Vail, Colorado

We love Vail because it has just about everything we want in a ski destination — good snow, lots of varied terrain, and a great town.  We have been incredibly lucky on our trips there and have always had fantastic conditions.  There were a ton of great pictures to choose from for this review, so it has a few more than others.

Lionshead, January 2011

Lionshead, January 2011

Stats

Vertical Drop 3450′
Size 5289 Acres
Annual Snowfall 366 Claimed / 366 Actual: Rank 25
Lifts 25
Trails 193
Review Date January, 2011 (multiple visits from 1979-2011)
Number of visits 7
Our Rating ★★★★★
Vail Front-Side trail map

Vail front-side trail map

Vail back-bowls trail map

Vail back-bowls trail map

Vail Blue Sky Basin trail map

Vail Blue Sky Basin trail map

Review

Vail is the most visited ski resort in the United States. It’s the kind of place that if you didn’t know better you would think was designed and built from scratch as the ideal ski mountain for the majority of skiers. Long, wide, tree-lined intermediate runs dominate the north side, and wide-open huge bowls are the primary feature on the south side. There are multiple base-areas with most lodging accessible slope-side or via a short walk through the town.

It takes more than one day to ski the different areas at Vail, so we don’t normally try to do a complete loop of the area every day. You could really spend a complete day doing Blue Sky Basin and Mongolia, or skiing the back bowls, or skiing the front-side groomers. Sometimes the best way to make a plan is to decide where you want to have lunch and work around that because it is too big to get from one place to another quickly

We usually stay at lodging close to Lionshead, so starting there we often hit the frontside groomers first, or start working our way over to the back bowls by hitting Game Creek bowl. If it’s a powder day we will usually head straight for Sunup or Sundown bowl and work our way over to Mongolia after lunch at Two-Elk lodge.

Note that if you are new to skiing Vail, you will probably spend a lot of time on cat track roads trying to get from one area to the next. Avoid that if possible by skiing from one area to the next on actual runs. It takes longer, but you will have a better time and will experience fewer crowds.

AiRung doing her Shawn White impression, Outer Mongolia, January 2011

AiRung doing her Shawn White impression, Outer Mongolia, January 2011

The good

  • Vail is usually all about the wide groomers, but with only 7 visits there and perhaps 15 total days, at least half of them have been powder days.
  • The 366 average annual inches of snowfall is above average for Colorado.
  • Being in Colorado, it’s colder and dryer than California so the snow surface is on average much better than we are used to elsewhere.
  • On non-powder days the grooming is 2nd to none.
  • The network of lifts is mostly up to the task of moving the thousands of daily visitors around, and if you avoid Mid-Vail and a couple of other hot-spots, you can usually ski right up to the chairs, or only wait a couple of minutes.
  • It is cold there in January, but we have found that it’s generally not very windy even during a snow storm.
  • The town has a great European feel to it and most of the traffic is on foot in the village area. There are of course great restaurants in the village, and we often have a late lunch at one of the off-mountain restaurants at one of the base areas before heading back out for a few more runs.
Vail Powder, January 2011

Vail Powder, January 2011

The bad

  • Mid-Vail lift lines can be really bad. There are 2 very popular lifts there that attract hordes of lower intermediate skiers.
  • The Mid-Vail lodge is also pretty packed at lunch.
  • Of course everything is expensive at Vail, which has the most expensive at-window lift ticket in North America.
  • If you are driving your own car for a day ski, parking is expensive and sometimes hard or impossible to find.
  • Although there are 193 runs, none of them are above tree line and there are very few truly challenging runs there for the hard-core expert skiers, so it’s not as “Alpine” of an experience as some other resorts are.
Sunup Bowl, March 2010

Sunup Bowl, March 2010

Don’t Miss…

We always seem to end up having our most memorable runs in Blue Sky Basin and Mongolia Bowl. Mongolia is usually pretty empty and less tracked-out on a powder day. Try to get as close to first chair as you can to hit the freshly groomed blue runs on the front-side. Riva Ridge after a fresh grooming is one of the must-ski experiences you should have.

Lionshead during a snow storm, December 2008

Lionshead during a snow storm, December 2008

Would we go back

We would go back every year if we could!

Game Creek, March 2010

Game Creek, March 2010

Back Bowls, March 2010

Back Bowls, March 2010

 

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