Photo: Vail Ski Resort
Largely known as one of the biggest ski resorts in the world, Vail is a true melting pot of mountain experiences. Boasting 5,289 skiable acres, seven amazing back bowls, and three world-class villages, there is something for just about everyone. Pedestrian-friendly villages and an easy-to-navigate mountain make Vail a great family destination, especially in a day and age when quality family time can be hard to come by.
With some great tips from Mountain Travel Expert Eve Boyd, learn why Vail is one of our top destinations for a family ski trip.
With the help of Mountain Travel Expert, Stephanie Boyd, we compiled a five-day sample itinerary that showcases key Vail experiences for families.
Specializing in mountain travel since 2007
Day 1: Arrive in Vail and get settled
Getting to Vail is a breeze when you fly into Eagle County Regional Airport, which is just over a 30-minute drive from Vail and offers non-stop flights from 12 major markets during the winter. In fact, with frequent airport shuttles, a free in-town bus system, and pedestrian-friendly streets, the only reason you might rent a car is if you plan on flying into Denver and don’t want to take a shuttle.
Once you’ve arrived in Vail, check into your accommodations for the week. We recommend staying at the Arrabelle at Vail Square, A RockResort. This iconic Vail accommodation is perfect for families and provides world-class hotel amenities and services, luxurious hotel rooms, and spacious two- to five-bedroom suites. The kids will love the rooftop hot tubs and close proximity to the Lionshead Ice Skating Rink, while parents will enjoy the on-site day spa and ski-in ski-out access to the Eagle Bahn Gondola.
Day 2: Take a free mountain tour and visit the Arrabelle Spa
Begin your first day with breakfast at Tavern on the Square, conveniently located inside the Arrabelle. Meals are styled to fit both light eaters and those with a substantial appetite, as well as buffet seekers and bottomless mimosa drinkers!
After breakfast, check your kiddos into Vail’s world-class ski and snowboard school, with locations at Lionshead or Golden Peak, depending on the lesson type. Hailing from around the world, Vail’s instructors speak 22 different languages and come from many walks of life, including ex-NFL players and Olympians. Younger kids aged three to six will enjoy learning basic skills with new friends, while the older kids aged seven to 14 will experience engaging activities like race day, SKE-COLOGY, and adventures in the terrain park.
Once the kids are settled, head over to the Game Creek Desk, adjacent to the top of Eagle Bahn Gondola, or to Mid Vail Ski School Desk at the top of Gondola One for a free mountain tour. These tours are a great way to familiarize yourself with Vail’s expansive terrain and are aimed toward skiers and riders at an intermediate level. Tours leave promptly at 10:30 a.m. and run for about two hours.
After your tour is done, grab a bit to eat at the Marketplace at Eagle’s Nest. This full-service dining area offers a selection of breakfast burritos, pasta, soup and salad bar, deli options, grilled items, and other specialty foods. No need to worry about the kids for lunch, they’ll be eating with their ski-school class.
After lunch, and while the kids are taking on the afternoon portion of their lesson, sneak over to the Arrabelle Spa in Lionshead Village for a little R&R time with your significant other. After your spa treatment, pick up the kids from ski school, get cleaned up, and head over to Pepi’s in the heart of Vail Village for some authentic and delicious Austrian fare.
Day 3: Explore Vail’s front side before visiting Adventure Ridge
Start your day off right with a hearty breakfast at The Little Diner, located in Lionshead Village. From there, you can easily get your youngsters back at their ski-school meeting spot and then take off on your own to enjoy Vail’s front side, which is a groomer-lover’s paradise, from the Eagle Bahn Gondola. Iconic intermediate runs off this gondola include Born Free, Bwana and Simba. We recommend Avanti for rolling, intermediate runs, Mountaintop Express for excellent tree skiing and the Northwoods area for steeps, moguls, and more leg-burning runs.
For lunch, check out Buffalo’s Restaurant at the top of Northwoods Express (#11) for some heart-warming buffalo stew before continuing your day around Vail’s best groomers.
After your day is done, don’t peel off your ski layers just yet! Instead, take the family over to Adventure Ridge, located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, which is free to ride after 3:30 p.m. The size of a football stadium, this snow park has it all! Race your kids on the multi-lane tubing hill, experience the unique thrill of ski biking, and let your kids unleash their need for speed on a children’s snowmobile. Those traveling after February 28 can also ride Vail’s 3,400-foot Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster. Afterward, stay for dinner at Bistro Fourteen, which offers sit-down dining, a full bar, and incredible views of Mount of the Holy Cross.
Day 4: Ski Vail’s legendary back bowls and Blue Sky Basin
Head over to Vail Village via the free town bus to start your day with a breakfast burrito from Big Bear Bistro. From there, check your kids into ski school and hop on Gondola One for a warm-up run before heading over the mountain to Vail’s legendary back bowls. Offering 3,000 acres of wide-open skiing and spectacular views, the back bowls offer something for everyone.
For less-experienced skiers, we suggest you start with China Bowl, which offers the only groomed intermediate runs. Otherwise, start with the Sun Down Bowl, and then make your way through the Sun Up and Tea Cup Bowls, which offer more steeps and cliffs. For those truly seeking a challenge, head to Mongolia Bowl, the farthest bowl, and try your hand at the T-Bar-style lift (#22), which leads skiers and riders to deep powder stashes in the Inner and Outer areas.
Take a break for lunch at Two Elk Lodge at the top of China Bowl before venturing over to Blue Sky Basin, located across the drainage from the back bowls and accessible via the Skyline Express (#37). Known for its glades and meadows, Blue Sky Basin is seven miles from Vail Village, but you can easily familiarize yourself with the area on one of Vail’s mountain tours. For powdery tree skiing, head to the Heavy Metal Run, or check out Lover’s Leap cornice to really get your heart pumping.
Day 5: Take some morning runs and then visit the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame
For your last day of fun in Vail, opt-out of ski school for the kiddos so you can enjoy the morning skiing together as a family, and see what they’ve picked up from ski school. Afterward, once you’ve returned your rentals and gear, head over to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Vail Village.
The free museum ($3 donation suggested) offers visitors six themed galleries that display artifacts, narratives, and film documentaries to delight the whole clan. Featured topics include the 10th Mountain Division training for World War II at Camp Hall, Spirit of Americans in the Winter Olympics, skiing and snowboarding history, Vail’s first 50 years, and of course, the Hall of Fame.
Finish the night with ice skating in Lionshead Square and dinner at one of Vail’s many sumptuous restaurants.
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