Measured at approximately 5,289 acres, the Vail Ski Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the United States and the second largest resort in all of North America (next to Whistler Blackcomb). With a rich history and lively village surrounding the base of the resort, it’s a destination that has plenty to offer both avid skiers & relaxation seekers.
As the 2010/2011 ski season officially comes to a close, there are still plenty of reasons to visit the quaint mountain town for its variety of summer activities. If you’ve been eyeing the wide open expanses of Colorado’s Rockies, then don’t miss my top 8 picks of the best that Vail has to offer:
1. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Vail received its first major recognition as an international ski resort in the mid 1970’s when President Gerald Ford carried out a large part of the nation’s business from his family’s home in the town. The Fords left a visible legacy throughout the valley and in 1988, the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation honored former First Lady Betty Ford by naming the world’s highest botanical garden (8,200 ft.) in her honor.
The gardens feature about 2,000 varieties of plants including 500 varieties of wildflowers and high elevation flora. Located just a few miles west of the main town, the gardens are open to the public (free) from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and are certainly worth a visit for those looking for a peaceful afternoon outdoors.
2. Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum
Just outside the center of Vail’s main village, you’ll find the Colorado Ski Museum; a fascinating collection of memorabilia that illustrates the timeline of Vail’s establishment as well as the evolution of snow sports in the state of Colorado. The museum gives especially valuable insight into the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division, which trained during the 1940’s in the mountains southeast of Vail and would later influence Vail’s development as a ski resort.
If the progression of Olympic ski outfits interests you, or you’re curious to find out why Colorado rejected to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, then pay a visit to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard museum. Best of all, it’s completely free!
3. Cinébistro / bōl
Dubbed as “The new center of Vail”, the Solaris complex is a brand new residence & entertainment development that took the place of the long-standing Crossroads Shopping Center. Two of the entertainment highlights at Solaris are Cinébistro, a multi-screen premium movie theater that serves food & beverages to a 21-and-up audience and the neighboring bōl, an ultra-chic futuristic bowling alley that features 10 lanes under a row of giant LED screens and Euro-club mood lighting. Both offer a great selection of food, drinks and comfortable spots to lounge with all those hip new friends you’ve made.
Both venues are pricey, but if you’re looking to splurge on a night of fun while in Vail, then these are the places to do it.
4. Block 16 @ The Sebastian
If you’ve been to Vail in the past few years, then you’ll notice that the former Vail Plaza Hotel & Club has a new name – the Sebastian Hotel. After being taken over by a family-owned investment group out of Mexico City, the Vail Plaza was given a minor makeover and name change. With this makeover came the addition of a few new restaurants; including a refined “visionary” new restaurant called Block 16.
Between an extensive wine selection, an exciting menu full of variety and an excellent staff, there’s plenty to love about Block 16. The prices are slightly higher than the majority of the restaurants in Vail, but one bite of the wagyu beef or duck confit with orange will make all of those thoughts disappear.
5. Club 8150 / Samana Lounge
If you still have energy after the day’s activities and are searching for a good nightlife scene, check out the subterranean Samana Lounge or the impressive Club 8150. Both have a reputation for offering an impressive lineup of DJ’s and touring artists during the winter season, and you can be sure to find a lively, young crowd that loves to dance on most weekend nights.
6. Game Creek Club
For those of you getting married, looking to host a memorable company dinner, or really want to go all-out for a private dining experience, look no further than the Game Creek Club. Accessible only by a Gondola ride that links up with a private snowcat, the Game Creek Club is an expansive lodge tucked away on the backside of Vail’s Eagle’s Nest Ridge. In addition to a beautiful sprawling balcony perfectly situated for watching the sun set over a glass of Pinot, the Game Creek Club offers lavish 4 course meals and a comfortable setting that’s nice, but not overly stuffy. Prices are fitting for such an exclusive outing but it’s by far one of the best and most unique experience Vail has to offer, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Reservations can be made over the phone at (970) 754-4275.
7. Ice Skating @ Vail Square / Lionshead Village
Lining the bottom of the mountain just West of the main village lies the posh & picturesque Lionshead Village. At Lionshead, you’ll find a selection of art galleries, restaurants and coffee bars located around a beautiful skating rink. During the winter months, this is a great place to bring the family and cozy up next to a fire pit while the kids have a go at testing their skating abilities.
8. Blue Sky Chairlift
During the ski season, many locals will tell you that the best section of Vail’s 5,000+ acres is the secluded and less crowded backcountry of Blue Sky Basin. At the 11,480 foot summit, you’ll find Belle’s Camp; a warming hut and picnic area with a view of the surrounding Rockies that cannot be beat. Blue Sky has all types of terrain to choose from and just getting there is an adventure in itself. The only downside is that the lifts on this side of the mountain close earlier, so plan accordingly.
Of course, this list is just the tip of the icicle when it comes to Vail’s attractions. There are enough hot tubs, art galleries, and quaint restaurants to keep most visitors busy for a jam-packed 4-5 days all year round.
If you’re a fan of Vail and have some additional inside information that is missing from this list, give us the scoop & leave a comment below!
Stephen traveled to the Vail Film Festival on a trip sponsored by Olympus. No editorial content was guaranteed and he was free to openly experiment with Olympus’s cameras while snowboarding, bathing in picturesque hot tubs, and rubbing elbows with A-list celebrities.