Vail Ski Resort Review

Vail, Colorado was built for skiing. It was back in the early 1960’s that the foundations were laid for Vail Ski Resort’s base village. Since then it’s grown and been adapted so families can truly feel at home here. The pedestrian friendly village is easily navigable and is right next to the biggest ski mountain in Colorado. Accessible to all, Vail is perfect for family vacations.

There are many things to love about Vail.  The terrain and lift system are extensive.  The famous back bowls provide great skiing for intermediates and advanced skiers. We love the fact that Vail is just off of I-70, so is relatively accessible from the Denver airport (just don’t try to drive it on a Friday evening or Saturday morning, when the rest of Denver wants to go skiing).

Although the resort is legendary for skiing, there are plenty of non-ski activities available as well, so quality family time can be spent on the slopes, trekking and cycling, or simply snuggling up by the fire with a hot cocoa.

Where is Vail?

Vail is located in Eagle County, a little less than 100 miles (157km) to the west of Denver and around two hours drive on Interstate 70 that runs east to west through the middle of the town and is the only road in or out.

It is now the largest ski area in North America and is surrounded by the White River National Forest, which itself is the US’s most visited. The forest has 2,500 miles (4,023 km) of trails. The average elevation here is 8,150 feet (2484 m) above sea level

It cannot be denied that Vail offers among the largest and broadest choice of skiing suited to all levels of ability.  The terrain is huge and widely varied with plenty of snow and great verticals. To make sure there is an abundance of powder, the resort works with nature by cloud seeding to encourage additional snowfall. The result is impressive – 366 inches (9.3 metres) of snow on average per season.

There is a large, efficient and modern lift system with 31 different lifts from which to choose. These include 17 high speed quad chairs and one gondola.  You will feel like you are taking high-speed lifts everywhere.

The resort has all the classic après-ski opportunities, including a vibrant nightlife and all the services to be expected, including takeaways, five star restaurants and fur boutiques.

Family Skiing and Snowboarding at Vail

Because the 2,140 hectare skiing area is so vast you will never need to ski the same line and will be discovering new trails, even after a full week of exploring. This is a joy for everyone from the most advanced skier or snowboarder to the newest novice.

There are three distinct areas for skiing. On the front side, which is usually crowded, are the cruiser runs and areas for beginners. Advanced skiers will aim for Vail’s back bowls as escapes from the masses. The Blue Sky Basin, which faces north, is full of backcountry trails with advanced terrain and opportunities for tree skiing.

The ski school at Vail offers about as money combinations as any family could want, starting for those skiers age 3 and continuing up to any adult age.  All of the lesson classes have the option of starting at either Lion’s Head or Golden Peak (an easy 5 min walk from Vail Village, at the bottom of Riva Bahn lift).  Most of the private lessons begin at the base of Vail Village.  Lessons in Vail are not cheap, but you will get quality instructors, plenty of terrain, and a good overall experience.

Other Vail Attractions

Most people come to Vail for the mountain resort, but as well as the ski and snowboard areas there are biking trails. Another draw for many people is the world’s highest botanic garden – Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, which showcases the diversity of mountain flora.

Visitors can also discover the best food the area has to offer on a specially designed Vail Village Food and Walking Tour. Tasting samples from local restaurants families will discover plenty of succulent culinary creations. Taking in farm-to-table restaurants and award-winning eateries, the 2.5-hour tour guides visitors through the food and its history.

Just a few other examples of diversions for all the family include day spas, sleigh rides, and galleries. One that is definitely for the kids is Vail’s Adventure Ridge snow park. Located at the mountain top and reached by the gondola, this sprawling attraction offers a huge range of activities including a snowmobile course, bungee jumping, ski biking, and snow tubing, which involves flying down a slope in an inflatable ring.

Those kids who choose the Curious Critters Ski School can learn about the area’s natural history from naturalists at the Walking Mountains Science Center.

The Ski Girls Rock program, designed by Olympic gold medallist Lindsey Vonn, focuses on small group instruction and female empowerment.

If you are interested in skiing the Vail area, don’t overlook Beaver Creek, which is literally just down the road.  It is a bit more private and posh than Vail, smaller but fewer crowds.

Getting To Vail

Fly in to either Denver International Airport, which is 120 miles (194km) away, or the Eagle County Regional Airport, just 35 miles (56km) to the west of Vail. There is a choice of transportation to Vail from both airports.  If you don’t want to head quite as far as Vail, you could turn off I-70 closer to Breckenridge, which cuts off 15-20 minutes from your drive each way.

Staying in Vail

Whether you choose to stay in Lionshead, with its good access to the skiing areas via the gondola, or Vail Village, where you are right on top of all the facilities, or Golden Peak, which is popular with families, you will be within a complimentary town bus ride or short stroll from one another. There is a plethora of hotels, bed and breakfasts and condos to suit most budgets.

Vail is full of good vacation rentals by VRBO — consider one of those (and find them here).  There are shops like Safeway so self-catering in a common VRBO neighborhood is not a problem.

For those who like to use their points from a chain like Marriott, there are a couple options in the Vail – Bachelor area.  One great value option that attracts a lot of families is the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, with its log cabin feel but the amenities of a 5-star resort.

For those of you willing to drive or bus to the base areas, you can stay in the West Vail area and save quite a bit on the nightly lodging.  Your commute to the lifts will be 10-15 minutes or less, and in return for a short commute you will likely have larger ski accommodations for less money.  It is common to get a nice 2-3 bedroom condo for a much lower rate than being near the mountain, but you will be best off to use a portion of those savings on renting a car.