Vail is a kind of Disneyland of ski resorts—and we mean that in a good way. With its glittering hotels, Bavarian-themed villages, and glorious, boundless terrain, it’s a skiers paradise . But for years it was viewed as a shabby cousin of the more glamorous Aspen, lacking that town’s electric nightlife and shopping sophistication. That’s all changed dramatically over the last few years as Vail has undergone its own renaissance, from a true ski town to a destination that’s beginning to rival Aspen in luxury. That’s thanks in large part to a wealthy international clientele from Latin America (mainly Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil) and an influx of celebrity visitors like the Kardashians. There’s been a mini-explosion of new restaurants, resorts, and stores, along with amenities like heated streets and state-of-the-art chair lifts.
And just this summer, Vail Mountain opened its brand new Epic Discovery, a series of summer-only attractions that include zip lines and roller coasters that seems to cement its new status as a year round playground. From luxe hotels to the best Back Bowl trails, here’s your ultimate guide to Vail.
WHERE TO STAY
Arrabelle at Vail Square
If you’re all about location, then Arrabelle, located just steps from the Eagle Bahn Gondola in the heart of Lionshead Village, is the place to stay. The resort has a distinctly European flavor—think traditional Old World Swiss chalet meets 18th-century German Biedermeier design—and has 62 guest rooms and 21 private residences that feature fireplaces and canopy beds. During the winter, you can roll out of bed in the morning, strap on your skis, and head up the Gondola straight onto the slopes. (And at the end of the day, you can glide off of the Gondola and head to Arrabelle’s signature restaurant, Tavern on the Square, for an après-ski drink.) If you’re looking for a tad more luxury—and seclusion—you can rent out the resort’s Game Creek Chalet, a four-bedroom residence nestled in the glades of the Game Creek Bowl 2,000 feet above Vail Village; it boasts its own private chef.
675 Lionshead Place, 970-429-5045
The Lodge at Vail
The first hotel to ever open in Vail is in the heart of Vail Village and allows you to ski right onto Vail’s main lift, Gondola One. It’s come a long way since its original incarnation in 1962 as a dorm for workers building the ski area: it now has a 7500 foot luxury spa, three restaurants, an outdoor pool with two side-by-side hot tubs and a gas fireplace, and your very own ski- and bike-valet.
174 East Gore Creek Drive, 970-429-5044
The Four Seasons
Unlike many of the other hotels in Vail, which have the vibe of European-style chalets, the Four Seasons feels more modern, with rooms boasting warm beige tones and gas burning stone fireplaces. The 14,000-square-foot spa, 25-foot outdoor heated saline pool, and full-time ski concierge and rental service right at the Gondola One chairlift make up for the fact that it’s a trek to get to the slopes.
1 Vail Road, 970-477-8600
The Sebastian Vail
Located in Vail village, this hotel is the essence of ski chic, from the world-class art displayed in every room to the cozy lobby and library (both of which have Game of Thrones like stone fireplaces and inviting board games.) You can warm up with one of their signature drinks (try the Alpine Monk, a mix of cognac, green chartreuse vep and cocchi di torino) at the Frost Bar.
16 Vail Road, 970-477-8000
If you’re prone to altitude sickness, fly into Denver and spend a night in the Mile High City to acclimate before catching the Colorado Mountain Express to Vail Mountain. You can stay at the luxury Art Hotel, located in the Golden Triangle district, which is like literally sleeping over in your own private art museum. (All the pieces are collected by former Denver Art Museum curator Dianne Vanderlip.)
The hotel has two galleries that feature works by acclaimed artists such as sculptor Leo Villareal, pop art painter Ed Ruscha, and installation artist Nancy Rubins, and the various contemporary prints, paintings and sculptures spill out into the hallways and even fill the guest rooms.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK APRÈS SKI
This is the place to head to if you’re feeling even slightly carnivorous: they’ve got hand-cut, aged USDA Prime steaks paired with mouthwatering bleu cheese butter or caramelized sweet butter sauces, Colorado rack of lamb, or the restaurant’s signature burgers (if you and your taste buds are adventurous, try their Colorado 7X Wagyu Burger, which is topped with roasted green chile and asadero cheese). This is not the place to watch carbs, either: you can (and absolutely should) pair any entrée with their decadent mac and cheese.
174 East Gore Creek Drive, 970-754-7818
This modern American restaurant has been around for almost 40 years (it opened its doors in 1977) but it’s still one of the most popular and elegant eateries in Vail. All of its dishes are made with organic ingredients and sustainable food sources, and the menu changes monthly: ahi Tuna paired with wild mushrooms and soba noodles and Colorado Lamb T-Bone served with seasonal ingredients like corn and borden’s squash are two mainstay staples. Pair your entrées with one of the over 500 wines, which you’ll sip at your table overlooking the spectacular Gore Creek.
193 East Gore Creek Drive, 970-476-0125
The 10th Vail
One of the newest restaurants to open on the top of Vail mountain, you can literally ski or bike into the elegant dining room for lunch. (If you’re feeling lazy, you can also just ride Gondola One up.) The food is a hybrid of European and Rocky Mountain alpine cooking: think quail with au gratin potatoes and roasted vegetables, bratwurst braised in local beer, and potpie made with pheasant. Sip one of their signature drinks—like the Lavender French 75, made of lavender infused gin, lemon, and prosecco—as you soak in the views of the Gore Ridge (it’s so spectacular, after a few cocktails you’ll want to go out and yodel). It’s just open for lunch, and reservations are strongly recommended.
Top of Gondola One, Mid Vail, 970-754-1010
Game Creek Restaurant
This restaurant lends new meaning to the adage that “getting there is half the fun:” during the winter, you have to ride the gondola up, then jump on a snow cat to get across Game Creek Bowl. But the trek’s well worth it for a gourmet meal—try the five-meal tasting menu, which includes sashimi, Gouda soufflé, lobster with buttery baby gnocchi, elk, and a passionfruit cheesecake—along with breathtaking views of the mountain itself. It’s members-only for lunch, but open to the public for dinner year-round and for Sunday brunch in the summer. Reservations are required.
278 Hanson Ranch Road, 970-754-4275
From the same owners as Sweet Basil, Mountain Standard feels more like a tavern, with a menu that includes shrimp and grits, corned pork, and a mouthwatering rotisserie chicken. If you’re a pescatore, there’s a great raw bar and signature dishes like Rocky Mountain Trout. Start with the coal roasted olives as an appetizer; you won’t be able to stop with just a handful.
193 Gore Creek Drive, 970-476-0123
The Kardashians caused a frenzy when they descended on this swank eatery/bowling alley hybrid this past April, but most of the time you can knock down your pins while snacking on signature dishes like carpaccio, fried chicken or bol burgers in peace.
141 East Meadow Drive, 970-476-5300
WHERE TO SHOP
Part boutique, part ski rental shop, this store offers designer ski wear from the likes of Descente, Fire + Ice, J. Lindeberg, and Toni Sailer as well as luxe fur ponchos and fox wraps to keep you toasty warm even in the most frigid days. If you don’t feel like schlepping your skis on the plane, don’t; you can pick up top-of-the-line equipment from Salomon, Atomic, Fischer, and more.
231 Bridge Street, 970-476-5206
J. Cotter Gallery
This jewelry gallery specializes in gold and sterling, but their signature work can really be found in non-traditional materials, like steel, rocks, wood, enamel and feathers, including some made by the owner Jim Cotter himself. (Sterling silver rings with bronze mask wearing a feather headdress are among some of the most eclectic items he’s sold.)
234 East Wall Street, 970-476-3131
Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren are both fans of the designer’s tailored jackets and trouser suits but you’ll find more items from her casual line and summer collection at her Vail location. (Think silk tunics, simple knit dresses, and equestrian-style jackets and pants.)
183 East Gore Creek Drive, 970-476-4809
You’ll find a mix of Western bronze artists, Impressionist and Western painters, a variety of antique furniture, vintage pottery, and Native American artifacts and jewelry at this family-run gallery, which has been in Vail since 1976. Our favorites are the wide array of animal sculptures, including Frenchie the bulldog and a lovable mastiff created by award winning sculptor Daniel Glanz.
223 Gore Creek Avenue, 970-476-1769
You haven’t really experienced high-end Vail until you’ve visited ski shop Gorsuch, founded by two former members of the 1960 U.S. Olympics ski team. You’ll find designer ski clothes, luxe cashmere sweaters, and an array of home and gift items.
263 Gore Creek Drive, 970-476-2294
WHAT TO DO
IN THE SUMMER
Launched this past June by Vail Resorts, Epic has turned the ski areas of Vail Mountain into a summer playground, complete with a mountain roller coaster, summer tubing, an obstacle challenge course, and a kids area that includes a kiddie zip line and bungee trampoline. Don’t miss the Game Creek Aerial Adventure Canopy Tour, a three- to four-hour adrenaline pumping ride which sends you careening across the mountain on zip lines going over 60 miles an hour.
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Vail was the vacation spot of choice for former President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty (she was known informally as the “First Lady of Vail Valley”) so it should come as no surprise that the world’s highest botanical gardens, located at 8,200 feet at the foot of Vail Mountain, are named after her. You can take a stroll through this five acre oasis, which includes more than 2,000 varieties of alpine plants as well as plenty of peaceful waterfalls and ponds, year round.
530 South Frontage Road, 970-476-0103
While Vail is renowned for its golf courses (the thin air allows your balls to fly through the air) they’ve also just opened up a championship caliber self-guided disc golf course on the mountain that allows you to explore the western edge of the ski area boundary. The course is family friendly, with some challenging parts, and you can’t beat the hilltop views.
Vail Mountain, 970-754-8245
Lunch with a Llama
If you’re determined to hike, it’ll be a lot more pleasant if you go with a pack—of llamas, that is. This half-day trip has you climbing up trails while a pair of llamas lugs your gear on their backs. Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain, you can relax with a glass of champagne and a traditional red-checkered picnic lunch. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can do a five-day llama trek that allows you to explore all the wilderness between Vail and Aspen.
IN THE WINTER
Ski the Legendary Back Bowls
Back Bowls + powder = ultimate ski day. If you want to avoid the chaos of crowds, especially around the holiday season, you can hire an instructor for the day so you can cut lift lines and find those secluded trails that haven’t been trampled on by legions of skis. Another, less expensive option are “Adventure Sessions,” where you’re matched with a guide and similarly skilled skiers
Skating at the Alderhof Ice Rink
You can ice skate under the stars in the evening at the stunning Alderhof Ice Rink, located right next to The Arrabelle in Lionshead. If you’re not too wiped after, ride the gondola up to Adventure Ridge for a nighttime ski bike tour or some nighttime snow tubing.
If skiing through fresh powder isn’t enough to get you to reach Nirvana, a spa treatment après-ski will. Try the Alpine Glow, a 50 minute body scrub with rosemary and sage essential oils, at the spa at The Arrabelle, or the Brew & Renew massage, which lathers you down with some of the Rockies’ finest ales, at the spa at the Four Seasons.
Try Nova Guides’s Top of the Rockies tour, which takes you through miles of open meadows and 360-degree panoramic views of four surrounding mountain ranges (including the Continental Divide) in the White River National Forest.
Camp Hale in Vail, 719-486-2656
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