This story originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
When three army vets and a uranium prospector founded Vail in the 1960s, they couldn’t have possibly dreamt that it would become one of the largest and the most storied ski resorts on Earth. As word spread and the village grew around the slopes, it was expressly designed to accommodate skiers, removing the hassles—and possibly some of the old-world charm— you’ll find in older Alpine towns. But its user-friendliness and approachability (even the streets are heated, so you never have to worry about slush or ice), huge amount of activities both on and off the mountain, luxury resorts, as well as family-friendly and refreshingly low-key restaurants, make Vail a bucket-list destination or a yearly pilgrimage for every skier or snowboarder worth their salt.
On the Mountain
There’s no shortage of rental shops in town—there seems to be a Vail Sports on every corner—but two specialty shops stand out. At Gorsuch, peruse a beautifully curated selection of top ski brands, including Bogner and Moncler, as well as rental gear. Outdoor Divas offers high-quality ski gear for purchase and rental, all exclusively for women. Owner Michael Callas has fitted boots for more than 20 years, and is an expert at finding the right boot for even the trickiest feet and the highest arches.
Hit the slopes
Skiing and snowboarding. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? With nearly 5,300 acres of skiable terrain, Vail’s seven—yes, seven!—legendary Back Bowls, three terrain parks and 31 lifts, you could spend days skiing and never repeat a run. Book a private guide for your first day to get a grasp on the staggering number of trails, as well as the best vistas for your Instagram. Looking for more adrenaline? Call up Paragon Guides and organize a private tour of the backcountry.
Not a skier? Most hotels can organize snowshoeing for you, or you can take in the sights at a much faster pace aboard a snowmobile or snowcat. Nova Guides’ 13-person snowcat takes you up the mountain in comfort and (heated) style, so you can enjoy the same stunning panoramic views as the skiers, just without the effort. If you want to head out on your own, rent a snowmobile and explore more than 100 miles of trails in White River National Forest.
We love… the Epic Pass
This season marks the 10th anniversary of the Epic Pass, which has expanded each year. In addition to access to all of Vail, as well as many other top-notch Colorado ski towns, the Epic Pass can take you Tahoe, Whistler, Park City and even Europe. Epic, indeed.
Game Creek Restaurant
After the sun sets, head back up in the gondola and hop into a snowcat for a slightly terrifying ride through the darkness to an unforgettable evening at Game Creek Restaurant. You’ll be rewarded for your bravery with superb service, an award-winning wine list and a fine-dining experience like no other. Indulge in the tasting menu and choose from dishes like butternut squash soup with vanilla, lobster and sage; quail with game sausage and sour-cherry emulsion; and a classic beef filet with Robuchon potatoes, truffle and foie gras.
A local institution for more than 40 years—it is so popular that its owners opened another restaurant, Mountain Standard, just around the corner—Sweet Basil is quite simply a must for anyone visiting Vail. The menu changes frequently and focuses on freshness and what’s in season. End your night with the hot sticky toffee pudding cake, which has held a spot on the menu since 1998. Make your reservations far in advance if you’re after a prime dinner spot; tables at lunch are easier to come by.
In summer, the idyllic location overlooking Gore Range is closed to the public and only hosts private events. But in winter, Larkspur offers one of the city’s most elegant dining experiences. It’s open daily for lunch and après; warm up with the velvety onion soup or grilled cheese and tomato soup, or share a pizza and a round of drinks with your group. On Friday and Saturday nights, those in the know head here for a sophisticated evening and dishes like strip steak with shaved foie gras and mushroom soubise, or yellowfin tuna persillade.
This cozy spot in the heart of Vail Village is family friendly, but still has the culinary chops Vail requires. Après with scrumptious fish and al pastor tacos or its famous bison hot wings and sip a cocktail with a name that’ll make those around you laugh when you order, such as Yes,We Have Tito’s, or if you’re a beer drinker, perhaps the Angry Dad, a shot of bourbon and a Budweiser. For dinner, head off the beaten path with the bison strip steak served with huckleberries and sauce Diane, or the local Rocky Mountain trout.
Image: Sweet Basil
Where to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton Residences
This two-story, five-bedroom residence has double-height ceilings in the living room; its sliding doors lead you onto a terrace with unparalleled mountain views, thanks to its prime location in Lionshead Village. Inside, the lower level houses three bedrooms and the main living areas, while upstairs has a pool table, games area, two bedrooms and bunk beds in the loft. Enjoy a private après on your terrace as you watch the day’s last skiers wind their way down the slopes. The modern, high-tech kitchen is perfect for a fun evening cooking at home, but if you want to send the concierge to pick up pizzas from Blue Moose Pizza instead, we won’t judge. The ski shuttle will take you to the slopes each morning, and friendly staff will load and unload your skis.
The Arrabelle Resort
Just steps from Eagle Bahn Gondola, the Arrabelle Resort is one of Vail’s only true ski-in, ski-out hotels. While you’ll find Bavarian influences throughout the village, there isn’t a better example than the Arabelle Chalet. Its sumptuous decor is far from traditional Rocky Mountain–chic, and includes crystal chandeliers, a marble chef’s kitchen and dramatic furniture. There are two master suites, each with a stone fireplace, so it’s perfect for a group trip. The wraparound terrace has a grill, as well as stunning views of the ice-skating rink, village and the mountain. Its location in the heart of Lionshead Square invites you to stroll around after a day on the slopes, soaking in the atmosphere and the buzz of excited skiers as they finish the day’s final run.
Six-Bedroom Designer Residence
Four Seasons Resort and Residences
This contemporary penthouse spans an incredible 7,743 sq ft. Each of the six bedrooms is decorated in an ultra-modern version of mountain-lodge chic, with a
palette of greys and natural materials. The centerpiece is the expansive kitchen, dining and living room, which opens onto a beautiful terrace with an infinity-edge hot
tub overlooking the mountain and Vail Village. While the property is not ski-in, ski-out, it has a ski concierge near Gondola One who will store your gear in high-tech lockers with air-drying features, and help you into warmed boots each morning. After a day on the slopes, head to the popular Remedy Bar for the bison flatbread pizza and the decadent Haute Chocolate.