Vail sits just less than 100 miles from the heart of Denver and 125 miles from Denver International Airport along Interstate 70. The drive takes at least a couple hours, but with winter weather and traffic to all the ski areas nearby, it can often take double that. Eagle County Regional Airport is closer, 35 miles to the west and only 40 minutes drive, but it gets less frequent, and generally more expensive flights. It’s also more likely to shut down than Denver, which is well prepared for winter weather and is almost never snowed in. Eagle County is served by a handful of airlines, but gets most of its flights from American and Delta. Denver is a hub for United and Frontier, and also gets a lot of flights from Delta and Southwest. In addition to usually being rather budget-friendly, Southwest is a popular choice because it doesn’t charge bag or change fees – both helpful for travelers chasing powder with skis or snowboards in tow!
Denver is too far away for something like a cab or Uber to be a viable choice, but there are several companies operating shuttle busses to Vail. Taking a shuttle from the airport spares you the expense of a rental, the cost of parking, and of course the potential aggravation of being behind the wheel on winter roads or in heavy traffic.
Colorado Mountain Express is a popular choice, offering door-to-door service from Denver International starting at $84 per person each way and from Eagle County Regional Airport starting at $49, with discounts for children and groups of three or more. Shuttles come equipped with Wi-Fi, and passengers are allowed three bags each, including a ski bag. Chartered vans go for $399-$919 per vehicle for up to ten passengers while SUVs go for $399-$679 with room for up to five. A chartered Mercedes sprinter van carries up to nine, and can be booked for $499-$1039 per vehicle. Shuttles depart Denver hourly from 8:00 am till 11:00 pm, and depart Vail hourly for the return trip from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm. At Eagle County Airport, shuttles meet each arriving flight.
Peak 1 Express offers online rates for door-to-door service starting at $74 one way per person for one or two people, and $64 per person for groups of three or more. There’s a 50% discount for kids. They also operate a discount shuttle to the Vail Transportation Center with rates starting at $65. Charter vans start at $499, and charter SUVs start at $399. Scheduled departures begin from Denver International airport at 8:00 am and generally leave every 60-90 minutes until 11:15 pm. Return trips start leaving Vail at 5:00 am and run every 60-90 minutes until 8:00 pm. For the return trip, your departure time will vary slightly depending on your location, but they’ll send you a text message the night prior to let you know your exact pick-up time.
A bus service called the Bustang offers an even more economical option, although it’s less flexible. It departs from the Denver Bus Center, not the airport. You can take the A train from the airport to Union Station, a ride that takes about 37 minutes, and then walk 3/4 mile to the Bus Center. You could also take a MetroRide city bus for a six minute ride between Union Station and the Bus Center. The Bustang departs Denver at 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm, and departs the Vail Transportation Center for the eastbound trip at 7:05 am and 8:40am. The ticket is $17 each way, so if those times match your itinerary and you don’t mind making the connection in downtown Denver, this could be a good option for you.
Some hotels say they offer airport shuttles along with your reservation, but in many cases that means they’ll book with one of these commercial operators for you. Still, that might come at a discount since it’s part of a package. Within the Vail Valley, however, many hotels do offer courtesy shuttles to get you to the slopes, or dinner, or wherever else you need to go.
If you have enough people or baggage for the added cost to be worthwhile, or if you’d like the flexibility of having your own vehicle, you can rent a car. The navigation is easy since Vail is right on Interstate 70. Google maps will work just fine, though since cellular data service may be inconsistent in the mountains you may want to download the maps ahead of time. Or, just follow the freeway till you see the signs for Exit 176 and Vail!
For visits of less than 90 days, Colorado recognizes drivers’ licenses from other countries, though you will need insurance. If your normal insurance doesn’t cover the car you rent, you can purchase it through the rental agency. Many US car rental companies don’t rent to drivers younger than 25 years old, though some will grant an exception in return for a higher rate. If you’re under 25, it’s best to ask in advance.
Rental rates vary depending on the time of year, the size and type of car you chose, and the amenities you select. In order to make sure you get the vehicle you need, we recommend booking ahead of time online instead of taking your chances walking up to the counter. For getting over the mountains in the wintertime, we definitely suggest 4WD or all-wheel drive. In most cases that will be sufficient, but during severe winter storms, the state may require chains. It’s usually their last step before closing the road, which tends to happen at the Eisenhower Tunnel on the Continental Divide and at Vail Pass. You can check the road conditions here (for your trip, you can filter the results to only see alerts for I-70).
In addition to winter weather, you’re likely to encounter traffic around the tunnel and in the Silverthorne area. The good news is that the trip is entirely on a freeway so you don’t have to worry about twisty and narrow mountain roads!