There is a place where trees stay lit, sweaters are almost always in fashion, and an apres ski next to a fire is part of the daily routine. That place is Vail. 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 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 maybe be long, 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
Austria Haus – Picture stepping into a warm, welcoming lobby with a roaring fireplace, a restaurant featuring breakfast daily, an intimate, spacious room with a private fireplace and beautiful marble bathroom, and a heated pool with hot tub overlooking Vail Village. Austria Haus is straight from a storybook with its white and red alpine look and the intimate luxury it is able to offer its guests as a boutique hotel with only 25 rooms. Plus being located right in the heart of Vail by the Gore Creek Covered Bridge, you can easily walk to all points in Vail Village or hop on the shuttle to get to Golden Peak or Lionshead.
The European style breakfast was not heavy on hot food but offered antipasto choices, pastries, cereal, and plenty of coffee and hot cocoa.
Perhaps our favorite part of the Austria Haus was the large heated pool and hot tub where we would enjoy apres ski or a night swim even on snowy nights. The pool deck overlooks Vail Village and offers view of the slopes. We enjoyed seeing night skiers in the distance and snowmobiles winding their way through the runs.
Vail Mountain Lodge – It isn’t many places you stay where within five minutes of arriving you meet someone that knows one of your childhood friends. That is exactly what happened the first time we arrived at Vail Mountain Lodge and it set the tone for a hospitable and memorable vacation.
Located in the heart of it all and convenient to both Golden Peak and Vail Village, Vail Mountain Lodge is an ideal place to stay. With 20 rooms and 7 condominiums, all rooms feature private fireplaces, deep soaking tubs and feather beds.
Gore Creek runs right behind the lodge offering walking and running trails that are private and serene. Two whirlpools overlook Gore Creek creating an ideal place to relax after a day on the slopes to enjoy sunset.
Perhaps one of the most alluring features of the hotel is the Vitality Center offering a full service spa, the best athletic club in Vail, rock climbing, and free fitness and yoga classes throughout each week.
But it doesn’t stop there, the lodge’s restaurant Terra Bistro is one of the best restaurants in Colorado and arguably the United States when it comes to plant based options. Terra Bistro serves locally sourced dishes featuring free-range meat and poultry, mountain trout, and vegetables from local markets. Winner of the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, Terra Bistro has also earned accolades from such publications as Gourmet Magazine and the New York Times.
Where To Eat
Bully Ranch at Sonnenalp – Step into Bully Ranch and settle into a cozy eating nook for one of the best meals of your life. From start to finish the food is cooked perfectly and the service is excellent.
Start off with a craft cocktail like a Jalapeno-Cilantro Margarita. There are Roy Rogers and Shirley Temple options for the children to enjoy with their steak or Mahi Mahi. Our daughter actually chose the Chicken Pot pie which was baked in a flaky pastry and without a doubt the best chicken pot pie imaginable. I enjoyed the Pan Seared Scallops with pancetta, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and sweet potato puree while my husband chose the Lamb Shank with wild mushroom risotto – both meals were music to our taste buds. Visions of this meal still dance in our heads. Weather permitting, Bully Ranch also offers a pet friendly patio to enjoy.
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.
La Tour – On our first night we had not made dinner plans and found ourselves wondering down the heated streets pondering where to eat. A friend recommended La Tour and when we went in, it was clear that the restaurant was packed and we might be waiting awhile. The Maitre d’ without hesitation said, “Let me see what I can do.” We did not have to wait at all, in just minutes he had found us a spot in the bar area and we had the coziest spot in the house and enjoyed oysters, escargot, and craft cocktails using seasonal ingredients and housemade shrubs and syrups. La Tour offers classic French cuisine with a modern twist.
Terra Bistro – As above, one of the best restaurants in Colorado. Consistently recognized by Wine Spectator and Gourmet Magazine. The food is mouthwatering. May I suggest the House Sprouted Quinoa, Smoked Rocky Mountain Trout Caesar, Salmon Tartare, Grilled Hanger Steak, Kecap Manis Glazed Salmon, and for dessert the Saffron Panna Cotta. The label OG2 means that approximately 90% of their ingredients are cultivated using certified organic methods. In their kitchen Terra Bistro grows their own quinoa sprouts. Their “Crazy Bald Head” Ginger Beer and Hard Grape Soda are brewed in house, and their whiskey is barrel-aged for the Old Fashioned Sour. Make sure to check out their ‘Mocktails’ for the little ones!
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.
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.
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 loved the Ultimate Four, and on some days it would be just her and another little girl making it even more like a private lesson. Ultimate Four is the best choice to make sure your child gets the most out of ski school while making friends too. In addition every instructor we 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 going to ski school, Golden Peak is where they will meet in the morning, although they may venture out with their class to Lionshead or Vail Village. After our Vail ski trip we now have a level 4+ skier!
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.