Photo: Vail Resort
Boasting 5,289 acres, seven Back Bowls and three world-class base villages, with incredible restaurants, shopping and nightlife, Vail is brimming with on- and off-mountain experiences that make it especially magical for first-timer visitors. You’ll feel like the world is your oyster when staying at Vail, and it’s all within easy access thanks to one of the most robust, complimentary shuttle systems in the country.
With the help of Mountain Travel Expert, Laurel Ann Nelson, we compiled a 5-day sample itinerary that showcases key Vail experiences for first-timers.
Laurel Ann Nelson
Specializing in mountain travel since 2012
Day 1: Get Settled & Grab a Bite
After checking in at your hotel or condo, get acquainted with the village and scope out your week’s dining options at all of Vail’s base villages.
“The Arrabelle is the best place to stay in Vail, a luxury ski in ski out hotel at the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola and my favorite full service spa!” says Laurel Ann Nelson.
Free shuttles will take you to and from each base area, each with unique shops and dining experiences. From Iron Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s famed Japanese fine dining restaurant to affordable option like a slice pizza and a beer at the local’s favorite, Vendetta’s, the Vail dining scene is unrivaled by most ski towns. May we also suggest the tacos Cantina, located at the bus station, for a delicious and low-key après bite.
“While there are many fantastic restaurants in Vail, my favorite is Vintage,” advises Laurel. “It’s a hidden gem off the beaten path, but walking distance from both Vail Village and Lionshead, and the menu is “brasserie fare.”
Day 2: Take a FREE Mountain Tour
Vail Mountain offers an immense 5,289 skiable acres to explore. From beginner through to advanced, terrain options range from perfect groomers to steeps and cliffs. Mountain guides and trail maps are located all over the mountain for your navigational convenience, and Vail also offers free mountain tours. Tours leave daily from the Game Creek Desk (next to the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola) or from the top of Gondola One at the Mid Vail Ski School. These two-hour tours are offered to skiers and boarders with intermediate and above skills. Tours leave at 10:30 a.m. and will acquaint visitors with the mountain.
Day 3: Rip Groomers & Explore Town
Take a half-day to explore the front side of Vail Mountain. A corduroy-lover’s paradise, the front side offers a plethora of intermediate terrain to warm up on. Enjoy the rolling slopes of Ramshorn or Avanti, then check out the steeps of Northwoods. The Northwoods area, accessed by Chair #11 will delight thrill-seekers with moguls, tree skiing, cliffs and Hollywood lines under the chairlift.
In the afternoon, explore the town. Vail’s villages are characterized by European-style architecture, complete with stone walkways, fountains and statues. Rent a pair of skates and take a spin at one of the town’s three ice rinks. Or find your perfect souvenir, whether cowboy boots, a t-shirt, jewelry or piece of art—the options are limitless.
“When the ski day is over, ice skating is a great way to spend an evening before or after dinner,” suggests Laurel.
Day 4: Ski the Back Bowls & Blue Sky Basin
Photo: Vail Resort
With more than 3,000 acres in just the seven Back Bowls of Vail, skiers and riders have their day cut out for them. If you’re seeking steeps and cliffs, the smaller Tea Cup Bowl is a challenge, while Mongolia Bowl, located farthest away, often holds powder stashes late after storm cycles. China bowl offers the only groomed, intermediate runs in the back bowls.
Blue Sky Basin is located across the drainage from the back bowls and worth the trip there. For reference, Blue Sky Basin is an amazing seven miles from Vail Village, but don’t fret—some of the Mountain Tours mentioned earlier will help you explore this area. Enjoy a snack or lunch at the top at Belle’s Camp Hut, where you can grab a cocoa and a cookie, or grill out at the surrounding picnic tables. Then, test your skills on Lover’s Leap, a popular advanced trail that will get your heart pumping.
“Vail is massive, especially with the Back Bowls. My not-so-secret favorite run in Blue Sky is “Heavy Metal” because when it storms, the snow seems to blow right into those perfectly spaced trees,” says Laurel.
Day 5: Visit the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame
Give your legs and lungs a day of rest and check out the Colorado Ski Museum Hall of Fame. Free admission to six different themed galleries will educate and entertain adults and kids alike. Galleries and displays include the “Legacy of the 10th Mountain Division” who trained for World War II at nearby Camp Hale, a ski and snowboard timeline, which tells the state’s 140-year-old history, and the Colorado Hall of Fame which was created to honor over 200 “Coloradoans,” with five new members elected each year.
“Vail has it all: a fantastic mountain, two interconnected villages with TONS of shops and tasty restaurants and stunning views of the Gore Range as well as the famous 14’er, Mount Holy Cross,” says Laurel.
Now that you’re armed with some insight on how to have an unforgettable first ski vacation in Vail, book your trip to make it a reality. Laurel and our 70 other Mountain Travel Experts can help you customize and book your flights, rental cars, lodging and more. They’re standing by at 800-610-8911. You can also get started by filling out a form for a free custom quote.
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com managing the website and blog content, I couldn't be happier. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.