Vail is known for it’s blue bird powder days, where skiing through powder under a bright blue sky is customary, but fighting crowds isn’t. Vail mountain is made of up 31 lifts with 2 gondolas and 17 high-speed chairs, 2 terrain parks, including a super pipe, and 195 distinctively named runs on both the front and back sides.
The resort comprises 5,289 acres of skiable terrain. Of this 18% is leveled for beginners, 29% for intermediate skiers, and 53% is designated for those who are more advanced or expert. Vail isn’t only a big boy mountain in terms of difficulty, but also in stature. The mountain has a vertical rise of 3,450 feet, capping off at a peak elevation of 11,570. That’s a lot of space all around for more snow and less congestion.
Vail’s annual snowfall averages 354 inches of pristine, dry, powdery white snow that feels like floating through a cloud. Boasting around 300 days of sunshine per year, chances are pretty high you’re going to get to witness, first hand, what the locals call a blue bird powder day.
When it snows, it snows. Visibility is likely to become minimal and wind chill can really take it’s toll, so when a storm hits it’s wise to stick near or even in the trees. Whether you chose to go off-piste or stay on the marked runs, there is no shortage of greenery. A prime location in any condition, Vail will have you wanting to return year after year, because once you’ve experienced Vail, you might not be satisfied anywhere else.
A stroll through the town of Vail takes you away to another place. The Bavarian style architecture surrounding the brick pedestrian streets provides a different sort of charm to an American ski town. On a sun drenched afternoon you’ll find patrons soaking it all in on patios galore while enjoying the après ski festivities. Bridge Street is brought to life with restaurants and shops housing everything from local brews and artwork to exquisite shopping and international treats. Any children in tow will be dazzled by ice skating and s’mores at the Arrabelle, Wishes Toy Store, and Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory.
For more fun the whole family can enjoy, there’s Bol, the chic fine dining bowling alley, ice skating at two separate rinks, semi-pro hockey games at Dobson Arena, and an array of snowy adventures waiting at Epic Discovery atop Gondola 19.
Keen to get out of the villages? West Vail has the North Trail for winter hiking, and in East Vail, the Nordic center provides cross country skiing as well as snowshoeing overlooking the Gore Range. Put your group’s skills, other than skiing, to the test with Tuesday trivia at Ale House or Friday night Karaoke at Loaded Joe’s (Avon location).
Outside of the normal week to week, Vail puts on a number of special events throughout the season. Every Spring Vail hosts the Burton US Open, showcasing international professional and up and coming snowboarders in a week long competition. You’ll also be treated to expos, demos, and free concerts with a massive closing party on Saturday night. Some others include Vail Holidays, Snow Days, Spring Back to Vail, and a closing day party to finish out the season.
A visit to Vail isn’t complete until you’ve experienced a night out. World class cuisine plus nightlife for every style makes for a surprisingly wild night in a quaint ski town.
Before you decide which way your night is headed, stuff your stomach with the best food around. It’s a tough choice when only the best are involved, but the options are many. Game Creek provides on-mountain dining, Vintage transports you to Paris, and Sweet Basil or Mountain Standard serve up tradition with a trendy twist, called New American.
Beneath the village is entirely different from the world above. Start at the local favorite, The George to cash in on their unheard of happy hour prices. Next, head across the bridge to the coffee-shop-by-day, intimate-bar-by-night known as Loaded Joe’s. Then, make your way to Bridge Street Bar for a funky half live music/half dance club venue. This place can get crowded, especially on Sundays, so be warned before you commit. Lastly, you’ll likely end this tour by dancing the night away to live music at Shakedown, the hidden gem of the village.
For a more relaxed evening, sip on fine locally distilled spirits at a 10th Mountain Whiskey tasting. There’s also the award winning Vail Brewing Co., where you can enjoy your Colorado craft beer by the fire while watching ice skaters on the rink below. If you can’t seem to get enough of the cold, bundle up at Frost Bar. When staying in town, most places come attached to incredible bars and restaurants, so no need to leave the building if your legs won’t let you.
Remember those powder days we mentioned? Well the front side of the mountain can get totally tracked out by 10 AM, but you’ll surely find some good stuff hiding in the trees around Chair 11, or if you’re willing to make the trek, Blue Sky is where the locals head first thing.
If Blue Sky or the back bowls are late to open, there’s snow and lots of it. Be patient. Once you get there, it’ll be worth the wait.
Head hurting from the night before? Legs unwilling to get up on the mountain in the morning? Vintage is the brunch spot of the valley with the news quickly spreading. Although you don’t have to have one, reservations are highly recommended.
Coming into Vail from the West is a treat in the morning. Swing by Northside Grab and Go for a quick cuppa (coffee) and a breakfast burrito to enjoy on your heated Gondola ride up the mountain.
Backcountry Wings in Minturn has, by far, the best wings in the Valley.
Not many people know, but to avoid drinking and driving, you can leave your car parked overnight at either the Vail Village or Lionshead garages. Show up before 10 AM the next morning, let the attendants know what happened and they’ll let you off the hook, but you may have to show a receipt as proof.
WHERE TO STAY
Staying at the base is cool, but for a truly extravagant experience, guests can stay atop Vail Mountain at the Game Creek Chalet. Your commute will consist of going up the gondola followed by a chauffeured snow cat ride.
Vail has its fair share of four- and five-star hotels within the town, but there are gorgeous condos and houses to rent throughout the valley. It’s also generally much cheaper outside of the village. Staying at either of the golf courses is a favorite due in part to the views you’ll get out there.
Go west to Eagle Vail and you’re within ten minutes of Vail and Beaver Creek in Avon. Both are owned by Vail, so you can easily split your days between the two. Beside Eagle Vail is Minturn, the closest real mountain town and undoubtedly worth the visit. Also in Minturn is The Bunkhouse. The young and/or frugal might consider this option as it’s the only hostel in the valley.
Past Avon is Edwards, the “city” of the Valley. It may seem a bit far, but the best views are in Edwards.
If staying in East or West Vail, the town provides free busses to transport you to the villages. Although not free, for cheap fare you’ll still find busses going all the way to Edwards. There are a few places to stay right beside the gondolas, but most hotels and ski shops have valets and lockers at the base. This way instead of worrying about hauling your gear, you can focus on having fun!