Vail is to the U.S. what Gstaad is to Switzerland: paradise found for skiers. The town, which replicates a Tyrolean Alps village, was constructed in the early 1970s as a base camp for the massive Vail Mountain. Vail first achieved superstar status in that decade when President Gerald Ford vacationed here regularly with his family. Vail’s restaurants and skiing vie with Aspen’s in a continual battle for the title of America’s most fashionable winter destination.
As befits a skiing mecca, Vail’s ski trails encompass a whopping 5,289 acres and stretch seven miles along the mountain's ridgeline. This resort is so vast that novices have plenty of room to practice without fear of becoming targets for expert schussers on the descent.
As a place to go, Vail is expensive. Ski lift tickets are among the highest priced in the U.S. To mitigate the cost, Vail’s City Market grocery stores often sell discount tickets.
Non-skiers who wish to brave the slopes should check out Adventure Ridge, a recreation area reached by the Eagle Bahn Gondola. During winter, the slope offers snow tubing, nighttime sledding and an indoor laser tag facility. In summer, take a mountain-bike tour or a 45-minute “Top of the Mountain” motor tour. Horseback riding, a climbing wall, a slack line and guided hikes round out the warm-weather activities at Adventure Ridge.
Vail’s dozen links courses draw people who prefer mountain golf. The fairways zigzag among soaring peaks, adding to the excitement of play. For indoor sport, head over to Bol, perhaps the hippest bowling alley on the planet. Keglers bowl to piped-in progressive rock music and enjoy Bol’s upscale interpretation of snack-bar food.
More lavish dining is on the menu at Restaurant Kelly Liken, owned by the celebrity chef of the same name. Her cuisine celebrates locally grown food. Call ahead and reserve a table, because this Vail restaurant never has a slow season.
In summer, make sure to visit the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. This free Vail attraction boasts waterfalls, gorgeous views and a wide variety of alpine plants, all with markers. Next door is the Gerald Ford Amphitheater, which hosts a full schedule of outdoor concerts in warm months.
Beside Gore Creek, which runs through the center of town, lies the Vail Nature Center. Take your pick from bird, wildflower and beaver pond hikes, Camp Eco Fun for children, and classes in art, photography and fly fishing.
Spring through fall, top attractions in Vail include whitewater rafting and kayaking. Gore Creek serves a whitewater park right in the center of Vail Village. Farther afield, book a river trip at skill levels ranging from Class I through Class V on the Eagle, Colorado or Arkansas Rivers. Lessons in stand-up paddle boarding, a blend of rafting and surfing, are also available in the Vail area.
Like the posh Gstaad resorts, Vail’s resorts and hotels feature well-appointed spa facilities. Enjoy a massage or whirlpool soak to rejuvenate yourself for your next round of activity in beautiful Vail.