About 97 miles West of Denver Colorado in Eagle County on Highway I-70 is Vail ski mountain resort, the largest single mountain ski resort in the United States. Although Vail attendance is high, the mountain is so large I never ran into lines at the lifts which is sure to make ski vacations pleasant.
Vail has three distinct mountain sections: Front-Side, the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin.
Vail village was built with an Austrian style which gives it a unique look for a Colorado resort. The two main villages have mountain access, the larger and central "Vail Village" and "Lionshead".
West Vail does not have mountain access.
Parking is available at "Vail Village" and "Lionshead" in their very large parking structures. After 3:00 parking is free.
Vail was designed to be navigated by foot rather than by car, so it is best to park and then walk.
A free town bus hauls people along the frontage road to alleviate any potentially long walks.
Vail Colorado is a wonderful ski resort mountain with a wonderful village.
Vail Mountain Terrain:
Vail is famous for its back bowls. They are vast which is great on fresh powder days as everyone gets a fresh line.
While moguls form anywhere the terrain is steep and skiers turn frequently, "Highline" is definitely Vail's premier mogul run. It's long and bumpy.
Trees and powder:
"Shangri-La Glade" by the Orient Express lift on the edge of China bowl is one of my favorite tree sections at Vail. To find the best line, follow along the top of the tree line and enter the trees later rather than early.
There is plenty of skiable tree covered terrain in Vail. For a more challenging run through the trees, try "Skree Field" and "Steep and & Deep" off of Skyline Express lift. These runs are more like narrow steep bump runs.
I found this to be the most challenging (and fun) part of the mountain.
Steep and Deep
Beginners and Intermediates:
There are beginner and intermediate runs accessible from almost every lift.
Magic Forest kids ski area. Kids, just follow the colorful bands around the tree trunk to follow the trail.
East Vail chutes: The "East Vail Chutes" are nowhere to be found on the trail map. That is because they are out of bounds, dangerous (people have died there), not avalanche controlled (bring an avalanche beacon and shovel) and known only by some of the locals.
These chutes have cliffs and hazards which mandate a local guide who knows the terrain.
The "East Vail Chutes" are accessible from the Vail lift "Orient Express" and the poma lift. Beware, a mistake will take you over a 60 foot cliff.
You can also climb the chute so they know what they are skiing down.
Do NOT ski it alone.
I have not personally verified the "East Vail Chutes" terrain and I'm only recalling what I have been told. [photo]
Minturn Mile: In addition to the "East Vail Chutes" there is the better known "Minturn Mile" which begins at a marked Vail backcountry gate and ends at the mellow town of Minturn (on highway 24/Main Street off of I70).
Its' actual length is closer to three miles from backcountry gate to Minturn.
Start from the top of Game Creek chairlift 7 (or also accessible from lift 3) and ski to the backcountry gate on the Lost Boy catwalk, down the seductive hill of powder (hopefully) till the trail winds along Game Creek (base of bluff), across streams, rocks, fallen trees and hidden stumps.
Eventually you get to a long a narrrow gully known as the luge. Be carfull here as it is narrow and there is little room to turn but lots of places to run into trees.
Also make sure there is a good snow base or this trip will hit dirt.
It eventually leads to Minturn or for some The Minturn Saloon.
Note that this is not within the resort of Vail and thus unpatrolled.
Vail can not help you here.
One bears the full reponsibility of this adventure. Go with a guide who knows the route and bring the proper equipment and avalanche gear.
See the Minturn Mile video
Vail Terrain Parks:
Who needs to focus on terrain parks when this mountain has so much terrain.
Boarding across this mountain is the greatest joy.
Snow Board Terrain Parks:
Fly Zone: Features an 18 foot superpipe, jumps and rails. This is the main boarder park located by the "Riva Bahn Express" (6) lift (left side of the trail map).
Flight School: This is an intermediate level park featuring a 13 foot half pipe. This park is located next to "Fly Zone" but has its own entrance.
Aviator Park: Located under the "Eagle Bahn" gondola on the "Bwana" run, this terrain park has small and medium sized features for those learning and transitioning in skill.
Sky Way Park: Located near the top of the mountain off of "Wildwood Express Lift" (3) and offers the low, close to the ground, beginner features to minimize the pain of learning.
Vail Apres Ski:
The Red Lion is probably the most popular of the Apres ski bars and often features quality live entertainment.
Los Amigos: At the base of Vista Bahn lift. From here you can watch skiers make their way down Pepi's Face run.
Vail has some of the best Apres ski bars of any ski area.
Garfinkel's: Located in Lion's Head Village across from the gondola. The deck has a view of the slopes. This bar carries apres ski on into the night.
Where To Eat:
Vail Village caters to all tastes from the high end to the cheap but good.
Vail Village is the larger town center and thus hosts the bulk of the restaurants.
Lionshead shuts down early with most restaurants closing their doors at 9:00pm. After 9:00 there is one choice down by the steps to the outdoor ice rink: Blue Moose Pizza.
Also note that Dominos delivers (970) 476-0330
La Tour: French 970-476-4403
The Left Bank: French 970-476-3696
Sweet Basil: 970-476-0125
Vendetta's: Pizza (served till 2:00am)/ Bar food
Montauk: Seafood. 970-476-2601 $$$
Blue Moose Pizza
A la Car grocery and restaurant delivery service: 970-949-4000
In 2008, A la Car represented 15 restaurants. Minimum $15.00 per restaurant. Hours: 5:00pm - 10:00pm, ~20% delivery fee.
There are two mountain base villages at Vail: Vail Village and Lionshead. Each village follows Austrian ski village and building design motifs.
It certainly lets you know you are in a ski village.
Vail Village and Lionshead offer a plethora of shops especially for clothing and outdoor mountain wear. Also don't forget the town of Silverthorne off of highway 70 on the way to Vail from Denver as it has an outlet mall complex which is sure to keep any name brand queen happy.
Panoramic Virtual Tour of Vail Village from the entrance at the covered bridge to the Vista Bahn lift.
(Series of 8 panoramic images of Vail Village best viewed in full screen mode)