Vail, Colorado - epic skiing with a luxury twist
Leg two of Chris Madoc-Jones' North American ski season took him to the glitz and glamour of Vail. But which was more impressive - the world-famous terrain or the town itself?
Covering a massive 5,289 acres, Vail is almost three times the size of our first destination Beaver Creek, so in just three days we were hard-pushed to cover everything. But after skiing 48,000 vertical feet in those three days (tracked by the Vail Resorts' app, EpicMix) the extent of the terrain was clear.
Every day will start off skiing the Frontside slopes, accessed directly out of town by Gondola 1 or the Eagle Bahn gondola from Lionshead Village. A maze of groomed, north-facing slopes wind their way through the pines and aspens and fast chairs whisk you back up to the top for more - in fact you'll never need to encounter a slow lift here. My top recommendations would be the runs under the newly upgraded Avanti 6-person chair, Game Creek Bowl and the Northwoods area (look out for another new 6-seater here next season).
If steeper, deeper or bumpier terrain is more your thing then Vail's legendary Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin are where you should head. Seven alpine bowls make up the Back Bowls and these spread for what seems like miles, catching way more sunshine than the Frontside - which is great on a cold day, but if it's warm the powder can quickly turn heavy. Head out to the two Mongolia Bowls to escape the hustle and bustle or make your way right out to Blue Sky Basin. Here lies Vail's steepest terrain, particularly to skier's right of the Skyline Express, where a cornice drop is mandatory on runs like Lover's Leap. Snowboarders take note as getting to the far end requires taking some flat, narrow and frustrating catracks.
Judging by the number of people walking through the town in the middle of the day, it was obvious that a lot of visitors to Vail weren't there for the skiing... The resort is home to some of the world's most expensive real estate, hotels and restaurants - no wonder gossip columns around the world are full of celebrities spotted in Vail. This does make for some excellent people watching and you never quite know whom you might sit next to on the chairlift, especially with ski gear on.
This can all overshadow the fact that the town of Vail does have some great value places to eat, drink and stay. In terms of accommodation look into Couchsurfing.com if you're on a serious budget, or pan through Air BnB's in East or West Vail as the free bus service links you to the main town in minutes. For food consider self-catering or head to the likes of Garfinkels, Moe's Original BBQor Los Amigos for great value meals under $15. Make sure you also hit up the Red Lion happy hour from 3-6pm or head to The George, where all drinks are $4.75 from 3-9pm - but do watch out, the town is at 2,457m so a beer or two hits much harder after a day on the slopes!
Top 5 Insider Tips
- Get to Gondola 1/Eagle Bahn Gondola before 9am to avoid the bottlenecks that can form further up the mountain - especially at the top of Gondola 1
- Check out the grooming map online each morning to ski fresh corduroy on the rarely groomed blacks of the Back Bowls and under the Highline Express
- Eat and drink during happy hour as it makes even Vail affordable
- Chat to as many locals on the chairlifts as possible - it got us all of our eating, drinking and skiing recommendations
- If possible avoid the weekends as the crowds come up from Denver, especially on a powder day and on holiday weekends (Martin Luther King Jr Day & President's Day)
Vail is around 2 ¼ hours by car from Denver Airport. Full details can be found here.
Private transfers can be arranged with Colorado Mountain Express (CME), with regular airport pick-ups and lodging drop offs starting at $65/person. Pre-book for the cheapest prices and they will run even in the worst weather.
Lift passes are expensive, so pre-book online. Or if you’re staying for more than a week and fancy trips to nearby resorts (such as Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone), then consider buying an Epic Pass before they sell out in December – as you can ski at all these resorts for no extra cost.
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