First Timer's Guide To Skiing Vail
What You’ll Find There
Vail Ski Resort embraces a whopping 5,289 skiable acres, and 195 conventional trails are listed. The longest, Riva Ridge, is 4 miles long. There are three terrain parks, a superpipe, and a mini halfpipe. Thirty-one different lifts are scattered around the mountain, allowing skiers easy access to both faces. While there are trails for every level, 53 percent of the total acreage is considered expert level – lots of blacks and blues – while only 18 percent is for beginners. It’s easy to see why some first-timers hire a guide for their first day out to get acquainted with the immense layout and receive expert recommendations based on their experience and skill level.
The Back Bowls
This is what keeps many snow jockeys coming back year after year. It’s wilderness, it’s pristine, it’s endless, it’s challenging, and it’s some of the best skiing you’ll find anywhere in North America. The back bowls are a series of natural basins – there are seven of them (although some include three more, for a total of 10) – that comprise over 3,000 of Vail’s total skiable acres. They’re challenging, and they’re steep. Not for beginners. As an example, the Forever Trail in Sun Down Bowl descends a leg-jarring 1,850 feet. The entire area of the back bowls is not visible from any populated area, and you’ll hardly ever see a groomed track.
If you decide to ski the back bowls, allow an hour to get there. And bring a friend. This is wilderness, after all, and it’s never a good idea to go out by yourself. In the brilliant sun, the treeless terrain can lose all its definition, so wear polarizing lenses or glasses that are tinted rose, orange, or yellow. And keep in mind that most of the bowls close at 3:30 pm so skiers can get back to the village at a reasonable time.
Get the App
One of the coolest things about skiing the big Colorado resorts is the EpicMix app, released in 2010. RF technology is used to keep track of the vertical feet you ski each day, and it follows your movement across the resort by lift/gondola. Additional challenges in the app give you points and pins, and you can share them on social media or with other EpicMix users. Hi-res, on-mountain photos are snapped of you throughout the day, and they’re uploaded directly to your account at the end of each day.
For those rare moments when you don’t have skis on your feet, Vail Village is as quaint a mountain town as you’ll find on this side of the Atlantic. Built in the style of a European alpine village – think Zermatt, in the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn – the Swiss-chalet style architecture, sparkling lights, and pedestrian-only cobblestone streets (which are heated, by the way) provide a perfect setting for aprés ski. Browse the many shops for apparel, jewelry, housewares, china, and of course ski gear. Find a spot in a cozy café and sip a delicious latte, sample one of Vail’s great restaurants, or relax at a friendly bar and listen to live music. And don’t forget to snap a few selfies with the ubiquitous public art on display.
Get the Epic Pass
If you are planning to ski other Colorado resorts – Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, or Keystone – consider getting the Epic Pass. It also covers Park City and Canyons in Utah; Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar in Lake Tahoe, California; Afton Alps in Minnesota; and Mount Brighton in Michigan. Epic Pass gives you unlimited access to all 11 resorts for five awesome months of skiing. The pass even provides limited access to certain resorts in Japan, Switzerland, and France.
Here are a few more miscellaneous tips that will make your ski holiday easy and hassle-free:
With over a million and a half skiers visiting every winter, Vail is the busiest resort in the nation. So make your dinner reservations ahead of time, even if it’s mid-week and not a holiday. And if you drove to Vail and you’re departing on a Sunday, best to leave before lunch or after dinner. I-70 – the way to Denver – can turn into a parking lot.
If you’re flying, consider taking a van service or the Colorado Mountain Express from the airport to your hotel. You won’t need a car once you’re in Vail.
Get your lift ticket ahead of time, and online. It’s cheaper that way.
Be sure to call on your concierge, who can help you make the arrangements.