A First-Timer’s Guide to Skiing Vail

[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”20872686″]

The problem about skiing is once you get a taste of the good stuff, you only want more—not only that, but you want it bigger, better, faster, snowier. Which is why after three years of skiing in California, we hopped over to Colorado last spring for our first Rocky Mountain ski trip and realized we could never go back to the Southern “skiing” I grew up doing (think: French Lick, Indiana; Sugar Mountain, North Carolina…I know). After a first taste of mountain perfection, we vowed to return to Colorado every year for a long ski weekend and try out a new resort each time; this time Vail was our mountain of choice.

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Getting There

After much debate, we wound up renting a car because we were flying in too late on a Friday night to get up to Vail that evening, and taking a cab to our hotel that night and back to the airport the next morning to catch the mountain shuttle wound up tallying what a rental car would cost us. So we booked a premium car through Enterprise via Expedia at a rate of $10 a day, then arrived to the rental car center to find a lovely Serbian gentleman at Enterprise offering to rent us an SUV for just $10 more a day (versus the $100/day rate on their website). We definitely lucked out, and having a Jeep was far more convenient than having to chain up the car when we hit a bout of snow on our return drive. It bears mentioning that travel insurance is always a wise investment for any trip that involves extreme weather or high-adrenaline activities—or both.

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

However, if you’re going to be there longer and want to save money (daily parking fees at hotels aren’t cheap)—or simply don’t want to risk driving the 98 miles through possibly temperamental weather conditions—Colorado Mountain Express is a very convenient option, one that we utilized last year and which picks you up right from baggage claim at the Denver airport and delivers you to your hotel’s doorstep in Vail, Keystone, Breck, Beaver Creek, etc. (Disclosure: I was not paid or asked to say that, I just really like the convenience and ease of CME and its door-to-door service.)

The Terrain

Fifty-three percent of Vail Ski Resort’s 5,289 acres is expert level and only 18 percent of it is for beginners. (So if you like the bunnies, you might want to look elsewhere.) We spent the majority of the time on some blacks and blues on the front side of the mountain, Christmas being my favorite. Each afternoon, we’d ski down Riva Ridge, which is a four-mile-long black run that begins with some pretty serious moguls and was difficult in parts but ridiculously fun at the same time.

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

I found the terrain much more challenging as a whole than that of Keystone: There were far more blacks than blues, and many of the single black runs had moguls (not always so fun for a snowboarder like SVV). The Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin were superb skiing, but it took pretty long to get out there—around an hour as there are several lifts you must take first; at one point, you’re a full seven miles away from Lionshead Village!—so we didn’t spend nearly the time on the back as I would have liked. (Lesson learned: head to Blue Sky first!) Once we finally reached the back, there was a plethora of untouched powder and some long, leisurely runs that we loved. If you dig wide open groomers, take Poppyfields through the Back Bowls; I could have skied this run all day and never tired of it!

An App for That

I’m no newbie to EpicMix—I used it throughout its inaugural year during the 2010-2011 winter with our season passes and wrote a feature about it for Keystone Magazine—and now I have four separate EpicMix accounts across various resorts. (One of the current kinks in the program is that they have yet to find a way to link your various passes and lift tickets—a bummer, as I reached a pretty  high level last season with all the days we logged on the slopes.)

EpicMix is a Vail Resorts’ product that uses RF technology to track your progress on the mountain, and it’s currently only available at Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Heavenly and Northstar. This year, they’ve added some major improvements, such as on-mountain photos that are uploaded directly to your EpicMix account for social media sharing (and they’re free to share online! to print, you have to purchase). Plus, I always like to see what pins I’ve collected and how many lifts I’ve ridden at the end of the day!

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

On-Mountain Dining

Let’s be honest, the facilities on the mountain are just as important as the skiing, am I right? My favorite ski resorts are typically the ones with many dining options up top, so I don’t have to waste time skiing to the bottom when hunger strikes.

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

The 10th, a ski-in, ski-out restaurant at Mid-Vail is the most recent addition to the food scene, having just opened in December 2011, with more than 13,000 square feet, seating for 160 people inside, seating for 40 in the lounge and seating for another 40 on the deck on warmer days. We dined here on our second day and shared a massive skillet of French onion soup and a tri-tip sandwich. (Note: Reservations are required.)

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Not one to pass on dessert, even when I’m about to hop on skis once more, I also opted for the s’mores extravaganza after the main course. It did not disappoint.
Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

On the last day, we grabbed lunch at Two Elk, which is a cafeteria on the Blue Sky side of the mountain and is buffet style, with stations for burgers, soups, salads, pizzas and sandwiches, very comparable to Heavenly’s Tamarack Lodge (and very delicious, too).

The Village

Vail Village mimics the look of ski towns all over Europe; it’s primarily pedestrian access with no cars allowed down the cobblestone streets, and there’s something so quaint and charming about its neutral-colored buildings and Swiss-style chalets. Plus, the streets are heated like in Europe, so there’s never slushy snow to tread through during a storm. It definitely makes it easier on the pedi-cab drivers who pedal up and down the paths all day waiting to give skiers a lift!

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

There were also these funny bronze statues scattered all around the village—from Native Americans to Albert Einstein—with which I made SVV pose. If you’re visiting Vail with a group, I think it would be really fun to have a photo scavenger hunt centered around finding all of these statues.

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Other Tips

If you’re flying into Eagle Airport, just 35 miles west of Vail and serviced by American, Delta and United/Continental, you are entitled to a free lift ticket on the afternoon of your arrival as part of Vail’s Fly In-Ski Free program. Who doesn’t dig a free day on the slopes?

Skiing in Vail: Everything you need to know about your first visit to Colorado’s most popular mountain. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Any other Vail-related questions? Ask away!

COMMENTS
  • February 20, 2012

    Heated streets, a new one on me. Haven’t traveled to Europe, yet. I like it.

    Really like the pic of SVV with a snowy Einstein.

    • February 20, 2012
      Kristin

      I’d never heard of these heated streets either! My mind was definitely blown. I wondered why the snow was so “wet” it wasn’t sticking to the ground!

  • February 20, 2012

    Looks great! I’m spoiled enough to have grown up in the Canadian Rockies (Calgary), but I’d love to try some other great mountains… thanks for the tips!

    • February 20, 2012
      Kristin

      Well, luckily Colorado is still in the Rockies so you wouldn’t have to compromise too much 😉 I’ve been to Lake Louise and Banff, but in the summertime, so I’d love to get back up there in the winter and test out the slopes!

  • February 20, 2012

    Ah.. That will be our next goal on this newbie skier family! 🙂 Our first ever family ski experience was in Keystone so I know what you mean about being spoiled and don’t want to do Southern skiing anymore. It’s TOTALLY different feels and experience. 🙂 But guess we just have to learn to improve our skill first. Maybe in a couple years we will be more experience to tackle Vail. And that dessert looks so yummy.

    • February 20, 2012
      Kristin

      I think Vail is definitely a more advanced resort–maybe when the kids are a bit older! But Keystone is awesome, too–I like them each for different reasons. I just wish Colorado was within driving distance from Tennessee/Atlanta =)

  • February 20, 2012

    Loving the lens you used for these pics! That dessert needs to be next to me right now!!!!

    • February 20, 2012
      Kristin

      They were all iPhone photos, except the last one and the few shot from below (which was just our GoPro attached to Scott’s board)!

  • February 21, 2012

    My mind is blown by that ski-pass app gizmo. I can’t believe skiing is so high tech! But most of my experience comes from a place called Maple Ski Ridge which has a total of about probably 7 runs and 1 chair lift. I would happily ski there for the rest of my days though, if they would serve that smoores thingy there.

    • February 21, 2012
      Kristin

      I’m sure they’ll find out a way to do something similar in the dive industry (maybe with dive watches since obviously phones are out!) soon!

      • February 21, 2012

        I’ve seen some start-up sites that are trying to do this with diving except all info has to be entered by the diver manually as I assume they haven’t yet find a way to synch in with dive computers. And of course dive computers don’t log dive sites! Interesting idea though….

  • February 21, 2012

    Uhm, I would consider skiing (which sounds like a terrible hobby, lol) just for that s’mores extravaganza! And heated streets? Where can I find these in Europe and how do I get some of my own??

    • February 21, 2012
      Kristin

      I think the majority of ski towns in Switzerland (and maybe Italy and Austria) all have them! Skiing is totally worth the cold if you reward yourself in s’mores and hot chocolate (preferably with a generous serving of Bailey’s) =)

  • February 21, 2012

    Whoa, mama. I would go up to the top of that mountain for the food alone! (Can you take a lift down again? I’m not much of a skiier… 😉 ) The skillet and the dessert look amazing! Also, I kind of want to pat that moose statue on the nose, just for fun. Heh.

    • February 21, 2012
      Kristin

      Ha, yes, you totally can (at least at that part of the mountain!). And luckily, the moose is at the base, so you don’t even need to take a lift up to him!

  • February 21, 2012
    Sara

    Great post! Yes the heated streets are essential… it wouldn’t be Vail if you had to worry about slipping in the snow!! So glad you loved it!!

    • February 21, 2012
      Kristin

      I mean, who couldn’t love Vail? Let’s just be honest! That’s an impossible feat.

  • February 21, 2012

    You found Einstein!!

    Riva Ridge is one of my favorite runs in the whole world, and it’s pretty much the one that ruined East coast skiing for me. When you can ski that far without getting on a lift, you get spoiled.

    P.S. I’m glad you blogged about EpicMix last year so I knew about it this time — it was fun to play with.

    • February 21, 2012
      Kristin

      I love me some EpicMix! Oh, technology, you continue to amaze me. And yes, Riva’s Ridge is the best run in the world–but those moguls at the top of it can be scary if you leave it until the end of the day when it’s icy and such!

  • February 21, 2012

    This post makes me want to go skiing!! The little taste I had the other week was not enough, at all! I love ski towns like Vail and how other worldly they are. Not only is it great to get outside in the winter and get fresh air and exercise, but to do so in a setting so different from what we are used to … perfection! And, that food? Mmmm.

  • February 21, 2012

    This town seems to be a lot like Park City, although the resort seems to be much more serious, more like our Alta, Snowbird, Solitude or Brighton resorts (which don’t have enough space in the canyon floor for much more than a lodge and a spa, no chance to get an entire, quaint little town in there!).

    Whoop! for the Rockies!!

    xox

    • February 21, 2012
      Kristin

      I’ve never been to any of those places! Funny, I met with the reps of Snowbird and Alta (and two others I can’t remember) for lunch all at once last year, though! =)

  • February 22, 2012
    Abi

    Have heard nothing but good things about US ski slopes…Would love to test them myself 😉

  • February 22, 2012

    Goodness gracious! I’ve never seen a desert as fabulous as that s’mores extravaganza! My first time at Vail – slogging through whiteout conditions – was a big disappointment. I’ve been reluctant to return, until now. That desert is on my bucket list.

  • February 23, 2012

    Oh boy that dessert looks so inviting…

  • February 24, 2012

    Both the powder and the food look a lot better than what I’ve had in Ohio… yes, there really is a ski “hill” in Ohio.

  • February 25, 2012

    I would go for the s’mores extravaganza alone. When I picture heaven, I mostly picture a table full of that deliciousness.

  • February 25, 2012

    You have Shaun drooling. He has been dying to get some snowboarding in this year… and we’re leaving Chile a few months before the season starts.

  • November 15, 2012

    I love going through your Vail posts! One because they are so much fun and your lens is very cool, Second because I just got married there in Aug 🙂

  • January 15, 2014

    Seeing this wanted me to plan and go skiing in Europe. Never been in skiing in Europe and I wanted to now. I’ve tried skiing though in Canada. Its accessible for I live in the country. But would love to go somewhere else though. Thinking about Austria. I wish father can take us for skiing again. Kinda miss it.

  • July 8, 2014

    Wow! You got nice place out there ha! Just looking at the picture seems to be great experience! Better try it some time.

Leave a Comment

GET MY POSTS DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX
+ Sign up and receive your free copy of my eBook