Vail is opening two high-altitude “ice bars” sculpted from ice and snow

This time, the ski patrol won’t be able to raid the booze stash.

Bringing back an amenity last seen when the Beatles were big, Vail will entice skiers and snowboarders with two “ice bars” high on the mountain this season. Sculpted out of ice and snow, the party spots will have full bars with limited food menus, and seating will be available.

Menu selections are still to be determined. Mountain managers are hoping to have the ice bars in place when Vail celebrates its 60th anniversary in December.

There are conflicting versions of how the first Ice Bar came to be, but both agree that Vail pioneer Bill Whiteford built the original in February of 1965, Vail’s third season. Skiers could drop in for pizza, hot pastrami, milkshakes, crêpes and, of course, booze. Legend has it that ski patrollers would drop in at the end of their shifts for a drink as well.

“They didn’t have anything to lock up the booze with,” said Vail spokesman John Plack. “When patrollers were done with their sweep at the end of the day, they’d sneak behind the pile of snow and take a shot on their way down.”

They won’t have that opportunity this winter. Food and spirits will be locked up overnight in nearby dining facilities.

The ice bars will be built at Eagle’s Nest and Wildwood, both high on the mountain with panoramic views. Eagle’s Nest is located at  the upper terminal of the Eagle Bahn gondola, and Wildwood will be served by two new lifts. Along with the open-air ice bars, there will be plastic “igloos” with metal frames which guests can reserve.

“Every time it snows, our groomers are going to get out there and re-sculpt the ice bar,” Plack said. “Under the snow will be blocks of ice. They will build the bar out of snow, shave the top so it’s smooth and pack it down. Every time it snows, it will take on a little bit of a different look. It’s this really cool throwback to that first young entrepreneur who was like, ‘Vail doesn’t have a bar, I’m going to build a bar.’”

The ice bars will be part of Vail’s anniversary celebration the week of Dec. 15. Skiing began there on that date in 1962 with a gondola, two chairlifts and nine trails. Vail now has 31 lifts and 195 trails.

To commemorate the milestone, Vail is working with 10th Mountain Whiskey, a local craft distillery, to create a limited-edition 60th-anniversary bourbon. Another new bourbon will be named after Vail’s first avalanche rescue dog, Henry, a golden retriever who joined the Vail ski patrol in 2009.

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