Vail was the hunting ground and summer residence of the Ute Indians before the arrival of the white man in the mid-19th century. By the 1870s, the Gore Range was attracting fortune seekers as the news spread that its hills contained both gold and silver. Mines were set up and railroad tracks laid down to transport the precious metals. The Ute Indians upon their departure, allegedly set fire to thousands of acres of trees, resulting in the deforested area today known as Vail’s famous Back Bowls.
In 1939 construction began on Highway 6, running from Denver through the Gore Valley.
Construction on the ski resort began in the Spring of 1962, and by fall 1966, the Town was incorporated. Vail had the first gondola in the United States, along with two double chairlifts and a beginner poma lift, serving six square miles of terrain. Several restaurants, hotels and a medical clinic opened their doors soon thereafter.
By the mid-1970s, skiers from all over had discovered Vail, and the town had earned the reputation as one of Colorado’s best ski areas. When Gerald Ford, who owned a house in Vail, became President of the United States in 1974, the ski town made front-page news. Vail was soon recognized worldwide as the ski resort.
During the early 1980s, the area became known as a year-round resort. Golf courses and mountain-biking trails were added; gondolas and chairlifts began transporting sightseers instead of skiers; hot-air balloon rallies, tennis tournaments and concerts featuring everything from chamber music to rock became part of the Vail summer scene.
In the 1990s, a managed growth pact between the Town of Vail, Vail Resorts and U.S. Forest Service preceded the opening of Blue Ski Basin which added 645 acres of additional skiable terrain on Vail Mountain.
Boasting several thousand acres of meticulously groomed runs, this small Colorado town is one of the most well-known winter destinations in the country. Average high temperatures range between the mid-20s and the low 30s. And hotels and vacation rentals fill up fast. Count on booking your room at least three months in advance to lock down a semi-reasonable rate.
Vail has long been the most popular ski resort in North America and was also one of the first in the country to embrace snowboarders. For many years it held the title of “largest single mountain ski resort” with the twelfth biggest vertical, over 3,000 feet. There are three terrain parks, two smaller ones for beginners and intermediates, and one large full-featured version. To this day Vail Ski Resort still retains a stunning amount of skiing, nearly 200 trails across 5,289 “developed” acres served by more than 31 well connected and efficient lifts. Even these staggering numbers are unpretentious, since Vail chooses not to include many of its in-bound glades. In reality the skiable total comes in over 8,000-acres which would still make it the nation’s largest (at least until other mountain resorts merge and interconnect).
These dramatic stats do not stop at the mountain, with the most lodging options, most dining, most spas, and THE most of everything of any ski resort in the country. This makes it an easy vacation choice, and if you had to pick a destination without knowing anything about their skier skill, tastes, budget or desire, you couldn’t do better than Vail, which comes as close as any resort on earth to offering it all.
Vail is one huge but well-connected mountain, and its pedestrian friendly village runs the entire length of its long base, so long that it is divided into four “neighborhoods,” Golden Peak, Vail Village, Lionshead Village and Cascade Village, and all with direct lift service. Vail Village and Lionshead Village in the middle are the heart and soul, and have grown to almost connect with each other. Between these two there is wide arrangement of luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, spas, and attractions.
Vail has all the powder skiing you could want and more and most visitors revel in the user-friendliness and completeness of it all, with easy pedestrian and free shuttle access to an unrivalled wealth of shops, bars, food, entrainment, and activities. There is something so amiable about never having to get in your car or go to town and having it all outside your door. It is amazingly family friendly and Vail was way
ahead of others when they opened the mountaintop Adventure Ridge years before others started rolling out zip lines and outdoor parks.
Vail has one of the best and largest ski schools on earth, with an endless array of group, semi-private and private lessons and camps for every age and ability. Vail has not just one but two public ice rinks. They also have lots of things no one else has, like a special movie theater serving alcohol, cocktails and wonderful snacks and a bowling alley that does double duty as a lounge. Off-slope activities run the gamut from all sorts of Nordic, backcountry and snowshoe tours to nearby cat-skiing, hot air balloon rides and snowmobile tours. If you are looking for non-skiing amenities and activities, if Vail doesn’t have it there’s a good chance no other resort does.
There are a lot of great lodging options, including the Arrabelle which is the main slopeside offering in Lionshead. The Four Seasons is equally impressive, with standout restaurant and spa but is not slopeside but a short walk to the slopes. A great more affordable option is Mountain Haus with varying units and prices. European elegance and a more Alpine atmosphere is the awesome Sonnenalp. The Vail Cascade Resort & Spa in Cascade Village is slightly less fancy but self-contained with a great fitness center and spa, and has its own ski-in/out chairlift, a big plus. With so many buildings within the 4 areas of Vail, you are sure to find something to fit your budget and your tastes.
Facilities and service, from the recent 10-passenger gondola with wifi and heated seats to the grooming to the staff is exquisite. The selection of lodging options, both luxury and non-luxury, is larger than at any other ski resort on he continent, if not the world.
All the amenities is similarly vast with fantastic dining options at a variety of styles and price points, great shopping, numerous bars, après, clubs and everything else you could want. Work out a world-class health club built with professional athletes in mind – Vail has that and more than one. Did someone say Spa? You could try a different one every day of the week.
The bottom line is that there is not a US ski resort that combines so many on-snow options with so much in the way of off-slope choices, all user-friendly and reinforced by first-rate customer service and facilities throughout. In most industries being the biggest is not the same as being the best, but Vail makes a good argument that when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, this is indeed the case.
For lunch it is hard to beat the new and bustling The Tenth, one of the best on-mountain dining experiences in the nation, where you take off your ski boots for slip into some comfy slippers and enjoy a mix of Italian specialties and game dishes. Or take a 20-minute snowcat sleigh ride through the mountains to Beano’s Cabin for some mouth-watering expertly repaired Colorado dishes such as Rack of Lamb or Almond Crusted Rocky Mountain Trout.
There are so many good choices in Vail that most visitors can hardly scratch the surface but here are the various favorites in town: Kelly Liken | American Cuisine – Seasonal Menu; La Bogetta | Italian Classics and some Original Creations; Steakhouse | Flame or Elway’s; Larkspur | French Cuisine. There are so many to mention I will have to go over more of them in later posts.
The classic après activity is margaritas or cervezas on the outdoor deck at slopeside Los Amigos to accompany the frequent, colorful, and much clapped for skier crashes on Pepi’s Face directly overhead. Red Lion is classic ski town pub, Bart & Yeti’s the closest Vail gets to down and dirty local’s place, Pepi’s is a hit with the live music and Garfinkel’s as loud/wild/busy as Vail gets.