Weekend Getaway: Vail
Written by Alexa Owen • Aug 17, 2016
When life calls for the classic Colorado ski vacation, Vail answers.
This iconic North American resort, which has been spinning lifts since 1962, continues to attract skiers from across the globe. For those seeking the quintessential resort experience – manicured village streets, luxury hotels, and fine dining restaurants included – Vail is your mountain. As a weekend getaway, the resort offers an oasis of entertainment and relaxation – not to mention the most expansive in bounds terrain in Colorado.
Some say Vail’s best days are behind it, gone with the ski pioneers of the 1950s and times when rickety double seater lifts were a cutting edge luxury. But we say Vail can’t be blamed for capitalizing on prime location, expansive terrain, and a ski culture that just keeps on thriving. Vail’s 5,289 acres, seven back bowls, and sprawling intermediate terrain offer accessibility to skiers of all interests and ability levels. A well-oiled infrastructure is equipped to deal with Denver weekenders and destination ski vacationers alike. Bottom line? Vail is a ski resort icon, and its prime accessibility makes it an ideal weekend getaway destination.
Vail is comprised of four village base areas, the most popular being Lionshead Village and Vail Village. Modeled after quaint European ski towns, the pedestrian friendly downtown boasts a wide array of shops, award-winning restaurants, and elegant hotels. In the heart of winter, one could think they’re strolling through streets of a snow globe: it’s that beautiful. (So beautiful, in fact, it may drive you crazy to live there, which is why a weekend getaway is by far good enough).
Local Tip: One of the biggest misconceptions about Vail is the super long lift lines. If you go anytime of the year besides Christmas and President's Weekend, they're really not that bad. -- Sarah P.
Eagle County Airport services both Vail and Beaver Creek, and saves travelers at least three hours of door-to-door transit from Denver International Airport. Ten major U.S. cities offer direct flights at least once daily, and many more are available through connection in Denver. The drive to Vail Resort is just under forty minutes. Book ahead with a private taxi service, or check with your hotel about their pickup options.
Splurge on a flight into Eagle County Airport, even if it means connecting in Denver; you’ll gain an afternoon and won’t have to deal with possible road closures on the passes through I-70.
Ask the concierge about renting clothes and gear on site; some hotels partner with local shops that will deliver right to your room.
Most morning flights arrive by 1 p.m., offering plenty of time to relax in the afternoon (or get a few runs in before lifts close). The drive from Eagle County Airport to Vail Resort is under 40 minutes; check in with your hotel about complementary transportation, or book a taxi, limo, or shuttle.
For central location and European style luxury, stay at The Arrabelle at Vail Square. The old world style hotel is just a 2 minute walk to the Eagle Bahn Gondola and steps from the beset shopping, restaurants and nightlife of Vail Village. The guest rooms are plush and modern, the staff highly professional, and the ambiance cozy and elegant. Even your pet will get pampered at the Arrabelle.
Opt for contemporary American eats at Sweet Basil, a swanky Vail mainstay. Executive Chef Paul Anders develops a creative menu that blends fresh ingredients with robust flavors to offer guests mouth watering New American dishes. You’ll bask in delectable mains like Colorado lamb t-bones with pickled habanero and ricotta agnolotti in goat butter and burnt honey vinaigrette. Enjoy (and book early).
Local Tip: Popular restaurants book up weeks in advance, but there are also last minute cancellations. Get your name in the books early, then keep checking in with the host to see if a better time slot is available when you don't get your first pick. -- Adrian E.
Drop into The Red Lion on Bridge Street for a drink and live music. Regional singer/songwriters like Brendan McKinney and Texas Brandon perform regularly; expect folk rock with country flair. What we love most about The Red Lion is its classic ski bar ambiance, which boasts elegant comfort and no further frills. Try one of their signature “winter warmers,” like the Double Black Diamond – an indulgent mix of Van Gogh double espresso vodka and hot chocolate.
Eat: Diners are officially cool (again), and in Vail Village that’s no exception. Walk two blocks to The Little Diner to breakfast at Vail’s signature joint. Owners Brian and Peggy Little use family recipes and craft everything from scratch. Expect diner classics like eggs benedict or the “ranch hand breakfast.” Split a breakfast sandwich for a lighter option.
Grab your gear from the ski valet and make your way up the Eagle Bahn Gondola, just outside the Arrabelle’s doors. Hang a left off the lift and make your way towards mid Vail and the Mountaintop Express Lift to get the best groomed laps of the morning. On a powder day, advanced skiers should hit the back bowls. China Bowl boasts the most open space; head to Sun Down Bowl for gnarly chutes.
Local Tip: If you get an early start, head to Blue Sky Basin in the morning. It's the best place to ski. -- Spencer R.
Redefine on-mountain dining at the ultra elegant Larkspur, which serves up shared plates like cognac cured salmon, as well as twists on classics like the b(L)t – Cherrywood smoked bacon and beefsteak tomato on sourdough toast. They’re located at the base of the Riva Bahn Express Lift in Golden Peak village.
Ski your way west across the resort to land back in Lionshead Village. De-boot and stow your gear with the ski valet before hitting the Spa at The Arrabelle. The 10,000 square foot space offers mountain views and eco-conscious products for all guest services. Alpine-inspired treatments include various massage therapies, manicure and pedicure services, and the new HydroFacial MD.
For a taste of authentic Vail après, stop by Garfinkel’s. The classic Lionshead Village bar is a favorite of locals and tourists alike – but be warned, it can be loud and crowded. Bar games like the shot wheel – which chooses your next drink for you – keep the party going. For a more refined experience, head to Sarah’s Lounge inside the Christiania Lodge in Vail Village. This quiet nook is perfect for a strong cocktail and mellow ambiance.
Indulge in haute French cuisine at La Tour, which continues to impress after 17 years of operation under chef-owner Paul Ferzacca. You’ll notice that Vail boasts an array of European inspired restaurants; La Tour is the one for phenomenal French fare. Start with wild Burgundy escargot followed by a Colorado lamb rack chop with goat cheese gougére. Save room for crème brulée flambée topped with grand marnier macerated berries.
Small and sophisticated, Samana Lounge is the best spot for dancing. World class DJs spin into the wee hours, and bartenders mix generous drinks. Arrive by 10 and opt for bottle service if you’re with friends. Not your scene? Troll the rest of Bridge Street, where you’ll find all the hottest nightlife spots in Vail.
If you didn’t get to it Saturday, be sure to cruise down Riva Ridge, the 4-mile long original Vail run that offers beautiful mountain vista views and perfect corduroy in the mornings. The trail is marked as a black diamond, but high level intermediates can hang. If late Sunday morning crowds set in, stick to Simba and surrounding trails at Lionshead.
For a new on-mountain dining experience, try The 10th at the base of Look Ma trail at Mid Vail. Dine in the cozy bar area on a cold day, or the expansive deck that overlooks the valley below if that Colorado sun is out. Parmesan truffle fries, savory French onion soup, and porcini scented quail are a few dishes on the modern American menu.
Vail is known for its shopping as much as for its elegant hotels and restaurants; bring your black card for the high-end boutiques. Before catching your ride to the airport, leave a couple hours to meander once more through the village streets. For couture western wear, stop by Axel’s, which boasts a beautiful collection of boots and belts. A favorite for unique jewelry and gifts is the J Cotter Gallery. Alpen Art & Antiks boasts an eclectic mix of work by contemporary artists and antique accessories.
Soak in the last of your weekend getaway with a skate around Solaris Ice Rink in Vail Village.