For years, it was the largest ski resort in the US. Even though recent combinations in Montana (Big Sky/Moonlight Basin) and Utah (Park City/Canyons) have since eclipsed Vail’s acreage, it remains one of the legendary names among international snow sports destinations. With something for just about everyone, from a wide variety of terrain to an array of off-slope activities and more dining options than you can shake a fork at, Vail has set the standard.
To be fair, the crowds it draws and the prices you can expect to pay are also like “nothing on Earth.” Especially during peak periods, like holidays and special events, the sheer amount of people can make skiing there a bit frustrating. Vail draws a diverse crowd, but that often includes folks who spend a lot of money on good-looking gear and then have no idea how to use it. Not to fear, there are plenty of quieter runs to escape the crowds for the more experienced skiers and snowboarders. While the prices aren’t cheap, there are ways to stretch your dollar and make the most of this killer resort. From top-notch ski and snowboard instructors to first-rate snowmaking and an aggressive lift transformation (they’ve replaced 10 of their 31 lifts in the last 11 years), Vail’s world-class services and facilities offer a good return on your skiing investment.
Vail got its humble start in 1962 when Pete Siebert, who fell in love with the area when he trained nearby during World War II with the legendary 10th Mountain Division, came back with some fellow veterans. Having seen the European resorts in the post-war Alps, Siebert recreated his own little European village with Tyrolian style architecture. Subtle nods to Vail’s roots can be found in trail names like Riva Ridge, named after one of the 10th’s most important battles in the mountains of Italy, and the on-mountain sit-down restaurant named simply The 10th. Siebert’s vision has grown into a big mountain – the biggest in Colorado and still one of the largest resorts in North America. With enough options on the slopes to keep you exploring for at least a week on top of world-class dining, shopping, and a lively nightlife scene, Vail is sure to please solo travelers , families, and groups… even the odd non-skier of the gang!!
Vail’s highest point is 11,570 feet at the top of Pete’s Express Lift (#39) in Blue Sky Basin, across the valley from the Back Bowls. Vail Village sits at 8,150 feet, giving it a vertical drop of 3,450 feet– the sixth largest in a state packed full of big mountains! The terrain includes gentle beginner trails, comfortable groomers, ungroomed tree runs, wide open bowls, and heart-palpitating cornices.
Vail sees a generous serving of 354 inches of snow in an average year and to help get the seasons started there’s extensive snowmaking. Vail’s front side and Blue Sky Basin are both north-facing, so the snow there is relatively well-preserved. The popular Back Bowls face south, and tend to be the last terrain to open and first to close every year as the sun deteriorates the snow. Its longest run, Riva Ridge, is 4 miles – enough to make your legs happy to get back on the lift for a rest!
When to Go
Vail’s season begins the Friday before Thanksgiving and runs till mid-April. This season, Opening Day is slated for November 17th. During the early season (anything before mid-December), only a few parts of the mountain are open unless there’s been an unusual amount of early snow. The extensive snowmaking on the front side means you can count on most of it to be open. However, the Golden Peak area often hosts race training camps so some areas, especially the Golden Peak Race run, may be off-limits.
While Colorado winters can be fickle and the weather can change in a heartbeat, consider visiting in February and March. January is still in the coldest part of the high country winter, while February and March are generally the best months for snow. By the time April comes, longer days and warmer temperatures start taking their toll on the snow, making it slushy and sticky in the afternoon and icy in the morning after it’s had a chance to refreeze. The resort will start closing areas off, usually starting with the Back Bowls… and you want to make sure you get a chance to ski those!
Single day tickets for adults range from 130 USD to 175 USD depending on the time of the season. For kids age 5 and up, they run between 90 USD and 115 USD and budding powderhounds age 4 and below ski and ride for free! Alright, they’re pricier than most other resorts but purchasing online in advance will save you money. If you’re well-planned, buying tickets 7 days or more in advance nets you the most savings, but even if you buy the tickets the night before, it’ll still be cheaper than the walk up price.
Visiting for a few days or more? Consider one of the Epic passes. These have the added advantage of giving you access to plenty of other top-notch resorts if you’re fortunate enough to be able to visit more than one per year. That includes Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, which are all nearby so you could make yourself quite a Colorado ski odyssey! (not to mention world famous winners like Whistler and Park City!)
The four-day Epic pass is 449 USD for adults and 239 USD for kids, a savings of up to 35% off the daily rate. The seven-day Epic pass is an even better bargain at 659 USD for adults and 349 USD for kids; if you end up wanting to ski more than your seven days, discounted pass-holder tickets are available for purchase. If you’re looking for more than seven days at resorts covered by the Epic pass, the Epic local pass is available for the same price and offers season-long access with only a few holiday blackouts. In case you were wondering, a full-up, no-restrictions Epic pass, good at 15 resorts with no blackouts goes for 859 USD for adults or 459 USD for kids.