Travelogue – Vail, Colorado
I’ve been to Vail in Colorado a fair few times. The first occasion was with a mate well over 20-years ago, that was in the summer time. Two years ago I was there with the family on a ski trip, the time I got myself in a bit of trouble with a Russian mafiosi who tried to steel the other half. That’s for another day and over a few pints. I’ve had the odd day stop there as well, and then I was back there last week, albeit briefly.
So, a well overdue CA Travelogue me thinks.
Vail is the second-biggest ski area in the United States, and a very popular winter spot for travellers from all over the world. Stocked with more than 5,500 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain, it has also in recent years become a big summer retreat too with spectacular ziplining, canopy tours, and ropes courses, plus a boat load of hiking trails stretching across verdant Rocky peaks.
The Swiss-inspired town built to resemble a ski village in another continent is split into two halves. Lionshead on the west side and Vail Village on the east. Lionshead is more family orientated with shops and family-friendly restaurants at each end of the price spectrum plus the very cute circular Arabella ice skating ring which sits by the Arrabelle Hotel. Here also is the Ritz Carlton and the Vail Marriott.
You can walk between Lionshead and Vail Village in about 15 minutes. The Village is where it’s at for a top end restaurant scene and lively après-ski bars. The pedestrian streets are actually heated to just over 32 degrees Fahrenheit, even when it’s dumping snow. Very posh. Those streets are packed full of designer labelled shops. Who knew you could spend the same price on a small car as a ski jacket. The Sonnenalp, Four Seasons Resort and Tivoli Lodge are amongst the lovelier hotels.
Vail Village is also host to a whole array of concerts, events and tournaments. The annual film festival takes place in March and the renowned Taste of Vail in April. I was there for that a couple of years back. Go hungry.
Talking of food, and I often do, my three favourite restaurants in the town are Mountain Standard, a gastropub with a great menu. I’ve been to sushi restaurant Osaki a number of times, and that’s always been good. Then for Italian, the kid friendly La Bottega is fun and tasty.
Worth a visit also is the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, the world’s highest botanical garden. The Ford’s, Jerry and Betty, were long connected to Vail and locals credit the former President with first bringing Vail to international prominence. If Trump has the Florida White House, then during Ford’s presidency (1974-77) he was such a regular on Vail’s slopes that the White House press corps began called his home the Western White House. The amphitheater in town is also named after Gerald Ford.
With over 5,500 acres of skiable terrain Vail is one of the biggest ski Mecca’s in the world. 31 lifts, 15 trails and a base elevation of 8,120 feet rising to 11,570 at it’s peak. Vail particularly is known for their vast Back Bowls, which can be intimidating and very challenging to ski.
The hills are steep and visibility is not always the best, but ski rats are drawn to them and they are so much quieter than the main runs. Officially, Vail’s Back Bowls are seven in number – Sun Down Bowl, Sun Up Bowl, Tea Cup Bowl, China Bowl, Siberia Bowl, and Inner and Outer Mongolia Bowls. Some people would add Game Creek Bowl as an eighth.
Skiing is not the only pursuit in these mountains. Hiking, horse riding, fishing, snow-shoeing, snowboarding, tubing, ATV’s and hot air balloon rides can all be added to the agenda. I do love a bit of snowmobiling and Vail offers tour options for every skill level to explore at speed the beauty of Colorado’s back country. The other day I was very impressed with how good Sage Outdoor Adventures looked after us as we flew around their 7,000 acres at 10,000 feet.
Vail was founded by Peter Seibert and Earl Eaton, one a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division that prepared for alpine warfare in the area, and the second a uranium prospector who had grown up in and surveyed these ranges. In 1957 they ascended the mountain now known as Vail, came across those unique Back Bowls, and whilst no doubt rubbing their hands, hatched a plan and five years later this impoverished Colorado backwater opened it’s doors as a ski resort with it’s tiny Alpine looking resort town.
Access to Vail can be easy by flying into Eagle County Regional Airport, if, a big if, the weather co-operates. Denver International Airport is about two hours away.
Built as a faux-Alpine village by two men intent on adventure, Vail has come a long way in 50 years. Yet it is still for adventure the chief reason for coming here. The resort has skiing for all abilities and just about everything else on offer for the non-skiers year round