Until Vail’s acquisition and merger of Park City and Canyons resort into one mega-complex, Vail held the distinction of being the largest resort in the United States. And while Vail Corporate – who seem to add a new resort to their portfolio practically every season – is undeniably the 800-pound gorilla of the ski industry, Vail Resort’s status as the second-largest U.S. resort doesn’t detract from how truly massive it is.
To say Vail is big is like saying the sun is hot. It boasts 5,289 acres of skiable terrain, buoyed by an average of 370 inches of snow each year. Three different villages are scattered along the base of the mountain, giving you immediate access to hot lattes, wiener schnitzel and loads of groomed terrain. And that’s just the Front Side of the resort.
Take a seven-minute ride on Gondola One (don’t worry, it has heated seats and Wi-Fi) to the mid-station, then choose your high-speed ride into the back side, where Blue Sky Basin and the Back Bowls await. Each distinct area could be a world-class resort on its own; Vail just bundles them together with high-speed lifts, which is awesome for you.
The icy Gore Creek runs through the heart of Vail Village and Lionshead, both of which have impressive clusters of hotels, restaurants and shops at the bases of their two gondolas. The ice rink in the heart of Vail Square is popular, and the café patios fill up quickly on sunny afternoons.
Beginners should stick to the Front Side, where the slopes are groomed into a forgiving corduroy. The expansive network of easy trails spreads out between the Eagle Bahn Gondola and Gondola One.
Adventure Ridge, at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, is a mid-mountain fun center packed with kids’ snowmobiles, tubing and snowbikes. There’s even a winter zip line. The mountain’s kid-specific ski trails are also extensive – think ski-through snow caves, banked turns and wooden animal sculptures that lead the way through winding tree runs.
Golden Peak is home to Vail’s biggest terrain park, with the 22-foot superpipe, a 13-foot mini pipe and 39 other jumps, boxes, rails and jibs. If you’re not ready to shred with the big kids, head to Bwana Park, a progression park with medium-sized hits beneath the Eagle Bahn Gondola on the Front Side. Or start your park experience at Pride, which has a handful of beginner snow features.
The "commute" into Blue Sky Basin and the Back Bowls got faster a few years back, thanks to the Mountaintop Express, a six-passenger high-speed quad that accesses the Back Bowls 33% faster than the old lift.
On a powder day, head to Rasputin’s Revenge in Siberia Bowl for steep, deep powder turns. Go deeper into the Vail’s "back 40" to explore Blue Sky Basin, 645 acres of mixed terrain surrounded by wilderness. It’s like backcountry skiing without the mandatory skin up.
Blue Sky is so far removed from the Front Side of Vail, that the area often has different conditions than the rest of the mountain (read: deeper powder) and has its own snow stake webcam that you can check online to see how deep the white stuff really is.
Wherever you go, just be sure to save your legs for the ski back to Vail’s villages. You’re gonna want to hit Highline, a ridiculously long bump run under the Highline Express (yes, your bump skills will be on display here).
You'll also want to take advantage of the EpicMix Time Insights website and app, which provides full visibility into the lift line wait times.
The Bavarian-inspired Arrabelle is a boutique hotel with 81 luxurious rooms that either have a killer view of the village, or an even more killer view of the mountain. The hotel’s clock tower watches over the heart of Vail Square making you feel as if you've been transported. Steam showers, jet bathtubs, gas fireplaces, rooftop hot tubs, and the fact that you’re steps away from the ice skating rink and Eagle Bahn Gondola make this a must-stay. It even includes ski valet and storage, as well as complimentary GoPros.
Go all out with dinner at the Game Creek Club, on the side of Vail’s Game Creek Bowl. The wine program is stellar, and the food is five-star, but what you’ll really remember is the commute. Take the heated gondola up the mountain, then hitch a snowcat ride deep into Vail’s backcountry where your dinner awaits.