“Not yet,” that was the response of my first ski instructor when I took a tumble, landed smack on my back, looked up at the bluebird sky, and said, “I’m just not very good at this.” Humbling is perhaps the best word to describe my first ski trip 16 years ago as a newlywed – at 26 I had never considered myself athletic and my inner perfectionist detested not being good at something, but this girl from Alabama (where we might get an inch dusting every other year) didn’t give up even though she felt like Bambi taking those first steps. With my fear at an all time high, my frustration nearing an all out hissy fit, what began as wanting to prove something to my husband, became something I had to prove to myself.
Now at 42, skiing has become one of my greatest joys in life and it didn’t come naturally, it came with practice and gaining confidence. In a society that puts great worth on natural talent, it is easiest to not try new things or bail immediately when they get hard. It is especially common in women, who often under value their potential and ability. The number one comment I hear over and over from women is, “I don’t ski, I sit by the fire.” While overly confident, first time male skiers tackle steep runs with the grace of the Tasmanian devil and brush themselves off to do it all over again, women are more inclined to opt out of the action completely. Why are we so often content with being the object and not the subject?
Having coffee in Vail with a dear friend who had recently conquered breast cancer, she affirmed many of the feelings I have about skiing, “It makes me feel so confident and able, and at this point in my life I’m so grateful to do it.” Skiing allows you to go places and see God’s beauty that without skis you would otherwise never experience. After a year of being on the sidelines, I can’t tell you the gratitude I felt being at the top of those slopes with my family. Looking out across those vistas, I realized I will never again take these views for granted or the ability to do something that makes me feel so alive, so confident, so happy.
Last year was the only year in 8 years that we did not go skiing because we were taking care of my dad. When my daughter got on the slopes she commented, “It’s like my body just knows what to do even though it’s been 2 years.” We talked about mind-muscle memory and she seemed fascinated by that. Isn’t it an incredible thing? How when you have learned something and done it in repetition over and over again, no matter the time that passes our minds remember.
As we arrived in Vail, my mind remembered it all, the magic of snow blanketed over the landscape, the warmth of a roaring fire, the rush of my skis hitting the slopes, the indescribable feeling as a parent to see my child conquering her fears, the vastness of the horizon looking out at 11,500 feet. I remembered it all and how incredible it all makes me feel. Any Covid precautions and safety measures are well worth this experience. And for me, life is too short to only sit by the fire.
Vail is not only the largest ski resort (click here for map) in Colorado but also the most charming, comprised of three villages offering an abundance of activities for the whole family. The biggest differences you may notice due to Covid are limited lift tickets so you must buy in advance, masks are worn at all times, only families together on the lifts, no indoor or limited indoor dining on the mountain with reservations only, closed communal spaces. Also masks are required while walking around any of Vail’s three villages. Other than that – wearing a mask, wearing gloves, social distancing and being outdoors are all part of the typical experience on any given year making it one of the more comfortable, safe vacations you could take during this time.
The main two base areas, where most restaurants and shops are located, are Vail Village and Lionshead. Golden Peak is near Vail Village, and also offers access to the mountain as well as a beginner ski school area and lift. Vail Village and Golden Peak are in walking distance of each other and a convenient shuttle is offered to all villages with frequent stops making it very easy to get around.
One walk through Vail Village and you will be spellbound. Imagine an alpine village filled with twinkling lights, cobblestone walkways, a variety of local eateries, adorable boutiques, and a covered bridge over beautiful Gore Creek which flows right through town.
It is a special place to ski with the endless options of runs to suit any level skier and 3,000 acres of Back Bowls that drape off Vail’s backside offering breathtaking views and challenging, powdery open terrain and drops that make for an epic ski experience.
Then there’s Blue Sky Basin, truly another planet in comparison to the bustling slopes in Vail. The lift lines to get there from the Back Bowls can be long even during Covid times, but once you arrive in the 645 acres of virtually untouched wilderness, you will feel as if you are the only one skiing. The silence is beautiful as you make your way down the basin. The soft powdery slopes are void of heavy traffic and icy patches. It is as if you are skiing through clouds and the only sounds you hear are the beating of your heart and snowflakes dropping among the pines. Blue Sky Basin is the ideal skiing experience for intermediate and advanced skiers.
Where To Stay
The Arrabelle Vail – Absolute luxury in the heart of Lionshead, this ski in/ski out property is one of the best hotels I’ve ever experienced. Our every need or want was taken care of without us having to lift a finger. From the friendly, attentive valets to the polite, professional reservation desk, when you interact with the staff at the Arrabelle there is no doubt you are at a 5 star resort. The rooms are exceptional and huge, ours even came equipped with a large balcony overlooking the slopes where we got to enjoy morning coffee and sunrise, and where my daughter made a miniature snowman on the ledge.
Breakfast for two was included in the stay and could be enjoyed in the hotel’s restaurant, ‘to go’, or in the room. The options included avocado toast, breakfast burrito, pancakes, and more accompanied by fresh fruit juices, fresh fruit, and pastries.
One of our favorite parts of the Arrabelle was the large heated pool and hot tub where we would enjoy apres ski or a night swim even on snowy nights. Due to Covid each family must make reservations and the reservations are for an hour and a half. The pool deck overlooks the ski slopes at Lionshead making for gorgeous views and fun people watching. We even enjoyed seeing night skiers in the distance and snowmobiles winding their way through the runs.
If you are traveling with pets, the Arrabelle creates a travel experience for your pups that will have you enviousness. Their own beds, homemade treats, and the valets will even walk your dog throughout the day while you enjoy the slopes. Our Pomeranians gave it four paws up.
Rock Resorts Spa at Arrabelle Vail is world class in every way. I made my reservations weeks in advance and I am so glad I did, because of Covid they are only taking limited appointments. After several days of skiing, a massage was an incredible gift to my sore muscles. This massage was the best I’ve ever had. I could see where this spa would be reason enough alone to travel to Vail. And being as to how I had the place to myself, everything felt very safe and clean. Due to Covid they do ask that you keep your mask on. Currently they are not offering facials, only massages and body treatments.
Gravity Haus – Due to our longer stay we had the opportunity to also experience the brand new Gravity Haus. This newly renovated property that was formerly Vail Mountain Lodge remains a gem in this snow globe village. I love the convenience and the home like feel of this property. Maybe it is because it was the first place we ever stayed in Vail as a family or maybe it is because the staff is so friendly, but it remains an all time favorite at an affordable price. Located in walking distance to both Golden Peak base and Vail Village base, Gravity Haus sets the tone for a hospitable and memorable vacation.
Rooms feature private fireplaces and deep soaking tubs. Gore Creek runs right behind the lodge offering walking and running trails that are private and serene. Two whirlpools, which right now are hour only reservations only per family, overlook Gore Creek creating an ideal place to relax after a day on the slopes to enjoy sunset. With the hotel being pet friendly, the trails along Gore Creek offer a great opportunity to take your pups on walks throughout the day and enjoy he snow!
Perhaps one of the most alluring features of the hotel is Dryland Fitness and Spa offering a full service spa, the best athletic club in Vail, and fitness and yoga classes throughout each week.
But it doesn’t stop there, the lodge’s restaurant Slope Room is one of the best restaurants in Colorado offering incredible farm to table dishes as well as plant based options. Slope Room serves locally sourced dishes featuring free-range meat and poultry, mountain trout, vegetables from local markets, and housemade cocktails and mocktails.
Where To Eat
La Tour – Perhaps one of the most innovative and stylish ways to dine Covid style, La Tour’s chef had the bright idea to offer patrons ‘crystal cabins’ to dine in lining the outside of the restaurant. Your very own personal snow globe to enjoy one of Vail’s best restaurants. La Tour’s food never disappoints offering classic French dishes like Sole Meuniere, Chicken Paillard, and escargot as well as the best oysters on the half shell. Looking for more plant based options? Just ask and the kitchen will work its magic. I also got to sip one of the most delicious mocktails with my daughter I’ve ever had – a fresh blend of pureed berries, citrus and mint, a house specialty.
Moe’s Original Bar B Que – A trip to Vail would not be complete without paying homage to these Bama boys. Moe’s Bar B Que now with locations throughout the Southeast actually originated in Vail. Moe’s Bar B Que in Lionshead is just steps away from Vail Mountain and the food is consistently spot on. Grab a Bar B Que Shrimp sandwich or chicken wings with a side of collards and get comfortable to watch your favorite sports team with fellow fans.
Slope Room – As above, one of the best restaurants in Colorado. Our meal was nothing short of spectacular and worth every penny. Without a doubt the best meal I’ve had in over a year and one of the only indoor meals I’ve had in recent times. Everything was not only delicious, but felt very safe and comfortable.
Vintage – Another excellent French restaurant in Vail where you are guaranteed an incredible meal. Make sure to make reservations in advance.
El Segundo – An excellent Mexican restaurant located in the heart if Vail Village. Fantastic tacos in so many flavor combinations and good cocktails and cocktails.
Mountain Standard – Sister restaurant to the popular Sweet Basil, Mountain Standard quickly gained a following. Enjoy an innovative menu in a relaxed tavern setting. The majority of Mountain Standard’s menu is prepared via the most primal cooking method, over an open and live wood fire. The only restaurant in the valley to devote themselves to this age-old way of cooking, the food has rustic, bold and honest flavors, focusing on the purest ingredients in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. Try the Buttered King Crab, also their raw bar selection is fantastic, for the main course enjoy the Corned Pork Shank, Rocky Mountain Trout with lump blue crab, or Kobe Bavette Steak Frites.
Matsuhisa – Celebrity Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Vail outpost of Matsuhisa is a melt in your experience. Order the “Omakase” tasting menu and let the chef do all the deciding. Prepare to spend between $75 to $100 per person, but it’s worth it.
Larkspur – Located at the base of Golden Peak lift, Larkspur is an excellent place to take a break and have a nice lunch or enjoy an apres ski. Enjoy Shigoku Oysters, Angel’s Cognac Cured Salmon, Hominy Chili, Kale Chiffonade, and an excellent burger.
El Sabor – Affordable, delicious Mexican cuisine and one of our favorite places to grab a casual bite to eat. In a town where food will put a dent in your pocketbook, El Sabor offers great food at a great price so you can splurge on other meals.
Columbine Bakery – Off the beaten path in Avon, we stumbled upon this bakery and were so charmed that we visited twice. Decadent pastries like French Hearts and croissants of various flavors as well as homemade soups and sandwiches for lunch. It was nice to escape the more touristy places and discover a family owned business where locals frequent. We even brought some French Hearts home, although they didn’t last very long.
Where To Shop
Gorsuch – When it didn’t seem children were in their future, Renie Cox and David Gorsuch got a dog and started a business. What started as tuning skis in their dorm room has decades later become one of the most coveted ski apparel retailers in the world providing customers with an exceptional experience the moment you step through the door. Gorsuch offers the most gorgeous ski apparel options and also the most unique finds like hand painted Austrian shooting targets and Mongolian lamb foot stools. A trip to this store is a must and you will also find puppies on the premises.
Pepi Sports – Packed with some the coolest, most fashionable skiwear around, Pepi Sports is a MUST while in Vail. Whether you are looking for that perfect ski pant or warm boots, anytime spent in Pepi’s is fun.
Vail Ski School – Taking your children skiing is a fun event for the family, choosing the right ski school so that their experience is enjoyable rather than frustrating is important. In basic ski school they will be in a large group, but if you choose to do the Ultimate Four your child will have a much more one-on-one experience.
Our daughter loves ski school and in past has done the Ultimate Four options where there are no more than 4 children in a class (and on some days it would be just her and another little girl making it even more like a private lesson.) However with Covid all classes are currently small and divided by ability and age. Throughout the years every instructor we have had at the Vail Ski School was incredible with the children. We have tried ski schools at other resorts, I was beyond impressed with how professional the ski school was run and how friendly and personable the staff was. If you have little ones or tweens, I highly recommend ski school. Our tween this year was ready to hit the slopes after a one day refresher at ski school.
Things To Do Besides Ski
4 Eagle Ranch – A sleigh ride dinner is a wonderful way to see the mountains. The drive from Vail to Wolcott is less than 30 minutes and very scenic. The team at 4 Eagle Ranch provide the exact kind of hospitality you might expect to find on a ranch – friendly, accommodating and down to earth. The fireside meal is excellent with options to accommodate different dietary needs on request. There is also nightly music. The sleigh ride overlooking the landscape of the mountains is a great experience for families or couples. 4 Eagle Ranch is so beautiful it is worth the drive just to see it.
Rock Resorts Spa at Arrabelle Vail – Treat yourself to a day at the spa and immerse in relaxation. After several days of skiing, a massage was an incredible gift to my sore muscles. This massage was the best I’ve ever had. I could see where this spa would be reason enough alone to travel to Vail. Due to Covid they do ask that you keep your mask on. Currently they are not offering facials, only massages and body treatments.
Getting To Vail
From points south a flight to Denver (DEN) is most often direct and typically a much more affordable option. You can get to Vail from Denver via the Colorado Mountain Express van service or rental car. When flying into Denver try to avoid a Friday, you will end up in weekender traffic going the same direction you are and the trip to Vail becomes much longer than expected. A beautiful plus to flying into Denver, the absolutely breathtaking drive.
Now that I can hear the swoosh of the snow beneath my skis, feel the steam from the hot tub, and taste a cold frothy NA apres ski, I do believe it is time to plan the next trip to Vail.