I first strapped on a snowboard at 22 years old during a vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado. My arms were more sore than my legs due to the fact that I had spent more time rolling around on the snow, painfully pushing myself up off the ground, than standing. Even lifting my hand to brush my hair the next day hurt. In fact, even my hair hurt. I hated it and vowed to never do it again. But life has a sense of humor, and just a few years later I found myself living on a mountaintop just steps away from one of America’s top ski resorts: Vail. There was no escaping it. I was going to learn to ride that mountain and, while it took me five years and a change from a board to two sticks, I did.
Like No Place on Earth
Just off I-70 under 100 miles from Denver and at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, Vail Mountain has over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain. From easy-riding greens, blue rolling hills, steep blacks, and the legendary back bowls, Vail’s vast mountain has something for everyone. Averaging over 300 days of sunshine and 370 inches of snow, it’s no wonder the resort has defined itself as “like nothing on Earth.” And when you’re done lapping runs and chasing powder, Vail offers three villages--Vail Village, Lionshead, and Golden Peak--where you can kick back and relax. Vail Village has that classic European alpine village vibe and is home to many fancy boutiques and top-rated restaurants, all near Gondola One. Lionshead is close to the Eagle Bahn Gondola and offers some of the bigger shops--Burton, Patagonia, Northface. From Golden Peak, you can catch events like the Burton U.S. Open and easily access Vail’s Golden Peak terrain park. With heated cobblestone walkways and plenty to stop and see, Vail’s villages make for a perfect place for families to stroll around and explore.
The ski school at Vail is second to none for both adults and kids. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the investment if you’d like to stay on the slopes and out of the ER during your vacation. Putting the kids in group lessons might be the best decision you make. Some of the biggest family battles I’ve seen have been on the slopes where parents are anxiously screaming at their children while the kids are sobbing behind their goggles, leaving a trail of poles and skis and helmets and gloves. Leave it to the professionals and your kids are sure to have a great time.
The best runs and local picks are all up for debate (seriously, people get in bar fights over this stuff), but if you’re looking to have fun with the family (i.e., no crying) and everyone can make it down blues, here’s what I’d suggest.
From Vail Village, take Gondola One up to Mid Vail. Take Lionsway to Chaos Canyon. Chaos Canyon has three paths and Ricochet has two low to the ground “fun box” park features. The other two paths have banked turns and rolls. Take Gitalong Trail to Bear Tree and then the Lionshead Catwalk to Lionshead. Ride the Eagle Bahn Gondola up to Born Free. Born Free starts as a blue and mellows to a green. Take the Eagle Bahn Gondola back up and head down Simba. Hit up Coyote’s Escape and Den where you’ll find a twisting path through the trees and a ski-through tunnel. Ride up the Born Free express lift and take Born Free again to Cubs Way where you’ll reach Porcupine Alley for a ski-through A-frame and tree skiing. Take the Avanti Express lift and ski down to Mid-Vail for lunch and gorgeous views of the Gore Range.
After lunch, head up Chair 4 and lap the blues: Ramshorn, Christmas, Cappuccino, Whistle Pig. Swingsville is a green if your lunch hasn’t settled and you want to take it easy. You have a ton of options to get back down to Vail Village, Gitalong Trail being the easiest and Riva Ridge the fastest.
Easy Does It
If your crew is all about crushing the greens or if your kids are little, I’d suggest taking Gondola One to Chair 4, the Timberline Catwalk to the Sourdough Express Chair. From there, you can lap the wide-open greens like Boomer, Tin Pants, Sourdough, and Flapjack. Sourdough Express is a two person chair that takes a little while, but it’s really great for beginners learning how to use the chair. You can take a break at Two Elk Lodge (11,240 feet in elevation!) for lunch or a snack or a nap. When you’re done making your turns, you can ski Flapjack to the catwalks that will gently (and slowly) take you down to Vail Village.
The options are literally endless when it comes to skiing in Vail and half the fun will be finding your family’s cup of tea. Get a map and go in with a flexible game plan so you’re not overwhelmed or find yourself somewhere you’re not comfortable. Take your time. Take in the views. Afterall, there’s nothing like it on Earth.
Where to Stay
The Sonnenalp is a luxury hotel in Vail Village with 112 suites and 15 hotel rooms. The breakfast at Ludwigs is incredible and the Kids Club has great activities (like hiking or dinner and a movie) for ages 3-12. The spa and indoor/outdoor pools are also top notch!
Manor Vail Lodge, located at the base of Golden Peak, was voted the "Best Ski Hotel" in the 2019 USA Today Reader's Choice Awards. It's two and three bedroom suites are large enough for the whole family (and cousins!) to stay.
Off the beaten path a few miles form Lionshead in Cascade Village, The Grand Hyatt Vail offers 285 rooms, pool, spa, restaurant and free shuttle into Vail Village and Lionshead.
Where to Eat
Sweet Basil- Modern American well worth the splurge. Voted Colorado's most popular restaurant by Zagats survey.
Almresi for a unique, authentic Alp experience. Be sure to try the Zirbenschnapps (Liquor of the Alps)!
Bol- super spot for bowling and really good food!
Moe's Original BBQ- family-friendly downhome cooking.
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