Vail may not have the mining-town charm of its neighbouring towns - but the Colorado village more than makes up for it in style and elegance. Nestled in the sprawling White River National Forest, the state’s largest ski resort still has something for powder hounds of all ages and skill levels.
First put on the map by World War II veteran Pete Siebert as a military training ground, Vail opened as a ski resort in 1962. It boasts 21.4 square kilometres of skiable terrain, 31 lifts and 193 runs, but the most picturesque spot it at the resort’s base: a luxurious, purpose built mountain village. Gently sloping roofs top the town’s Tudor-style chalets, themselves adorned with painted shutters and flower planters, poking out from between snowcapped pine trees. Paired with super-sumptuous stays from hotel chains RockResort, Four Seasons, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton smackbang in the middle of the state, Vail’s reputation as a European-style playground in America’s heartland is well deserved.
The Arrabelle is the top pick for location, European charm and luxury. Located in Lionshead, steps from the Eagle Bahn gondola, the suites combine traditional alpine design with opulent finishes. Each comes with a super-plush bed, marble bathroom and deep bathtub, and cosy fireplace. The hotel is home to the Tavern on the Square, a fixture on Vail’s aprés-ski scene, its delicious spins on comfort food the stars of the menu (do not attempt to take on the nachos by yourself - they are served in a paella pan!) In the absence of lockers onsite, the hotel offers slope side ski valet, to save you from schlepping your gear through town.
Sleeping in? Brunch is served from 8:30am from Friday to Sunday at Vintage. The brasserie boasts a menu that meshes the best of French petit déjeuner with American breakfast staples. Its Huckleberry bacon French toast is case and point: brioche is stuffed with bacon, marscapone and dulce de leche and then doused in huckleberry syrup and bourbon whipped cream. If you’re searching for a slice of Australia, Vintage also serves avocado toast with bacon, cherry tomatoes and honey-mustard cream cheese.
The best coffee mountainside is Yeti’s Grind, a small cafe that serves a variety of signature drinks alongside classic go-tos. While its in house blends are second to none, alternatives to your usual drip include caramel apple cider, a cup of lavender lemonade and the Lone Star latte which muddles chocolate, cayenne and cinnamon.
Best hot chocolate
The Sebastian hotel is home to the most exciting hot choc in town. Frost, the hotel’s lobby bar, serves the hot chocolate of your dreams: handmade gold spheres of Valrhona milk chocolate dunked in hot cocoa, with vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and star anise spices mixed through. If that doesn’t sell it to you, never fear; marshmallows and chocolate crunch pearls come with it too. Need something a little stronger? Feel free to spike it with Kahlúa, Bailey’s, Jameson or even peppermint Schnapps.
Switch your ski boots for slippers at The 10th, the epitome of ski-in ski-out dining at Vail. Located on the mountain (KB if it’s ok I’ll keep this as it is physically smack bang in the middle of a bunch of ski runs) at Mid Vail, the stunning stone clad lodge offers incredible views over the Gore Range. Looking for a quick bite? Don’t go past warming up with a hearty elk chili; but if you’re searching for something more gourmet, the pork belly with celery root puree is a winner. If you over-indulge at lunch, don’t worry about skiing the rest of the way down, the restaurant is steps away from Gondola One.
Best après ski
The Remedy Bar at The Four Seasons is an aprés institution in Vail. Claim your spot around the outdoor firepits or pull up a stool inside at the upscale bar. The menu is set up to relieve your ailments, with drinks divvied up into sections called “potions”, “antidotes” and “elixirs”, and food offerings called “doctor’s orders” and “prescriptions”. Don’t go past its “haute” chocolate, made from melted Swiss chocolate, marshmallow and Chantilly creme, which can be boozed up with Baileys, Wondermint and Jameson - your server will pour it at your table as an extra spectacle.
Root & Flower is the hottest wine bar in Vail Village. Serving more than 50 different wines, craft cocktails and bites, the bar is also home to a curated collection of drops, with bottles from Gevrey-Chambertin, the Napa Valley and Valtellina.
Now this is on-mountain dining. A snow cat awaits you at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, ready to transport you the remainder of the way up to the Game Creek restaurant. The chic chalet-style restaurant showcases the best of American cuisine, with a limited seasonal menu available as a four course prix fixe or five-course sequenced dinner, ready to be paired with carefully selected wine. The winter 2019 menu included succulent Colorado lamb with a huckleberry demi glaze, served with carrot, pattypan squash, Swiss chard, and bacon.
Recuperate from a busy day on the slopes in the serene surroundings of the Four Seasons Spa, with a spa menu featuring everything from a Vail river stone massage to a micro current facial. There’s even an amber ale foot soak made from, you guessed it, amber ale beer from Colorado’s Crazy Mountain Brewery. With Vail situated 2485 metres above sea level, the spa also caters to inevitable altitude-related ailments. The Mountain Cures collection is a trio of treatments that fight these afflictions, including acupressure and essential oils to beat insomnia and Himalayan salt stones to help boost energy.
Best kids’ activity
While Australians may associate inflatable tubes with a day in the pool, tubes bring a very different kind of fun in Colorado. Kids young and old seeking an adrenaline rush flock to Eagle’s Nest for tubing at Adventure Ridge, as tubers grab a ring and speed down a 250 metre tall hill. Tackle the hill solo, race loved ones or physically join forces with your family and form one giant tube. For an extra thrill, ask the tube staff to give you a spin as they push you down the mountain…in the nicest possible way.
Best unique experience
Hold on tight! The Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster is an alpine rollercoaster that winds through the wilderness and descends 3400 metres down the mountain. The one-seater cart gives a spectacular view of the sprawling national park, with two-seater carts available for kids and accompanying adults. The coaster is available in summer and weather dependent in winter,
Now this is a view. Ride to the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola for one of the best lookouts on the mountain. Gaze across Vail’s back bowls to the Mount of the Holy Cross, in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. The designated lookout’s location makes it the perfect spot to capture the range as the backdrop for family photos, especially if you luck it with a bluebird day.
Best non-ski adventure
Setting off from Camp Hale, the Top of the Rockies Snowmobile Tour with Nova Guides offers some of the best vistas around, including a spectacular view of the Continental Divide. The adventure begins at your accommodation, where you are picked up and taken to a former military base, Camp Hale, for a half or full day of speeding along the trails, some more than 3800 metres high.
Best shopping experience
Gorusch is a must-go for mountain fashion. The flagship department store in the heart of Vail Village houses high-end casual wear, fashionable ski gear and a full ski shop during winter, as well as a range of tableware and furniture pieces in case you’d like to bring a slice of Vail home.
Does your sweet tooth need satisfying after a busy day on the slopes? Follow your nose and head to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop, a Colorado institution. The shop is famous for its caramel apples; a crisp Granny Smith coated in thick and goey handmade caramel, dipped in your choice of topping. When visiting, make sure you don’t miss out on its extensive range of fudge and scrumptious chocolate truffle bars.
Best ski runs
Vail Mountain is made up of sections that cater to differing degrees of difficulty - majority of the green runs can be found Mid-Mountain, intermediates favour the Northeast Bowl, and the expert skiers enjoy their day on the slopes carving up Vail’s back bowls.
If you’re heading out on the runs for the first time, don’t fear. Ledges, a green off of the Eagle Bahn gondola, is one of the resort’s best, a smooth and wide run with rolling small hills perfect for gaining confidence. It feeds back on to the Avanti Express lift via the green Cub’s Way.
Located in Game Creek Bowl, green run Lost Boy is a great one to tackle for a variety of skill sets. Take the Wildwood lift to the top of the bowl and make your way through the pine trees. The wide yet gradual slope allows the greenest of skiers the ability to carve turns with plenty of room.
Riva Ridge is perfect for blue to black intermediate skiers with time on their hands and serious leg endurance. Clocking in at 6.4 kilometres, the run is not only the longest run in Vail, it’s the longest single-mountain slope in the United States. It’s a remanent of Vail’s beginnings and one of the only original runs from its opening.
Located 11 kilometers away from the main village, Vail’s Blue Sky Basin is beloved by locals with a mix of difficult blue, black and expert runs among the trees. Catch the Skyline Express or Earl’s Express lifts to the top of the bowl and get ready to take the plunge. Lover’s Leap is a challenging black run that starts with, you guessed it, a leap, into a steep field full of moguls and trees to dart in and out of.