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|Where: Colorado, USA|
- Alpine skiing
- Luxury skiing resort
- Steady pleasant runs
- Large skiing area
- Fine dining and shopping
- Direct flights or 2 hour drive from Denver
Why visit Vail in Colorado?
Vail is a luxury skiing resort in Colorado, USA with direct flights from several large US cities and Canada. Probably one of, if not the most luxurious skiing resort with easy commute in the US. The views are not as breathtaking as in some other areas, but skiing is pleasant, with stable slopes without either too steep or too slow stretches. There is a large skiing area without or minimal crowds at the lifts, provided it is not a long weekend. Plenty of natural snow with just below freezing at the base, which makes it enjoyable warm skiing. Perfect elevation with just right temperatures. The village is also hard to fault, with plenty of fine dining, accommodations and shopping. The only problem in Vail - nothing is cheap.
Where in the world?
Vail is in Colorado, USA, 100 miles (160 km) west of Denver, just under 2 hour drive. You can fly to the Eagle County airport (EGE) which is next to Vail. There are several US airlines connecting Vail with large cities like Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York etc. and even direct flights by Air Canada one day a week.
Depending where you fly from and your preferences, you may choose to either fly direct to EGE, or fly to Denver (DEN) and then drive to Vail. The drive is not long, but it may become slow in a snowfall or on holidays, so you may be much more than 2 hours on the road. The Eagle County airport is more reliable than the Aspen airport as the field is not in a tight mountain bowl, like the latter. Therefore, there is less risk for a diversion or delays/cancellations than in Aspen, but still a higher risk than in Denver. You do not need a car staying in Vail, so if you drive a rental car from Denver it will be sitting in Vail for a parking fee. Overall, we felt that flying to Vail (EGE) directly is the best option overall.
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Vaccination and infections
According to CDC no vaccination is required in addition to the routine vaccination established in most countries (subject to your country of origin and your personal vaccination). There is NO risk of malaria in the country. Prevent yourself from insect bites to avoid insect transmitted infections. Some parts of USA are endemic for Lyme and other tick born diseases. Please see updated information for health at CDC site or health authority in your country.
Citizens of some countries can enjoy Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Please check if you can visit USA without visa here. In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier. Passport holders of other countries need to apply for visa well in advance.
When to go?
Skiing season is from late November till mid April. In early season there may be less snow in Vail than in the nearby Snowmass, which has a bit higher elevation. We were in Vail in February and there was no snow on the sidewalks and roads in the village but there was enough snow on the ground at the lift bases.
Where to stay?
The accommodations are built along the mountain base, loosely separated into two villages: Vail and Lionshead. There is also a smaller Cascade village. All three sites have their own lifts which are interconnected by the trails on the slopes. Many accommodations are ski-in-out or a very short walk to a lift or gondola. Some hotels (e.g. Mariott) that are few steps away from the lift have ski valet service at the lift. You do not need to carry the skis, just walk. There are also accommodations further from the base, on the other side of the highway. Shuttle buses run along the villages including the other side of the highway. We have not used shuttle bus to get to the lifts but we used it extensively at night, to get to the restaurants. Obviously, direct ski-in ski-out accommodations are more expensive, but you can look for deals knowing that evening life is accessible by the buses while ski valets can make it easier to walk to the lifts. The bus service may be an acceptable option in the morning if you stay further away from the lifts. We saw a significant drop in prices only on the other side of the highway. As always, the hotels are usually more expensive than condos for the same size of accommodation. Cheaper accommodations go fast several months ahead of time. When we were in Vail the hotel prices were noticeably higher than in other skiing resorts, but not double. This may change according to the demand. You can search for accommodation at the usual booking sites or at the official Vail site. We usually search for hotels at skiing resorts using the map option at the booking site. Expedia and many others have this option. We found that ski-in/out or short walk resorts in Vail were not much more expensive than those a bit further away, unless if you go on the other side of the highway. It made more sense to stay as close to the lifts as possible.
What to do?
The official stats are:
Total skiing area: 5,317 acres, divided into the front slopes (1,655 acres) and back bowls (3,017 acres).
Longest Run: Riva Ridge - 4 miles (6.4 km)
Average Annual Snowfall: 354 inches (899 cm)
Base Elevation: 8,120 Feet (2,454 M)
Peak Elevation: 11,570 Feet (3,527 M)
Vertical Rise: 3,450 Feet (1,052 M)
The official skiing trail maps are here.
Most skiing activity is on the front slopes. If you stay at the Vail village you first morning lift is either Gondola One or Riva Bahn Express. If you stay at the Lionshead village your first lifts are either Eagle Bahn Gondola or Born Free Express. Cascade village has its own lift that goes half-way of the larger neighbors. After you are on the top, you can ski across the mountain to change the lifts, as well as ski down on the back side. The front slopes have most of the kids' runs and easy routes. We found that the least busy area is usually around the Pride Express lift. The back bowls have some intermediate runs but mostly it is advanced skiing. The closest back bowl, Game Creek has easier intermediate-advanced trails. We spent few hours there without any crowds for several days. Skiing in the bowls is a different experience as these are real bowls with more than 180 degrees of slopes coming to one point at the lift base.
As we had fresh snow only one day during the week we used a combination of powder and carving skis. Only some black runs were left not groomed.
Shopping, at least browsing through the fancy stores is an after-dinner activity. There are many stores and most of them are on expensive side.
Snowmobiling is a winter activity you may be interested beyond skiing.
Where to eat
The restaurants are mainly in the Vail village. There is a range from moderately priced to more expensive fine dining. You need to book most restaurants in advance. Best strategy would be to select them before you go, and maybe book them just before your trip, at least for the first days of your trip. Our favorite restaurants for dinner were: Swiss Chalet, Ludwig's, and Almresi. For lunches, the restaurants on the slopes were approximately the same in terms of food quality. The key was to avoid crowds. We tried to have lunch a bit earlier, @ ~ 11:30. This way you have easier time at the restaurant and then empty runs when most people are having lunch.
As always, we have no affiliation with any booking companies or resorts. We simply share our experience and opinions.