There’s upscale, there’s showy, there’s rich, then there’s Vail Colorado. The town, at the base of the mountain, is one of the main reasons why Vail is one of the top ski destinations in the world. The cobblestone-covered, pedestrian-friendly streets of the village and the European style architecture create an inviting, winter atmosphere. This is the place to go if you’re looking for a consistent five star, “like nothing else on earth” experience catering to high-class expectations.
Why Vail Colorado is Different
Unlike most ski towns in Colorado, this was not a mining town first. Vail was created to accommodate the ski resort, which draws more than a million visitors every season. Founded by World War II Veterans who had been trained in the scenic Gore Mountains, the town of Vail was incorporated in 1966 – four years after ground was broken on the resort.
Because the town was created from the resort, its stores, restaurants and amenities are nestled around the base of the ski area, making it possible to click out of your bindings within a few yards of your favorite restaurant. Any place that seems too far to walk can be accessed by a free shuttle. The town boasts the largest free bus service in the country.
A quaint covered bridge is a focal point in the town, adding to the Swiss resort feel. Another European twist: The police drive around in Volvos, thanks to a partnership between the Vail Valley Foundation and the luxury car company, which displays new models in prominent places about town and advertises on the back of city-issued parking stubs. The town knows that it owes its vibrant economy to tourism, so it focuses on ways to make tourists feel both welcome and comfortable. You see this focus in everything from how clearly the streets are labeled, to free the shuttles, daily walking tours, free concerts and the two visitor’s centers – one located in Lionshead; the other in Vail Village – the two main parts of town.
Nearest Ski Mountain
More than 200 trails and ski-in proximity to its elegant, famous Tyrolean-themed walking town.
Although Vail has a reputation for being an expensive place to take a ski vacation, you can find pricing for almost any wallet. However, be aware that the more economical options are typically on the outskirts of town. Fortunately, the free bus system will allow you to travel all over Vail until as late as 2 a.m. If money isn’t a problem, you’re in luck. You can stay at the Sebastian, where Michelle Obama and her kids stayed during the 2010-11 season; the Arabelle, a newer hotel; the Four Seasons or even the Ritz Carlton Residences.
If that’s a touch too rich, there’s the Christiania, which has close proximity to the mountain and won’t empty your wallet. Other economical options are the Holiday Inn or The Roost, which is even affordable for college students. Keep in mind that pricing fluctuates greatly, based primarily on season. If you must be in Vail at Christmas, be ready to drain your bank account. If your trip dates are flexible, try traveling in mid-January or February. The slopes are less crowded and hotel pricing more reasonable. Use the Ski Lodging Deals box above and right to find Vail’s best Lodging choices and deals.
No matter when you’re traveling, check out the “this week in Vail” link at www.vailgov.com. The site rattles through all the free activities of the week, from the well-known Vail Film Festival to children’s story hour at the library. The site also tells you about the fee-based options, from walk-in pottery classes, yoga and ice skating to ski history tours (free, but they suggest a modest donation). There are times, locations and what each option costs. There’s plenty to do, so there’s never a reason to be bored.
Vail boasts some great cuisines for all budgets and occasions, from famous chefs to great home-style barbeque. Some of the highlights:
– Kelly Liken is one of Vail’s finest restaurants. Started by Top Chef and Iron Chef contestant Kelly Liken, it serves some of the best food in town.
– Elway’s is a great option for steak, especially if price is not a concern. If the name sounds familiar, yes, famous quarterback John Elway owns it.
– Sweet Basil has been in Vail for as long as most locals can remember, and for good reason. Wine and an innovative American cuisine.
– Moe’s Original BBQ at the base of the mountain in Lionshead village, offers great home-style BBQ, and the young hip atmosphere is great for kids.
– Chef Nobu at Matsuhisa fuses Japanese cuisine with Argentinean and Peruvian ingredients creating a one-of-a-kind (though expensive) experience.
– Bol not only offers delicious food, but it allows you to enjoy it on big comfy couches while bowling. It’s a blast and the food is surprisingly good.
For those 21 and older, the majority of popular nightlife spots are in Vail Village, which has some of the best bars in Colorado. Check out the Red Lion where the live music is fantastic and the drinks won’t break the bank. Or, Vendetta’s, which is known for its great bar and even better pizza. Want to dance? Go to Whiskey Jacks. Although Lionshead Village is more of an uploading spot for the mountain. it has one bar worth noting, Garfinkel’s.
Use the Ski Lodging Deals box above at right
Vail’s best Lodging choices and deals.
Vail hosts many different events throughout the course of the season. The Teva Mountain Games, a recent addition to extreme outdoor sports competitions, has become increasingly popular. Catch events such as ice climbing and mountain biking on snow around the first week of February. Another local favorite is the Bud Light Street Beat, which is a free concert series in the winter. If you’re young and like to party there’s the Snowball in March. Although it’s not free, it’s a fantastic weekend music festival that has every popular artist you can imagine. If you’re traveling with the kids in the late spring, check out the World Pond Skimming Championships hosted in Vail every year. Haven’t the foggiest what that is? It’s hard to describe, so check out the YouTube video from the 2007 competition.
Off Mountain Activities
There’s an ice arena and a golf course that when covered with snow, becomes a Nordic Center – the top spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. If you’re with the kids, there’s Adventure Ridge, located on the mountain. It offers tubing, sledding, and even miniature snowmobiles.
In town there are special events, from free concerts and film festivals to food and wine tastings virtually every week and walking tours of the public art – a big part of Vail’s downtown. It has the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum, a great exhibit on the history of the snowboard. The library also has an ice skating/story hour for preschoolers…
By Jason Kornfeld