Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Vail, Colorado is home to world-class skiing, snowboarding and general luxury vacationing. By day, this cozy mountain town is alive with myriad international tourists ducking into coffee shops or whooshing down the slopes. By night, helmets and boots are swapped for a beer or two at one of the many local hot spots.
Vail is fast becoming a forerunner in green living, offering a frequent cycle of electric hybrid buses that drop passengers within walking distance of almost any local destination. Here, our picks for things to do in Vail, Colorado.
What to Do
Ski & Snowboard:
Tourists from all over the world visit the small, mountain town of Vail, Colorado to experience the world-class skiing and snowboarding. Beginners and professionals alike don snow gear and ride up one of the many ski lifts to fly back down.
Vail’s notorious, yet beautiful, back bowls are accessible from the highest peaks and take advanced skiers and snowboarders through challenging terrain. Novices can either stick to the well-marked beginner runs or enroll in ski and snowboard school. Daily lift tickets are a bit pricey, running about $170 per person (season passes are much more cost effective but slicing through the often fresh pow-pow on a sunny day in Vail is something that you will never forget.
Fancy an unusual adventure on your ski vacation? Try ski biking. On a mountain. At night. Yes, this is a real thing. At least, in the mountain oasis of Vail, Colorado it is. Ski bikes, by far the most extreme and unusual of the activities offered at Adventure Ridge on Vail Mountain, are a little bit like vampires here in Vail—they only come out at night and they are eerily fascinating.
These unique contraptions, made up of a bike frame with two skis strapped to the base, are guaranteed fun. Head up to Adventure Ridge just past sunset in a cozy gondola and watch as kids scream their way down slick, icy slides clinging for dear life to inflated tubes. Nightly two-hour ski bike tours cost $95 per person.
Enjoy the Nightlife:
All winter long, the quiet town of Vail, Colorado comes alive with skiers from around the world. But skiing is not the only thing this mountain town is good at: Partying here is second nature.
Start off your night off with a quick happy hour bite. Many local bars and restaurants host après ski parties for skiers coming directly off the slopes. Later, muscle your way through the crowds at one of the local hot spots (Garfinkel’s and the Red Lion are a few of our favorites).
For late night entertainment, stop by one of Vail’s many free outdoor (yes, outdoor—wear layers) concerts. For a warmer option, dance the night away at a club like local favorite, Whiskey Jack’s.
Wherever you end up, keep in mind, though, that the local mantra is “work hard, party hard”: If you want to do Vail like a local, you should spend the night in style but still hit the slopes bright and early.
Where to Eat
Gear up for a big day at Les Delices de France, a tiny French restaurant with a delectable breakfast and lunch menu and a pleasing array of fresh pastries. You may nearly miss the small storefront window behind sale racks of ski paraphernalia but upon entering you are rewarded with the mouthwatering scent of freshly baked bread. Sit on a stool at the long communal bar set up in the center of the small room to enjoy a well-balanced, perfectly portioned breakfast (“balanced,” of course, between the two essential French food groups: bread and cheese). Try the Brie Melt, a delightfully messy concoction comprised of a substantial slice of melted brie with French bread, apples, and walnuts for dipping. Pair this delicacy with a mug of piping hot coffee and you’re ready to hit the slopes.
Alternatively, head to The Little Diner for breakfast for a more laid back vibe and a hearty breakfast of eggs and potatoes. When you’re ready to break for lunch—without ever leaving the mountain—head to the The 10th. The restaurant, near all the popular ski and snowboard runs, serves up stunning mountain views and reasonably-priced meals (for mid-vail).
Finish your day by dropping by Elway’s for a light bite in an elegant environment. Named after Denver football hero (think Joe Montana caliber) John Elway, Elway’s boasts a quiet dining experience (and of course sports fiends can catch their Broncos games in the bar section). With over 350 selections to choose from, sampling a glass (or two) from their impressive wine list is a must. We recommend skipping the overpriced entrees to focus on the appetizers, which, pair perfectly with a glass off their impressive wine list. Their après ski menu offers an excellent array of affordable choices. (My top choice: the Rhode Island-Style Calamari, a creative twist on the traditionally gourmet bar cuisine—the the succulent tempura calamari rings and lemon-based sauce converted this former calamari hater.)
Where to Stay
Each condominium has a unique and cozy atmosphere that feels like home (only better). Every year since I was a kid, my family and I have vacationed in Vail, Colorado. And every year we return to the Antlers. Located in west Vail, the Antlers is a convenient walk to the shops, restaurants, and ski lifts in Lionshead. It’s smaller than some of the larger, full-service resorts in Vail, but this spot boasts comfortable condos, each with its own unique personality. It’s perfect for walking to the nearby gondola, offers on-site rentals and after a long day you can relax in their outdoor hot tubs or rent a movie from the front desk. (680 West Lionshead Place, Vail, antlersvail.com, from $280 a night)
Conveniently located near town, the Vail Marriott Resort and Spa offers comfort and convenience, all wrapped up in one luxurious package. Designed to resemble a European Chalet, the Marriott in Vail is, upon first glance, no ordinary Marriott. Walking into the main lobby, I felt like a (European) queen: My luggage disappeared to my room, my car was driven off to parking and my skis were checked. All within 10 short minutes. With nothing else to do, I enjoyed a nice meal at the newly renovated bar before heading into town for a drink.
The rest of my stay was equally easy—I hardly had to lift a finger to do anything (which, after a day of skiing, is an outright blessing). Instead, upon returning from the slopes, I could wander down to one of the four hot tubs for a relaxing soak. (715 West Lionshead Circle, Vail, marriott.com, from $450 a night)
How to Get Around
Vail is broken up into three main areas of town: West Vail, Vail Mountain, and East Vail. Its easy to get from one to the other via the ski town’s public transportation system, and within the ‘hoods themselves pedestrians have full control of the winding, cobblestone streets. Here is a quick guide to getting around in Vail.
Getting to Vail
From Eagle County Airport
The Eagle County Airport is located approximately 35 miles from Vail. Take the Eagle County (ECO) Transit‘s Gypsum line for a one hour ride from the Eagle Airport to the Vail Transportation Center ($4, one-way). Alternatively the Vail Airport Shuttle Bus offers door-to-door service and a slightly shorter ride (45 minute ride) for $49 one-way.
For those coming in from the Denver International airport Vail Airport Shuttle Bus offers door-to-door service to the Vail Transportation Center. Starting at $168 one-way, the 2.5 hour shuttle departs DIA every hour daily from 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. ($85 one way). From downtown Denver, head to the bus station to hop on the Greyhound for a similarly quick ride up to Vail for $12 (one-way).
Getting Around Vail
Eight Town of Vail Bus loops connect West Vail, Vail Mountain, and East Vail with frequent departure and arrival times, updated live by GPS to schedules displayed online and in the main Transportation Center hub. Vail Bus rides are free year-round. The main in-town route is the Vail Village/Lionshead loop, which stops near most big resorts and ski lifts. The times of operation for each bus route varies, but most in-town loops run from 6am until 2am. Skis and bikes are welcome on board.
ECO Transit provides bus service from the Transportation Center in Vail Village to Leadville, Minturn, Avon, Beaver Creek, Edwards, Eagle, Gypsum, and Dotsero. Buses leave every half hour and run from 6am to 2am. One-way fares range between $4 to $7 (bring exact change). Visit eaglecounty.us for more information.
Most hotels also offer complimentary in-town shuttle service, dropping passengers near ski lifts and bus stations. Visit your hotel’s website for more info. The Vail/Beaver Creek Ski Shuttle runs daily and offers transportation from Vail to Beaver Creek. One-way fares cost $5.
Although the astounding number of bike trails that traverse Vail Mountain are hidden under snow in the winter, bikes are a handy way to get around in the summer. Ride along Gore Creek to reach the main areas of Vail. However, keep in mind that biking is prohibited on many of the pedestrian-friendly inner streets. For more information about where to rent a bike, visit vail.com.
Header photo: Jon Resnick. Antlers at Vail photo by Antlers at Vail.