user-friendly mapping techniques, and ideal location in Colorado provided him with the perfect credentials to create impressive maps for the new resorts…. Shelton hand-painted panoramas for several world-class resorts including Bear Valley, Alta, and Mammoth…. His paintings are characterized by a realistic color palette, thick brushstrokes for background features, and individually painted trees in the foreground…. Shelton’s work was well-received, and he dominated the ski mapping industry in the western United States for much of the 1960s and 70s.” (Lippus, pp. 50-51)

This poster was a product of Vail’s early membership in Colorado Ski Country USA, a not-for-profit founded in 1965 to promote the state’s many ski resorts. Over the years the organization has extended its reach into policy issues and become a more traditional trade association. However in 2008 Vail withdrew its membership, citing strategic differences. (Denver Business Journal, May 29, 2008)

For background on the subject of ski area maps, see Amy Elizabeth Lippus, “The History and Evolution of North American Ski Resort Map Style and Design” (2015). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 4518. To my knowledge this is one of the very earliest attempts at a “complete analysis of ski map style and design,” and it uses both qualitative and quantitative data to examine the genre.