A ski resort that’s superlative in every sense, Vail has it all. Set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, it is the most popular ski resort in the United States. It is the country’s biggest single ski mountain resort in terms of ski terrain acreage, with its skiable areas measuring almost 5,300 acres. Vail has more powder bowl skiing than any other US resort, its Back Bowls alone comprising 3,000 acres. It also has more luxury hotels and more spas than all other US resorts, more amenities on the mountain and at its base village than others, the largest free public transportation system in the US and one of the biggest ski schools of any resort anywhere in the world. The stats go on and on. But Vail is about far more than figures. It is, quite simply, one of the best places you can go for a skiing holiday.
Originally founded by members of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, who trained for World War II on its slopes from their base at Camp Hale, Vail has become the ski resort of choice for around 1.5 million holidaymakers every year. It was one of the first US resorts to embrace snowboarding and is now regarded as one of the top destinations for boarders. But it is a resort that caters to everyone, thanks to its unrivalled array of groomed ski trails from beginner up to expert.
Vail is famous for its powder bowls (besides its Back Bowls it has front-side bowls Game Creek, and the 650-acre Blue Sky Basin, both of which have blue trails for intermediates), a Nordic Centre for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and family facilities on and off the mountain. Those draw people back year after year, along with its extensive hotel and condo accommodation; the pedestrianised village at the mountain’s base with its four hubs full of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars; plus endless other activity options including a calendar full of events.
To crunch the numbers, Vail has a vertical rise of 3,450 feet and is open from the third week of November to the third week in April, receiving over 350 inches of snow annually. Its two gondolas and 29 lifts can carry more than 62,000 people per hour and once on the mountain they have 195 miles of conventional trails, the longest being four miles, besides its bowls. There are three terrain parks, among them Golden Peak, featuring a 22-foot superpipe and 40 rails.
Things to do
Top tips for visiting Vail
1. Ski other resorts
• If you have time, you can visit other nearby ski resorts and hit the slopes for no extra cost.
• Lift passes of three days or longer at Vail are also valid at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone – all part of Vail Resorts along with Vail itself – as well as Arapahoe Basin.
• You can ski more than one resort on the same day if you have the energy, and Vail’s lift passes also allow you to go night skiing at Keystone.
2. Don't get burned
• Pack the suntan lotion when you head to Vail. The resort enjoys 300 sunny days a year, so chances are you will be skiing under blue skies. Avoid goggle tan and lather up.
3. Take a free tour
• Throughout the season, free two-hour mountain ski and snowboard tours are offered to guests whose ability level is intermediate or above by Community Guest Service volunteers.
• General mountain tours leave from the Game Creek Desk next to the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola and the top of Gondola One at the Mid Vail Ski School desk at 10.30am each day.
• Blue Sky Basin tours, for more advanced skiers and riders, take place at 11am each Tuesday and Friday from Henry’s Hut, opposite Patrol Headquarters (PHQ) at the top of Chair 4.
• Participants should arrive 15 minutes early for both, to sign a liability release form.
4. Make time for the public art
• Vail is liberally sprinkled with public art displays. You can find ice sculptures, some lit up by coloured lamps inside them, and stone rebuses (picture or symbol word puzzles) dotted throughout Vail Village.
• Guests can join free guided, weekly art walks to explore them. They begin at 3.30pm each Wednesday from the Vail Village Welcome Centre
5. Dine at Game Creek Restaurant
• For a really special dinner experience, Vail’s breathtakingly-situated Game Creek Restaurant takes some beating. Reserved for the exclusive use of Game Creek Club members at lunchtime, it opens to the public for dinner and serves up fine-dining American cuisine.
• Overlooking Game Creek Bowl, the European chalet-style restaurant can only be accessed in winter by gondola and then a snowcat ride.
• Winter opening hours are 5.30pm-9pm, Tuesday to Saturday.
6. Hop on a shuttle
• The Colorado Mountain Express shuttle service, owned by Vail Resorts, operates hourly scheduled group minivan and private SUV transfers, with free Wi-Fi, from Denver’s international airport, taking just under two hours for the journey.
7. Indulge in microbrews
• Sample the craft brews of new microbrewery Vail Brewing Company, which opened its doors in April 2015 on Route 6 with six hand-crafted ales and lagers on tap, made with mountain-fed water.
• You can also join a Vail Area craft beer tour with Vail Valley Food Tours, visiting Vail Brewing Company and several other microbreweries with tastings at each one.
8. Beware the altitude
• Vail’s elevation is more than 8,000 feet and dehydration is exacerbated at altitude. So make sure you drink lots of water, especially if you hit the après-ski bars or go out partying. You don’t want a surprise hangover to spoil your skiing or boarding next day!
• Don’t overexert yourself, either, particularly if you go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, or plan to ski off-piste away from lifts.
9. Spot celebrities
• Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities. Olympic gold medal alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn hails from Vail and often returns to her home mountain.
• Stars come to town for events such as the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships and Vail Film Festival, which brings world premiers and nightly parties in April.