Vail

Vail, Colorado

Written by Karl Sander • Photos by Greg and Heather Burke • Last updated Oct 30, 2017

It’s one of the biggest and the baddest. It’s the model destination ski resort, the resort so many others try to imitate. It’s the golden child from a family of the most iconic destinations in North American skiing. It’s the one for everyone. It is, as they say, like “nothing on Earth”: It’s Vail!

Welcome to one of the biggest ski resorts in the US

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 snowsports 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 dollarand 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.

Take your pick!

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!! 

China Bowl is one the of seven back bowls Vail has to offer

The Mountain

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. 

Like “nothing on Earth”

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!

Riva Ridge: Vail’s longest run at 4 miles

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!

Lift Tickets

Single day tickets for adults range from $130 to $175 depending on the time of the season. For kids age 5 and up, they run between $90 and $115 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 for adults and $239 for kids, a savings of up to 35% off the daily rate. The seven-day Epic pass is an even better bargain at $659 for adults and $349 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 for adults or $459 for kids.

Elevation

Base
8120 feet
Base
Summit
11570 feet
Summit
Vertical Drop
3450 feet
Vertical Drop

Lifts

Gondola & Trams
2
Gondola & Trams
High Speed Sixes
3
High Speed Sixes
High Speed Quads
14
High Speed Quads
Quad Chair
1
Quad Chair
Triple Chairs
2
Triple Chairs
Surface Lifts
9
Surface Lifts

Terrain

Beginner Runs
18 %
Beginner Runs
Intermediate Runs
29 %
Intermediate Runs
Advanced Runs
28 %
Advanced Runs
Expert Runs
25 %
Expert Runs
Total Runs
195
Total Runs
Terrain Parks
4
Terrain Parks
Longest Run
4 miles
Longest Run
Skiable Terrain
5289 acres
Skiable Terrain
Snowmaking Area
461 acres
Snowmaking Area

Opening and closing dates

Season Open Date Close Date
2017/2018 11/23/2017 (estimated) 04/20/2018 (estimated)
2016/2017 11/25/2016 04/23/2017
2015/2016 11/20/2015 04/17/2016
2014/2015 11/21/2014 04/19/2015

Lift ticket and season pass prices

Category Age restrictions Price (USD unless otherwise stated)
Adult 13 - 64 $164
Child 5 - 12 $113
Senior 65 & over $154
Season Pass
(Epic Pass)
$899

Overall Rating

4.5 / 5 based on 143 reviews
Chase Michonski

Vail has a ton of wonderful terrain. I am super excited for this upcoming Winter to ski and enjoy the snow. Vails best event in my opinion is the Burton US Open.

Posted on Nov 20, 2017
Bruce Kabel

best assortment of terrain and best bowls

Posted on Nov 20, 2017
Creig Krier

Have been skiing at vail since I was 5! I can't wait to get out there and crush some pow! Please please please let me win the new pass!! It just snowed!

Posted on Nov 19, 2017
Kyle daly

Was way to big of a mountain to enjoy in a few days. Too many mountains and too many people. Probably my least favorite resort I have ever been to.

Posted on Nov 17, 2017
Jeffrey

Vail is really a one stop shop for a great family ski experience. I grew up skiing in VT and was blown away by my first trip to Vail back in the 5th grade. Since then I moved to Colorado after college and would often ski Vail with friends. Although it is a bit pricey and the traffic from Denver can be tough, overall the resort and skiing experience is top notch for all abilities!

Posted on Nov 13, 2017
Kimberly sorenson

It was awesome. I would definitely recomend it to others. I'm actually going back there in December and a few more times this winter because I just had such a great experience. Staff was very friendly

Posted on Nov 20, 2017
Christopher hessen

Busy during most of the season. The resort is pricey but a great time. Definitely worth a visit. Love the bowls and the variety of trails. Lots of restaurants and hotels around. It is a great ski town and easily walked.

Posted on Nov 19, 2017
Alfonso

Vail, is the best, the town is so family oriented, lots of things to do. but I want to win the package for mammoth mountain because is closer to home.

Posted on Nov 19, 2017
Grant Christians

Best place to ski. Great for families. Great program for people and kids with disabilities. Like nothing on Earth is so true. Usually gets plenty of snow for waist deep powder in the back bowls

Posted on Nov 17, 2017
Gustav Kinas

Vail was incredible. We went there for the 2016 season. While we were there the mountain just got dumped on the entire time we were there. They must have received upwards of 14" of snow. We had an amazing time being powder hogs, although the visibility was sometimes not as good...no complaints as fresh snow made up for it!

Posted on Nov 13, 2017