As one season fades into the next, there is something to entice everyone at every age in this Rocky Mountain mecca.
Visitors to Vail Valley will be amazed by the sheer beauty of this Rocky Mountain playground.
After our first ski trip there more than two decades ago, my entire extended family fell in love with the clean air, active lifestyle and the endless list of things to do. And we have returned time and again for family weddings—my brother was married in Vail, and I said my vows in Beaver Creek—birthdays, anniversaries and any other excuse we could think of to get back to this alpine paradise.
It’s so easy to do because, as one season fades into the next, there is something to entice everyone at any age.
No matter which time of year you visit, bring your sunscreen. With more than 300 days of sunshine, the high altitude provides a heavy dose of solar power to supercharge your stay.
If you’re not within driving distance, you’ll be happy to know that airfares to the region have become significantly more affordable since January 2006, when Southwest Airlines entered the market. For the most part, it is less expensive to fly into Denver, rent a car and head up into mountains via I-70. (Vail is 122 miles west of Denver.) Shuttle service is also available through several companies including Colorado Mountain Express for about $78 per person, one way.
The alternative is flying into the regional airport located “down valley” in Eagle. Each community has reliable free transportation. However, if you have the family in tow, or if you plan to venture outside the resort areas or into the back country, it’s nice to have your own wheels. (Read our Travel News article for current air deals or check out www.visitvailvalley.com for more specials.)
In planning your trip to this mountain paradise, you’ll first have to determine your home base. Each part of the Valley has its own unique charm and appeal, so your decision about where to stay will likely to depend on which activities are on your must-do list. You’ll also want to consider the number, age, budgets and interests of your traveling companions. These communities make up Vail Valley:
On the eastern end of the valley, this hub of year-round activity (named after highway engineer Charlie Vail) is one of the largest and most well-known ski areas in the country, if not the world. Locals split Vail into three neighborhoods:
Choose from lodging choices at various price points including numerous ski-in, ski-out options. The free town Shuttle service runs throughout the community and makes it easy to access Vail's many chairlifts or to visit the resort’s dozens of tony shops and restaurants.
Combining Old-World charm with modern-day luxury, this picturesque resort is situated in a gated alpine village, complete with an arts center, golf course, spas, and, of course, great skiing and biking trails. It's also very family friendly.
Another benefit of Beaver Creek's well-designed community is the village-to-village connection. Travel to nearby Bachelor Gulch or Arrowhead ski areas via chairlift or skiing and hiking trails.
You’ll find a range of options here for lodging—hotels, B&Bs, condos—and dining. Many of the hotels and condos are ski-in, ski out. We like the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa for its award-winning Allegria Spa and the ski-in, ski-out central location. If you want to spread out in the lap of luxury, look to East West Resorts for a wealth of slope-side condominiums.
My family stayed for three nights in the Highlands Lodge and didn’t want to leave the living room with its cozy fireplace and perfect view of the mountain. I can also recommend the Bear Paw Condominiums at Bachelor Gulch for great ski-in, ski-out access.
An additional benefit is the complimentary inter-resort shuttle within Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch Resorts. There are fixed routes with pickups at numerous stops. The shuttle circulates continuously while the ski lifts are running. After 5:00 p.m., you can call for a pickup, or to arrange a ride to the slopes, a restaurant or shop. (Tel. 970-949-1938; www.eastwestbeavercreek.com)
Just two miles south of I-70, and tucked between Vail and Beaver Creek, Minturn is a funky railroad town turned tourism-based community. Nestled aside the Eagle River, it’s home to a popular farmers market and several fun and family-friendly restaurants. (Read more about this quaint town in our Minturn article.)
Located at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain and 10 miles west of Vail, Avon offers more affordable lodging options—a good choice particularly for those who might want to experience multiple areas within the Valley. The Comfort Inn Avon provides a great value in a perfect location.
Here you will find plenty of shopping (including national big-box stores) and restaurants, providing an alternative to some of the pricier slope-side boutiques and eateries.
Check out Nottingham Park and Lake, a great spot for walking, jogging or biking, and ice-skating and hockey in the winter.
If you vote to fly directly into the Valley you’ll land in the historic ranching town of Eagle. Located 30 minutes from Vail and 15 minutes from Beaver Creek, it’s also a place to consider if you want to spend less on lodging and dining options. There’s the well-priced Eagle Ranch Golf Course as well as a high energy rodeo and the County Fair.
A friend of mine who lives in the Valley full time admits she heads to Edwards for a more “urban” experience. Check out the Riverwalk where you’ll find plenty of lodging options, wine and espresso bars, boutiques, restaurants, movie theatres and galleries. This hip environment developed as a bedroom community for resort employees and as a second-home enclave. There also are plenty of golf courses to satisfy greens fans.
Talk with any group of locals or regular visitors and you can generate a healthy debate about which season is best. Winter. No, summer! Bottom line: It’s all good.
In addition to near-perfect mountain temperatures, you’ll end the day exhausted after sampling the long list of adventure activities. There are scores of great hiking and biking trails. Go rock climbing, kayaking, river rafting, horseback riding or lift off in a hot air balloon. You’ll find top-rated golf courses and blue-ribbon fly-fishing streams, even Jeep and Hummer tours. (Additional summer activity details can be found in our Vail Summer article.)
If pure relaxation is on your agenda, check out the spa schedule at one of the many great resorts or hotels in the valley. One of our traditions has been “robe therapy” most often held at the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail Village. Translation: a leisurely lunch, followed by a soothing massage and then a good long “catch-up” chat with participating family members.
You may initially head to Vail for the world-class skiing and snowboarding. But consider the alternative winter play activities like tubing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, sleigh riding and ice skating. (Our Vail Winter article gives the scoop on winter resort news.)
There are plenty of cultural activities to further stimulate the vacationer’s enthusiasm. Check out the many concerts and music performances underway throughout the season.
Throughout the year there are various festivals, markets, great restaurants and shopping options to pique everyone’s interest.
Truth be told, my favorite season is fall. The crowds are thin and the locals have breathed a collective sigh of relief and cheerfully enjoy their hometown. As the aspens turn burnt yellow and orange and winter whispers its chilling intent, there is no better time to hit the hiking and biking trails and relax in uncrowded cafes.
With so much to do, you’ll want to visit in each season. And before you depart, you’ll be inclined to raise your glass and share in our traditional family toast: Hail Vail!
Baggage Credit from Vail Resorts To help offset added airline fees, Vail Resorts is offering a "Baggage Bailout" for skiers and snowboarders staying at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly this winter. Guests will receive a $50 credit when they book at least a four-day, four-night ski or snowboard vacation by Dec. 1, 2008 through Vail Resorts at 866-949-2573.
Very Vail Thanks for the great article on Vail. It has been years since I visited Vail but this article made me want to pack up and explore the surrounding areas for the first time. I had no idea the other communities had so much variety to offer. Thanks Lynn
Hail Hayes! There is, without a doubt, HEAPS to do in the Vail Valley - no matter what the season. Thanks, Lynn, for a great overview of a great travel location. And, as a local, I concur with your take on fall in the Rockies - lodging prices are as good as they get, restaurants offer 2 for 1 deals, and you can play hard all day in shorts and then don the fleece and warm yourself by the fire at night. No matter when you come, take advantage of the dozen of publications (and friendly local staff)at the Vail visitors center (by the Lionsquare parking structure) to give you the latest lowdown on events.