In Colorado, alpine skiing and alcohol seem to go together like Saint Bernards and brandy barrels. In t-shirt shops from Aspen to A-Basin, snow riders can buy boozy souvenirs from ski pole flasks to shot skis to bota bags, while alcohol flows freely at slope-side restaurants and bars. But marijuana and skiing, for some strange reason, have a much more complicated relationship.
Six years into the era of legal recreational marijuana, the greatest driver of Colorado’s booming outdoor-recreation economy – its iconic ski industry – suffers from a split personality on how it handles retail sales of pot and alcohol. Despite a growing number of aging skiers looking to marijuana products for pain relief (and as a perfectly legitimate means of après–ski unwinding), ski towns remain a bit nervous about openly offering weed right on Tyrolean-tinged main streets.
Ski towns like Aspen and Telluride chose not to traffic in ambivalence, allowing recreational and medical marijuana sales within town boundaries in fairly accessible commercial cores. But other ski towns like Vail and Avon have either chosen not to allow retail sales or, in the case of Breckenridge, moved it off main street to a dedicated commercial strip on the outskirts of town known as Airport Road.
The reasons some ski towns give for not putting pot shops right by the chairlifts vary, but most have to do with marketing. In a variation of Michael Jordan’s “even Republicans buy sneakers” line, ski-town politicians are worried about offending conservative guests from states like Texas and Oklahoma, and even countries like Mexico where the laws are relaxing but full commercial sales are still not legal.
As a case study, Vail – one of if not the nation’s most popular ski resorts – caters to a wealthy Latin American clientele that accounts for about 10 percent of its skier days. It’s also quite popular with families from the southern United States where pot laws lag behind progressive, first-in-the-nation Colorado, where voters first approved recreational legalization in 2012.
“I’ve been on town council since we passed the ordinance [in 2013] not allowing retail sales, and we really haven’t had a single complaint or anyone approach us about changing the ordinance in all of that time,” Vail Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Bruno said. “We have received … compliments from guests on how they enjoy their family’s experience in Vail not having to deal with retail shops selling marijuana.”
So it’s actually become a selling point for Vail and its family-friendly branding to not allow marijuana sales in town, while guests who want their weed after skiing don’t have to go far. Just a few miles west along Interstate 70, in unincorporated EagleVail, is a commercial strip of U.S. Highway 6 known as the Green Mile. There, the pot shops abound – just a short Uber ride from Vail Village.
“Just three miles away. Our Green Mile is closer to Vail than Breckenridge’s Air Pot Road is [to downtown Breckenridge],” Bruno said, using the nickname for Breck’s marijuana district. Bruno adds that one short shuttle ride to EagleVail’s Green Mile can supply an entire two-week ski trip. “My gut feeling is that when people come to visit, they stock up with one trip and they’re not going back, like it’s a gallon of milk. I sense that people buy more than they can use on their visits.”
That being said, marijuana sales in Colorado are restricted to people 21 and older, and public consumption is prohibited by law. Hotels have to adhere to strict smoking ordinances, which bar burning any leafy products in most rooms and common areas, and so private property with the owner’s permission is the only place one can legally fire up a joint. That limits lodging to edibles or vaping in a few designated smoking areas.
And while the skunky scent of sensimilla frequently wafts from gondola cars, chairlifts and around the parking garages in Vail, the ski company is quick to point out that not only is public consumption against Colorado law, marijuana is illegal on federal land, which is where the vast majority of Colorado’s ski areas operate. That set of facts has prompted some Vail politicians to mull one day allowing marijuana social clubs like the ones cropping up Denver, but so far that movement hasn’t taken root.
Of course, the lack of public consumption venues hasn’t really stopped anyone dating back well before Amendment 64 passed in 2012. Vail’s Gondola One replaced a chairlift out of Vail Village called the Vistabahn Express. But many locals knew it as the “Rastabahn”, with a plastic bubble cover that could be lowered to create a giant airborne bong. Guests who complain now that pot culture has overwhelmed Colorado’s ski towns clearly did not come in the 80s and 90s.
Still, retailers on EagleVail’s Green Mile understand the double standard between alcohol and pot sales, and they are largely tolerant of the conservative clientele driving the marketing decisions. One budtender on the Green Mile, who asked not to be identified, urges guests to utilize “less impactful” methods of consuming, whether vaping or edibles. Bruno confirmed families from Mexico City are often uneasy about drug use in their favorite vacation spot.
“They don’t really want, you know, a party scene, and they don’t want to be around pot shops.” Bruno said. “They really are looking for a little more of a Norman Rockwell experience. I think we’re … not necessarily Disney-esque … but closer to that scale, and I don’t think you’re going to find any pot shops in the Magic Kingdom.”
But you will find alcohol, after Walt Disney’s longstanding prohibition against booze sales slowly eroded in recent years. Some day that may be the case with marijuana, as more and more states and neighboring countries such as Canada legalize recreational and medical pot sales. Until then, Vail is not alone — even in surrounding Eagle County.
Avon, at the base of Beaver Creek ski area and just 10 miles to the west of Vail, also prohibits pot sales. EagleVail’s Green Mile is conveniently located right between Vail and Avon. Edwards, an unincorporated community 15 miles west of Vail, has marijuana stores, and Eagle – the county seat 30 miles west of Vail near the Eagle County Regional Airport – allows marijuana sales on a commercial strip out by the county jail and justice center.
As for EagleVail’s Greenmile, it’s long on access and parking and short on any sort of aesthetic charm. The area was named in the early days of Vail for its location along the road to distant Eagle. On the south side of the interstate is a residential neighborhood initially developed for Denver second homeowners – where one can actually ski down from swanky Beaver Creek — but on the north side is a Highway 6 strip of warehouses, tire stores, auto-body shops, parts stores, electric utilities, highway equipment and other functional but unpleasant necessities of a global destination ski resort. Interspersed are Vail’s pot shops.
The Green Mile now serves the functional needs of marijuana tourists and aging ski bums whose knees need CBD products and whose minds and livers enjoy an alternative to the relentless drumbeat of drinking and skiing. The strip offers an eclectic array of retail offerings.
Much of Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis scene has its roots, quite literally, in Vail, where Native Roots founder Peter Knobel has a home. Now one of the largest chains in the state, Native Roots is the closest retail store to Vail Village – at the far eastern end of the Green Mile. At the other end is High Country Healing – with an in-store “show grow” that allows customers to pick their own buds. Then there’s Roots Rx, which, depending on staffing, offers a shuttle service to Vail., Rocky Road Remedies, and Tumbleweed, a medical dispensary.
Vail Valley pot shops
Roots Rx Recreational Dispensary, EagleVail
40690 Highway 6, EagleVail, (970) 399-WEED (9333)
Also has a store in Edwards at 210 Edwards Village Blvd., Suite B110, (970) 446-6570
Rocky Road Remedies Vail
40814 Highway 6, Unit C, D, EagleVail, (970) 688-5633
High Country Healing
40801 Highway 6, Suite 5, EagleVail, (970) 470-4794
40928 Highway 6, EagleVail (970) 949-7008
Their only medical store is on the Green Mile, but Tumbleweed has a recreational store in Edwards at 57 Edwards Access Rd., Suite 20, (970) 569-2366, and will soon have another store in Eagle.
41290 Highway 6, EagleVail, (970) 470-4079
Sweet Leaf Pioneer
1286 Chambers Ave., #105, Eagle, (970) 328-9060