There is mid VAi (Vail Village along with Lionshead complex), West and East VAil. It has got so big that buses cart people around to mitigate the traffic issues. End to End it stretches about 2 miles now, and all off US 70. The mid section is the hub of shopping and staying in hotels. The outlying is the condos that owners have for use, or rental when not there. The whole theme of the shops are patterned after an Alpine concept. It is well done and the quality of the structures and the goods are top notch. The hope by Vail Resorts is to get the high wealth people come here and spend and stay. It works in good times. The shops are mostly all expensive merchandise; but why else did you come here? I counted around 150 shops and restaurants and some places to stay in the Village area.
Ski activity is the vogue here and the Vail village got its start that way. Now to make it a year round resort and condo sale area, they have bike and hiking trial in the mountains to boot. Some are the same, or side by side of the ski lanes. Numerous paths are carved out of the treeline, and the mountain looks a bit denuded. The draw is to ski,. bike, hike and the underlying goal is to sell condos and goods.
Vail Resorts has been developing the area since 1950's even though the wave did not get a big start until 1980's, then by mid decade all the resorts literally "died". I was a part of the Breckenridge bankruptcy that took the ownership away form St. Louis founder Don. And then Copper Mountain was another problem that was mothballed for some years until money and popularity came back to Colorado. They now have a long row of shops and retail to attract all types and kinds, even though the catering is to the high end sector. This is real life. Vail now has sky cranes erected and building two new multi story places? Will it work?
This is right in the middle of Vail Village, on the top section by the visitor center. It is short and brief, and the ultimate goal is to shop for a souvenir, or take home keepsake. They do have some old skis and show the layout of the mountain in the old days. The museum shows the history of skiing being a key attribute for the population of Colorado and this area for commerce and mail service initially. Later it evolved into a ski resort area form a train coming through here.
This is in the midst of the Rockie Mountain chain, and to the west of the most high range. It is situated about 40 miles west of the Eisenhower Tunnel that is in the middle of the highest point-Loveland Pass. It is 80 miles west of Denver. There would still be 10+ miles of driving through the mountains before getting to a flatter plain heading west.
The Rockies are a majestic eroding mountain range that still holds the award for the best known and mighty crests. Loveland Pass is 11,990 feet high, and the Eisenhower Tunnel goes under it to avoid climbing the winding old highway that still exists. Colors of the mountain range are grey, green , black, and covered by many pines. It takes around 40 miles to get through it all end to end and get on more level ground
The purpose to offer the amenities at Vail for the owners is to sell and build condos. It continues to expand over the last 40 years and now has sprawled out into a real community with normal issues as to town living. Traffic and people are centralized into the main center, and this has caused the requirement to use the bus system to get around. Coming to town, you can shop and eat, and enjoy the tourists.
The centre of the town of Vail, known as Vail Village is a most charming place designed to resemble Alpine villages. It has the greatest concentration of restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Many restaurants are superb and the bars fun. Shopping, particularly for ski clothes and art, is also fantastic, though expensive.
After a day of activities, this is a fun thing to do to wind down the evening. Dinner at the 4 Eagle Ranch! When we arrived, everyone rounded up a drink and munched on chips & salsa or brushetta. A ranchhand rounded up "Reject" a buffalo who got his name because he was a runt of the herd when he was born. His mother disowned him and he was hand fed by bottle. He wasn't a very big buffalo but seemed to be very friendly and knows when he will be fed. Dinner was BBQ Chicken, BBQ Pork Ribs (yum!), corn, beans, salad and chocolate cake. Live band played all sorts of music - not just country western and was pretty lively! A couple of campfires were started and we were provided all the fixin's to make smores. Smores aren't all that great to eat but when you're standing next to an open fire, heating up those marshmellows - boy, somehow they taste better than they really are. Smores are melted marshmellows with Hershey's chocolate bars and graham crackers all sandwiched together. They are called smores because....you want SOME MORE (get it?)! During the evening, you have opportunities to play horseshoes and take a horse drawn wagon ride. A storyteller all dressed in authentic garments was about, telling stories with his companions a mixed breed dog that was part wolf and a baby donkey. The whole thing sounds corny but it was actually a lot of fun. You have to do this at least once!
Beaver Creek is an excellent skiing resort located about 20 minutes west of Vail. While smaller, Beaver Creek offers an alternative to Vail if one if staying in Vail for an extended period. Shuttle buses are available between the two resorts. Beaver Creek also has some great hotels (including a Ritz Carlton) and restaurants, so one could stay at Beaver Creek instead of Vail. I skied once in Beaver Creek (Feb 2007).
The Back Bowls of Vail are my favourite area to ski. This area offers more challenging skiing (mostly black diamonds) and is even larger than the front side. It is made up of four "bowls": Sun Up, Sun Down, China and Siberia. It also has much less tree coverage, so one could ski practically anywhere. The scenery is quite amazing. Favourite runs include Over Yonder, Shangri-La and Chopstix. From the bottom of China Bowl, one can access Blue Sky Basin, which is another challenging area.
The front side of Vail, i.e. the skiable area facing the town, is quite extensive and offers excellent skiing. This area tends to be the most crowded due to its proximity and easy access to the town itself, and also due to having more blue (medium) slopes. An entire day could be spent skiing the front side and that would not be near enough to cover all of the trails. Favourite runs here include Cappuccino, Avanti and Simba.
Lionshead is the western part of Vail and is considered a separate community from Vail Village, about 5 minutes away by bus. Lionshead is in the process of reinventing itself as a nordic/alpine town with many of the once boring buildings in the centre of the village getting a facelift. The buildings have been beautifully renovated to resemble Scandinavian and Austrian architecture, complete with frescoes clocks and turrets. Lionshead is a better base for skiing due to having the fast gondola at its base.
Vail offers some of the best skiing in the Rocky Mountains. It has the largest contiguous skiable terrain in the US and gets plenty of snow. The town is at 2500 metres above sea level and the highest skiable altitude is around 3500 metres (vertical drop of 1000 metres), but the surrounding peaks rise well above 4000 metres. The front side of the mountain facing vail is extensive and quite challenging, but could get crowded on peak weekends. The back bowls, on the other hand, are vast and are rarely crowded. There, skiing between the trees, or where there are no trees, tends to be the norm...
This was a blast! Timberline Tours came up to the hotel and took us by bus back to their "boat house". This is where we geared up with proper footwear, splash jackets, helmets, life jackets, wet suits, etc. Then we proceeded over to the river entrance where all the rafts were set down. In the bus we were given instructions what to do in the event we fall out of the boat, find ourselves stuck under the boat, etc. Of course, you sign a liability waiver that you won't sue them. We rode class 3 rapids in the beginning and then it progressed down to class 2 and 1 rapids. There is no chance in h..ll that you won't get wet! I was completely soaked! Mostly in part that we went in a group and we made every effort the splash the other boats and they splashed us back. The water temps were about 55 degrees. A couple of guys from our boat jumped into the river for a swim. At first I was a little skeptical as to how dangerous it could be. It wasn't dangerous at all. I could see a class 4 or 5 rapid would be much more risky. This was sooo much fun!
This was again, at the 4 Eagle Ranch where we had dinner and dancing. We arrived in the morning and had about 1 1/2 hour ride. We saddled up on horses that they felt would be approriate for our size and riding experience. It was HOT! Definitely, put on some sunscreen and if you have a hat - put in on! It's dusty! Expect to want a shower after you do this. The horses seem well trained and they really try to keep you at a "walking" pace in a single file line. This part of riding is a bit boring but I still enjoy any opporunity to go horseback riding.
If you don't ski when you go to Vail, then you probably went to Vail, Arkansas. The Back Bowls are crazy! Nothing but black diamonds, double black diamonds, and maybe one or two blue squares.
Bottom line, Vail is one of the top three places to ski in the U.S. Period.