Vail is one of America's most famous and best-loved ski resorts. Located 100 miles west of Denver in the state of Colorado, Vail has the largest single ski mountain in North America, boasting a total of 5,289 skiable acres. Together with its neighbour Beaver Creek, which is just a 30 minute shuttle bus ride down the road and has a shared lift pass, it is unquestionably one of the top ski destinations in the United States.
The ski area has expanded massively from the initial runs that were served by two chairlifts and one gondola. Today there are 31 lifts, of which 17 are high-speed quads. The majority of the terrain on the front side of Vail mountain comprises well-groomed pistes ideally suited to intermediate and advanced skiers who enjoy cruising. As well as this you can get Vail's Epic Ski Pass, which opens up access to the mountains in the resorts of Heavenly and Northstar, allowing you to explore the Californian resorts during your stay.
Resort Altitude: 2,457m
Resort Skiing: 3,525m
Blue Runs: 57km
Red Runs: 84km
Black Runs: 93km
Vail’s slopes rise from 2,457m to 3,525m and are served by 31 lifts. Situated in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, skiers and boarders can enjoy 234km of long, well-groomed slopes. The lift system is fantastically modern and efficient, serving such a huge variety of trails that Vail would have to qualify in almost anyone’s list of the world’s 10 most impressive ski areas.
For skiers who enjoy skiing immaculately groomed pistes, Vail’s ski area is globally known as the best. The majority of the runs are on the front side of the mountain which has six main lifts. The shape of the mountains is such that a single lift will provide access to a far greater variety of runs than one would usually find in Europe. Although the front side of the mountain does have a few double-black diamond challenges, they are most notably found in the Back Bowls area around the Highline lift to the east of the area.
This is one of the few resorts in the world to have a special snowboard trail map showing which runs free-riders and freestylers are likely to enjoy and, equally important, flat paths they would do well to avoid. The Fun Park is spread over 12 trails, as well as hosting three separate half-pipes, one of which, the Tag Heuer, is claimed to be the largest half-pipe in the States.
There is only one ski school on Vail mountain and it is owned by Vail Resorts. With over 1,300 instructors it is one of the largest ski schools in the world. British visitors regularly rate the instruction here, which often incorporates video sessions and other state-of-the-art ideas, as significantly superior to that found in Europe. Children's classes are particularly highly praised and the fact that there is no language barrier is an obvious advantage. Standards of snowboard tuition are equally high.
North American childcare is usually excellent, with the added advantage of it all being English speaking. For non-skiing children, Vail Small World Nursery offers care for children two months to six years and are located at Lionshead, Golden Peak and Beaver Creek. They will also provide you with free parent pagers so that you can keep in touch. The Ski School offers many programmes in three stages – Mini Mice for three-year-olds, Mogul Mice for four to six-year-old beginners and Super Stars for the more experienced skiers up to six years old.
Vail has a large variety of restaurants on offer, with something to be found for everyone. Larkspur, at the base of Golden Peak, is a slick, contemporary American restaurant that uses first-class ingredients and has an extensive wine list. For the more budget conscious dining, The Red Lion serves typical American Burgers and Pizzas. Pazzo's is also a good choice for inexpensive pizza.
At the foot of the slopes in Vail Village is Los Amigos, a lively Mexican-style bar with a big sun terrace for use in spring. Along at the Lionshead base area is the excellent Garfinkels, a huge apres-ski bar/restaurant which has always had a tremendous atmosphere from mid-afternoon onwards. There is sometimes live music on the vast sun-deck and the Margaritas are first-rate. In Vail Village itself, the Red Lion is one of the resort’s original bars and it still has a great ambience today. It serves a variety of beers from Colorado micro-breweries.
Vail itself is a big, sprawling resort with plenty of shops – many of them selling designer labels – restaurants, spas, bars and cafes that are not just open but lively during the day. It is easy for skiers and boarders to come down to resort level for lunch in both Vail and Beaver Creek and it is also possible for non-skiers to get up the mountain using the Eagle Bahn Gondola, for a mid-day rendezvous, with the Eagle’s Nest complex above the Lionshead area of Vail being the most obvious meeting point.