The Ski Mountain
If one resort could be considered best in Colorado for its combined terrain – beginner, intermediate and advanced — it’d be hard to take the conversation anywhere other than Vail ski resort. Because of its sheer size and the skill with which its mountains were developed, saying less than one fifth of Vail’s ski terrain is labeled for beginners, translates into beginners having more than 1,000 dedicated acres. With 5,289 skiable acres, across almost 200 trails, it’d take days for advanced or intermediate skiers to explore every run. Vail ski resort can get some criticism, usually for the expense. But if you divide its lift price by skiable acres, or consider the spectacular mountain vistas and proximity of skiing and lodging to its famous Tyrolean-themed walking town, think of it as getting a skiing-the-Alps experience, without the cost of flying to Europe.
The Mountain Experience
Vail is the largest ski resort in Colorado and makes a point of having something for everyone, including non-skiers who want to enjoy the shopping, spas and restaurants in the elegant town. It’s long been an international destination, where you’re as likely to be skiing with a family from France as one from Boulder, and where you’ll encounter a wide range of skiing abilities, nationalities and languages. You’ll also see plenty of skiers attired in the latest ski fashion and equipped with top-of-the-line gear.
Vail Ski Terrain
• Beginner: If you’re skiing with all beginners, you’d want to stick to the front side of the mountain, where there are lots of groomed runs and easy trails off most every lift. If you’re skiing with a more diverse group, the Game Creek Bowl offers skiing for a variety of levels – perfect for those that wants to ride the lift together but ski different trails. Vail ski resort has several learning areas such as the one off of Little Eagle Lift (#15) and at Golden Peak at Vail Village, which is a great place for kids to learn.
Current Snow Conditions
• Intermediate: Intermediate runs are all over the mountain, though the sheer number of them causes the wise skier to consider whether they’re early in their intermediate development or strong and looking for a challenge. In general, the intermediate skiing on the front of the mountain is less intense than the back bowls, where you want to go when you’re ready to push to the next level. On the front side, Born Free, Riva Ridge and Simba are long, winding runs with occasional difficult stretches or choices to make. But mostly they offer a mountaintop to valley cruising experience that eases nearing the base. In the back bowls, groomed or ungroomed becomes a deciding factor on which trails to choose. On China Bowl, the two Poppyfields trails, east and west, give the best chance to stay on a well groomed run that also allows good access to and from untouched snow fields.
• Advanced: If you are an expert skier, Vail ski resort’s legendary seven back bowls and more distant Blue Sky Basin are also where you want to head, especially after a recent snowfall. The terrain here is filled with steep runs, trees, cliffs, moguls, and deep powder stashes that often seem unexplored. Be sure to ski with a partner here, as the runs can become remote and you can find yourself alone on some very challenging terrain. At day’s end, you can find a last adrenaline rush on the front side’s Roger’s Run and Highline.
• Terrain Park: Vail ski resort offers three terrain parks featuring different jumps and features of solid quality, though when taken in context to the whole mountain, they seem more an accommodation for groups with a member or two interested in park skiing, than they are a main focus.
Get a trail map and take the time to make a plan of where you want to ski, particularly toward the end of the day when they start shutting down and moving everyone from the back of the mountain. Pick up a grooming report at the mountain base to see which runs have fresh corduroy and which don’t, especially if you’re a beginner or intermediate skier. If expense matters, research ahead and have a cost plan so you’re not surprised by the price tags and can enjoy the luxury experience without second thoughts. Also talk to the locals for cost-cutting tips. For instance, garage parking within walking distance to the lift costs $25 a day, but you can find free parking along North Frontage Road if you get there early, and it’s serviced by a free bus.
From fine dining to quick drinks and appetizers, skiers can find all options at both the Vail Village and Lionshead base area. Popular spots include Tavern on the Square, Pepi’s, Garfinkel’s, Vendettas and the Red Lion. If you are looking for formal dining, the resort has several fine dining options on the mountain, perfect for the romantic evening when you want to linger over moonlight and mountain views. Start here with Game Creek Restaurant where you’re picked up by snowcat and taken to the restaurant door.
Vail Resort offers a variety of lodging options including five star hotels, family friendly spots, as well as ski-in/ski-out options, but few of them are inexpensive during ski season. The Arrabelle at Vail Square, Four Seasons Vail, The Sebastian, The Ritz-Carlton Residences and the Marriott all offer ski-in/ski-out access to both the mountain, restaurants and shopping. For families, the Tivoli Lodge offers ski-in/ski-out proximity to the Golden Peak learning area. The Holiday Inn in West Vail and the Vail Racquet Club are on the shuttle route heading out of the town center and offer amenities such as pools, spa, and fitness centers at somewhat more affordable prices. Use the Ski Lodging Deals box above and right to find Vail’s best Lodging choices and deals.
Cobblestone, pedestrian only streets, European village architecture – a five star experience.
Skiing with the Kids
The Vail Ski & Snowboard School has group lessons for kids and the resort features “Adventure Zones” in different areas around the mountain, with fun features and embankments for kids to ski around, such as the tee-pee at Coyote’s Den. The resort’s Golden Peak area is a great place for families with children skiing at different levels, as they can ride the Game Creek Bowl lift together to a variety of beginner and easy intermediate runs that all meet at bottom.
Lift Tickets and Season Pass Cost*
Lift Tickets (pre-purchase online): Adult $92-$105; Child $56-$70; Senior $82-$95 (COMPARE PRICES) Season Pass: (purchase by 10/14/12) – Adult $679; Child $349 Senior $539 Other Passes: 7 day pass (purchase by 10/14/12) = Adult $529 Special Deals: Passes also good for Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe *prices reflect our best effort to gather from resort published information.
By Rory Reily