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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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).
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!
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.
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?