Vail boasts that it is “like no place on Earth” and in some ways their PR people probably have it right. It is a rather large place. Of course, I couldn’t really see much of it on our first ski day there on March 7th since it was snowing all day (a good thing in the grand scheme of things). We had heard that Blue Sky Basin was worth checking out, so we made our way over there through some crusty snow in the back bowls and found some decent softer snow in the Champagne Glades.
We wanted something a bit steeper, and a quick glance at the trail map revealed a run called Steep and Deep. That sounded about right, so we dropped into it.
It was indeed steep and deep, but only for about five turns before it flattened out into an undulating luge track through the woods. That’s the thing about Vail. There is a huge amount of terrain available, but we found precious few long, sustained, steep fall-line pitches. For that, we headed to Arapahoe Basin on March 8th.
However, not everyone wants to ski gnarly steep pitches all the time, and it is hard to top some of Vail’s long, beautiful, rolling cruisers on the sort of blue sky day we had on March 9th. From our lodging in Lionshead Village, we rode the Born Free Express up the front side of the mountain, traversed to the Avanti Express, carved some fresh corduroy down to the Mountain Top Express, and then dropped off the back side into Vail’s beautiful back bowls.
We came upon a nice looking steep groomer called Yonder and tore down it before taking a leisurely ride along Sleepytime Road to the Skyline Express lift.
From the lift, we spotted another excellent looking groomer (In the Wuides) and charged down it to Earl’s Express lift. At that point we had made our way just about as far as possible from Lionshead Village and had to start making our way back so Allison could make her airport shuttle and I could begin driving north.
Vail is a two-hour drive along I-70 West from Denver International Airport. If there is bad weather, sections of the highway sometimes close and accidents are fairly common. You have to pass through downtown Denver on the way, too, so traffic can slow you down depending on the time of day. If you don’t have a car, you can take Colorado Mountain Express from the airport to your lodgings.
Where to Stay
Vail has a huge range of lodgings available, ranging from the Ritz to the Holiday Inn, with a lot of condo rentals scattered in between. We rented a small condo at Antlers in Lionshead Village and were quite happy with it. It was an easy walk to the Born Free Express and Eagle Bahn Gondola, and there are decent ski shops nearby to rent/service skis. Our only complaint about Lionshead Village was the relative paucity of good food options. We took advantage of the Safeway grocery store located a 5-minute drive away and cooked.
On the Hill
It really pays to study the trail map in advance and plot the most efficient course to the terrain you most want to explore. Vail’s lifts are usually referred to by number, so don’t be surprised to ask for directions and be told to “take #8, to #2, to #4, to #37” (which happens to be the fastest way to Blue Sky Basin from Lionshead Village).
Have lunch at The 10th at Mid Vail. They have a coat room for you to ditch layers and provide slippers so you can enjoy lunch without your ski boots. This epitomizes the Vail experience.
If you are staying at Vail and find yourself blessed with a powder day on the weekend, do as the locals do: get up early and drive the hour to Arapahoe Basin to enjoy some awesome skiing minus the lift lines. Your Vail lift pass is valid at A-Basin (among other places).