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A Beginner’s Guide to Skiing Vail, Colorado

Welcome to the beautiful Centennial State! I am not currently reporting live from Colorado — I actually skied Vail in college, but am so excited to be writing a guide for Vail today. I recently completed my goal of visiting all 50 states and am almost done creating travel guides for every state on my blog. Fun fact: This guide for skiing Vail in Colorado is my last post for the continental US… after this I just have Alaska and Hawaii to write about. Without further ado, let’s dive into the Colorado travel guide for skiing Vail.

Best Time To Visit Vail

Vail is a beautiful, sought out destination for families to visit year-round.  The summer in Vail is a magical time. Visitors can enjoy hikes through aspen-filled forests or enjoy mountain biking on trails or paved paths. Gore Creek runs directly through the town center and is a popular spot for fly fishing. Vail is also a hot spot for events year-round, including culinary-focused food festivals, headliner concerts, and world-class performances.

The autumn months bring along some of the nation’s best fall foliage (unless you find yourself on a New England fall road trip… THAT’S the best!). Hiking is also common this time of year, along with scenic gondola rides. As the temperatures start to drop, Vail Ski Resort welcomes its first skiers and snowboarders in mid-December.

Maybe I’m biased because this blog post is about skiing Vail, but I think this region of Colorado really comes to life in the winter months. Whether you enjoy the mountain life or not, there are a ton of recreational activities here, including snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ice skating. For these reasons, I think December – March is the best time to visit Vail!

best time of year to visit Vail

Getting There: Airport Near Vail

Vail Ski Resort is located near the town of Vail in Eagle County, Colorado. You will need a car to access most ski resorts in Colorado. The easiest way to reach the ski resorts is on a road trip. However, if you’re coming from out of state, you can fly into Vail as well.

Vail is serviced by two airports. Eagle Regional Airport is located 30 miles west of Vail, about a 40 minute drive away from the resort. You could also just fly into the much larger Denver International Airport, but it is located 120 miles east of Vail and will take 2 hours to drive to Vail once you land.

It is without a doubt more affordable to fly into Denver, but be prepared to drive a longer distance and pay more on gas. My dad and I opted to take a small connecting flight from the Denver Airport right into Eagle Regional when we skied Vail a few years ago. 

From the Eagle Airport, you can utilize the Epic Mountain Express to get from the airport to the mountain. The Vail shuttle  system is a very efficient way to access different parts of the mountain, lodges, restaurants within Vail village, and various hotels in the area.

Where To Stay In Vail

While there are free shuttles throughout the area, it’s nice to be close enough to walk to a lift in Vail. 

Pro-tip: Plus, you can drop your skis off the night before at the base when you’re staying close!

The two main areas for lodging in Vail are Vail Village and Lionshead. It will be extremely pricey to stay right in the heart of either of these areas. Here is a breakdown of 3 accommodation recommendations for budget-friendly properties, mid-range, and luxury hotels.

“Budget” ($)

I put budget in quotes here because Vail is very expensive to visit. Even if you opt out of skiing, the restaurants and excursions here are pricier than other parts of the US. Also, accommodation rates are quite expensive during peak months. You can save some money by splitting a large Airbnb with a group of friends in the area, or staying at a local motel.

One of the most affordable options I found during my research for this post was the Bunkhouse in Minturn, CO. For about $200 a night, you can stay in this hip, boutique hostel. Don’t let the term “hostel” scare you away — the Bunkhouse comes with free WiFi, complimentary coffee, parking, and quick access to both Vail and Beaver Creek Mountains.

Mid-Range ($$)

The Lodge at Vail is a mid-range property located in the heart of Vail Village. 

Averaging about $400 a night, the lodge offers condos and Chalets: exclusive slope-side rentals located just a few steps from Gondola One. Some of the chalets have 4+ bedrooms and can sleep up to 12 people — a fantastic option if you’re traveling with a group or friends or family.

In terms of amenities, the Lodge features every spa treatment imaginable, along with a 3,500 sq. ft. fitness complex. When you’re done with your workout, head to Cucina for live music and cocktails!

Luxury ($$$)

If you’re looking for an extravagant stay with the best location, the Arrabelle at Vail Square is the hotel for you. 

This 4-star hotel is just steps away from world-class skiing and is located in the heart of Lionshead Village. The hotel has 81 elegant guest rooms, a spa, and offers comforting meals at their Tavern on the Square. Room rates here average about $1,000 a night.

Bonus: Looking for something more secluded? Located a few miles east of Vail Village along the free bus route, East Vail is another option for more affordable accommodation and dining options.

Skiing Vail

What To Do In Vail Village 

Whether you’re looking for a craft cocktail at happy hour or just grabbing a quick bite with the family, Vail Village restaurants offer something for everyone. 

Pro-tip: Some dining locations may be closed on select days + holidays. Plus, I would expect waits during the peak season at peak times, so plan ahead by reserving a table or call.

Eat at Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil is one of Vail’s best known culinary destinations. It’s been a staple of the village since 1977 and offers something for everyone for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Address: 193 Gore Creek Drive

Visit Vail Brewing Co.

Founded in 2014, the Vail Brewing Co. is an indepedent craft beer brewery located in the heart of the village. It’s the perfect place to warm up after a day on the slopes and enjoy happy hour.

Address: 141 E. Meadow Drive, Suite 209

Shop in Vail Village

There are dozens of stores scattered throughout Vail Village to enjoy, including a Moncler and various ski and snowboard shops.

Skiing Vail

Lionshead Recommendations

Lionshead has old-world European charm and is a pedestrian-only village. It’s also just steps from the Eagle Bahn Gondola, your gateway to Vail Mountain. There are a few pubs in the area to enjoy for aprés ski or dinner including Bart & Yeti’s and Garfinkel’s.

Lionshead Village is also home to the most magical ice skating rink in all of Vail — the Alderhof Ice Rink at the Arrabelle; it’s complete with twinkling lights. 

Skiing Vail

Now that you know how to get to Vail, where to stay, what to do, and have a few dining options, let’s dive into the main reason why you’re probably here — to learn more about skiing Vail!

Vail Ski Resort is a ski resort in the western United States, located near the town of Vail in Eagle County, Colorado. At 5,289 acres, it is the third-largest single-mountain ski resort in the U.S., behind Big Sky and Park City. It’s most well-known for its back bowls, especially when the sun hits them just right — there’s nothing like it.

Everything You Need To Know About Skiing Vail: Lift Tickets

You should absolutely plan on purchasing your lift tickets in advance when skiing Vail as limited same-day passes are sold on site. To avoid tickets being sold out, I would purchase them online and in advance. ​​If you purchased your lift ticket 9 or more days in advance, your lift ticket will be mailed to your address. If you don’t receive your lift ticket before your ski day, simply go to the resort ticket window with your confirmation receipt to pick up your ticket. If you purchased your lift ticket less than 9 days in advance of your first ski day, go to the resort ticket window upon arrival.

Expect to pay $200+ for a one day lift ticket if you purchase directly on Vail’s site. As with most mountains, you’ll find the best rates if you ski during the week. Weekends and holidays are not only crowded but single day tickets push $270!

Pro-tip: If you buy an Epic Pass ahead of ski season, you can ski Vail for $90 a day and use the pass to get 20% off food and the shuttle system. This is the CHEAPEST way to ski Vail!

Ski Vail, Colorado

Everything You Need To Know About Skiing Vail: Navigating The Mountain

Now that you have your lift ticket and equipment (of course you can rent everything at Vail if needed), it’s time to hit the trails! Vail Ski Resort is HUGE! Much larger than any of the ski resorts in New England. There’s dozens of maps all over the mountain, but here’s the best game plan for a successful day skiing Vail:

Work your way to the back of the mountain first thing in the morning. You’ll want to avoid the lodges and main lifts first thing in the morning, and you’ll find the back of the mountain to be much quieter during the morning hours. Plus, the smaller lodges will be less crowded for lunch. 

Vail’s legendary Back Bowls are a MUST while skiing Vail. They get the best sun in the afternoons, so as you work your way back to the front of the mountain after lunch, you can hit them then. By the end of the day, you’ll find yourself back at the front of the mountain so you can enjoy après ski at the main lodges or a village!

Skiing Vail's legendary Back Bowls

Everything You Need To Know About Skiing Vail: Après Ski

This section could really be its own blog post entirely, but I have to cover it quickly in this guide about skiing Vail! “Après ski” comes from the French and translates to “after skiing”. It usually takes place in the late afternoons and encompasses all the entertaining, social, and musical activities you do after a day of skiing is done.

There’s no official dress code for the après-ski scene, although you do want to ditch the clunky ski boots.

I was too young to enjoy a proper après ski when I skied Vail, but my dad is no stranger to the happiest of ski hours and recommended The Red Lion as the go-to spot for après in Vail Village. There’s always live entertainment here!

Ski Vail, Colorado

Bonus Tips

As I wrap this blog post about Colorado, I want to provide two additional bonus tips for skiing Vail. 

  • Ski with a small backpack and pack sneakers so you can go right to après ski and can avoid a stop at the lodge first. Plus, Vail is so high in altitude, the temperature is constantly changing. You may want to shed a layer!
  • Colorado is known for its numerous iconic ski resorts. After a day or two at Vail, you may want to try a new mountain. Don’t want to change accommodation? No problem. Take the local bus from town for 30-40 minutes to nearby Beaver Creek for a day. 

That brings us to the end of this blog post about skiing Vail! Not a skier or snowboarder? No problem! Grab your skates and head to the Arrabelle for ice skating, book a dog sledding excursion, or cozy up in a spa. Vail truly has something for everyone, and I couldn’t recommend visiting more. Also, be sure to check out this ski resorts in New England post if you haven’t yet!

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2 Comments

  1. February 1, 2024 / 11:03 AM

    Thanks for the insightful guide! Exploring Vail’s slopes is a dream for any skiing enthusiast. Your tips on choosing the right gear were especially helpful, making my upcoming trip more exciting. Looking forward to hitting the pristine slopes and creating unforgettable memories in beautiful Vail, Colorado!

  2. March 10, 2024 / 7:08 PM

    So glad to hear my tips helped you plan!

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