The Insider’s Guide to Vail

Vail Mountain carries with it a certain cachet that spans the globe—and for good reason. With more than 5,000 skiable acres, north-facing slopes that hold onto snow late into the season, and a vast array of ski/snowboard school offerings for all ages, Vail has earned its reputation. But it’s not just the mountain that makes Vail, Vail. The sheer magnitude of international visitors infuse the resort with a sophistication that can be hard to find outside of the cosmopolitan cities that sprinkle the coasts of the United States. The unique people that call Vail home (whether seasonal or year-round), fuse with Vail’s ski activities to make Vail, truly, “Like nothing on earth.”

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The Gore Creek Valley once served its place as the summer home for the Ute Indians. In the mid-1800’s, as settlers moved west, the valley became a hub of ranching and grazing land that would remain that way until the late 1950s, when a couple of young snow chasers saw the potential for something big.

After a long hike, breaking trail up Vail Mountain, Earl Eaton and Pete Seibert paused, took in the panoramic views of Colorado’s majestic mountain scenery, and realized its potential. They were the perfect partners—Earl, the local expert, and Pete, the one with ties to investors—and in that moment, the two set themselves on a trajectory that would lead to what Vail Mountain is today.

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Vail opened in the winter of 1962, with marginal conditions, one gondola, two chairs, and nine ski runs—all for the whopping price of $5 for a day pass. Unlike other mining-town-turned-ski-resorts in Colorado, Vail had the additional challenge of creating a town atmosphere for its guests, including lodging, dining, and off-slope entertainment. Resting much of its potential success on the fact that it was only half the drive to Aspen for Denverites looking to get some slope time, Vail continued its aggressive expansion in its first ten years. Its reputation was just beginning to take hold, so much so that President Gerald Ford, immediately enamored with the area, purchased property at Vail and made annual visits to the resort.

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Now more than 50 years later, Vail now has 31 lifts (including 2 gondolas), 193 trails, 5,289 acres of skiable terrain, and 3,450 feet of elevation from base to summit. The volume of terrain, quality of snow, and vast ability for skiers to get away from the crowds, make Vail what it is today—an epic behemoth of a mountain.

Because Vail has so much terrain, the best way to begin your experience at Vail is with a local-guide or with a mountain tour (free for any guest at Vail). Otherwise, you might find yourself lost and traversing for most of the day. Once you have your bearings, pick your spot on the mountain and make the most of it.

For beginners, base yourself out of Lionshead Village. This area is chock full of beginner (green) and intermediate (blue) runs. And even the most novice skier can experience high-life on the mountain by taking the Game Creek Express lift to the top. From there, rookies can ski Lost Boy along the ridge and see what views there are to be had at 11,000 feet.

If your skillset is lower intermediate, split time between chairs 3, 4, and 7. These lifts provide access to blue groomers and will maximize slope time in a smaller area. If you  want something  more advanced intermediate, Blue Sky Basin is a must. Gain bowl  experiences on runs well-suited to this level rather than full of advanced (black) terrain like in many other areas. Once comfortable on Blue Sky, head to the back bowls and check out China Bowl, the only intermediate area of the back bowls.

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Of course, there’s plenty of terrain if you are an experienced skier as well. The back bowls in Vail cannot be beat, with Mongolia Bowl being a favorite. Getting there is a deterrent to most skiers so there’s usually far less traffic and even on busy days, fresh tracks can still be found.

<<Another really cool thing about Vail? They’ve committed to the environment and reaching a zero net operating footprint by 2030. Read more.>>

After being completely knackered from a hard-charging powder day, celebrate in Vail’s eclectic Village with some of the best après ski in Colorado. For beer fanatics, head to Vendetta’s for a casual slice of pizza and some Colorado local brews. For cocktails, visit Frost at The Sebastian Hotel, which also features a signature Scotch collection. A local favorite, Root & Flower offers charcuterie boards, craft cocktails, and more than 50 wines by the glass. Lastly, check out Almresi for an authentic take on European fare. The decor, food, and traditional euro cocktails, will make you feel like you’re in the Alps.

Featured image provided by © Jack Affleck / Vail Resorts

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