A Few 2022 Updates
For a trip to Iceland and St. Martin in late 2021, Michele upgraded our waterproof camera to this Olympus model. It has amazing reviews and takes a great photo. We also like this affordable, easy-to-use tripod.
Michele also upgraded her iPhone to the iPhone 13. The camera is amazing.
We like these vaccination card holders for travel.
We love Vail, Colorado. We lived in Boulder, Colorado for five years, and Vail was our go-to mountain. We love the scale and size and how well it deals with crowds. We probably have 100 or more days skiing Vail, so we offer these tips.
Plan ahead. If you are going to Vail, decide early enough to buy either an Epic pass (there are several choices) or lift tickets in advance. This can save a family thousands of dollars. If you plan to ski at Vail (or any Vail resort) for more than six days, the Epic Pass is the way to go! Visit epicpass.com before September 1. Prices usually go up on the passes around Labor Day and continue to go up during the fall months. Vail stops selling epic passes in mid-November. After that your only option is to purchase tickets in advance online, which can save you money, too.
For an adult, the walk-up price on a weekend is now about $209/person!!!!! The epic pass I purchased in the Fall of 2019 cost $970. That pass gives me unlimited skiing at over 30 resorts Vail owns around the country and the world.
If you were not early enough to buy a pass, purchasing tickets online will save you money.
Plan Ahead for Lodging
Planning Ahead for Lodging
Rent a place on the bus line. The bus is convenient and free, although it can be crowded. We like staying in East Vail as it is toward the “end” of the route, so sometimes you get an empty bus and a seat on it while it fills up as it continues to stop. Using the bus line can save you $30 a day. The town of Vail requires everyone to park in a parking garage if there is space. The cost is $30 per day. Now, sometimes, you will see cars parked along the frontage road. The town only allows people to park on the frontage roads when the garages are completely full.
If you want a hotel, you can stay in the lap of luxury at a place like The Arrabelle in Lionshead. We have seen the rooms at this property and they are amazing. You cannot get closer to the lifts. There are also plenty of budget friendly hotels, too.
We have stayed at the Comfort Inn in Avon several times. It has free breakfast, and takes pets. It is 10 miles from Vail and three miles from Beaver Creek.
The Evergreen Lodge is super close to Lionshead and the rooms are quite spacious.
We usually rent a place in East Vail when we visit now. There is even a small market and liquor store called Sims if you forget anything at the larger Safeway or City Market.
We have found good condo rental deals with Gore Creek Properties. AirBNB, VRBO and HomeAway have many properties in East Vail, Main Vail, Lionshead, West Vail and Avon to fit every single budget.
Getting to Vail
Vail is 213 miles from the Denver International Airport. If you drive, navigate to I70 West until you reach exit 176. A closer option is Eagle County Regional Airport. This smaller airport is just 33 miles from Vail. We prefer to fly into Eagle.
If you are flying, we highly recommend this boot bag. Easy to carry and very roomy, the boot bag can also be used as a backpack which makes navigating the airport easier. We can fit three pairs of skis in this bag for travel. Someone in our family is always demo-ing a new pair of skis or she is at school and the vacation times do not line up!
We highly recommend a car. There is a good public bus service in the Vail Valley.
If you choose not to drive, Epic Mountain Express is owned by Vail resorts and is a good option.
2022 update – Michele also upgraded her iPhone to the iPhone 13. The camera is amazing. Seriously amazing.
Navigate the Mountain
Vail is enormous. You could ski all day and never ride the same lift twice! Our usual day has us on the mountain by 8:30, eating lunch by 11:15 and skiing until 4pm.
If we drive to the mountain, we base ourselves out of Lionshead. We pay $30 to park in the garage, and we park on the lowest level we can get to. Parking on the lowest level means less walking! A new elevator did eliminate the need to walk down lots of stairs.
We like the Lionshead garage better than the Vail Village garage because the walk to the lifts is shorter. We get dressed in the garage and put on ski boots on, and we walk to the lifts. There are lockers at the base area, but we find using the car as our “locker” makes more sense for us.
From the Lionshead garage we walk the four minute walk to the Eagle Bahn gondola. Many times, this is the last time we see the base area until the end of the day. The Lionshead base area has everything you need – shops, restaurants, first aid, lift tickets, passes, ski rentals, hotels and a ski check.
We like to ride the gondola to get away from the busy base area and begin our day. The top of the Eagle Bahn gondola has a cafeteria, restrooms, ski patrol, a ski goods store and a super fancy restaurant.
There is no right or wrong way to ski Vail and its bowls and peaks. We usually do a combination of bowls and groomers in the morning. Our favorite front-side groomed areas include the Born Free lift, the Game Creek Bowl area, the Avanti lift area, and the Wildwood lift area. Vail has recently installed several new six-person chair lifts in Avanti and Wildwood areas, which have helped immensely with the lines.
We eat lunch at Two Elk Lodge at 11:15 and then head through China Bowl to Blue Sky Basin for the afternoon. We spend some time in Blue Sky – our favorite runs include the groomers Big Rock Park (our favorite blue groomed run on the entire mountain), the Star, Grand Review and In the Wuides (not always groomed). For ungroomed back country skiing at Blue Sky, we love Champagne Glade, Heavy Metal, Steep and Deep, Ollie’s and Resolution. After enjoying Blue Sky, it takes about an hour to get all the way back to Lionshead. We usually ski until the lifts close.
Picnic Lunch on the Mountain
For east coast skiers who usually bring your lunch and leave it in a cooler at the base lodge – this is almost impossible to do at Vail. There are lockers at the base areas, but there is no cafeteria at any base area. And, if you find yourself at Blue Sky Basin at lunch time, it is about an hour to get back to the Lionshead area.
We ski with a NorthFace backpack that is slender. We can fit four drink bottles, four sandwiches, two cup of noodles, brownies, nuts, tea bags and hot cocoa mix.
We highly recommend eating lunch by 11:15am. This allows you to get a table without hovering and waiting for people to leave.
Our favorite place to eat a picnic is at Two Elk Lodge at the top of China Bowl. It has a huge seating area, a bar, a cafeteria, restrooms, ski patrol and a sporting goods store. If you see Two Elk in the distance from the top of the Sun Up or Tea Cup Express lifts, DO NOT attempt to push over to the lodge. It is too difficult. Follow the signs and take the quick run down Whisky Jack and ride the super fast Sourdough lift back up. It is so much faster and easier than pushing across. Trust us! Additionally, if you come to the top of Highlands Express lift (Chair #10), you will need to descend on an easy green trail to the Sourdough (Chair #14) lift to reach the lodge. Otherwise, you will be walking up hill.
Eating on mountain is INSANELY expensive at Vail. When we lived in Colorado, we would purchase food once or twice in our 30+ days of skiing. For a family of four, you need to plan on at least $60 or more for lunch.
All the Vail cafeterias have free water and cups. There is also free hot water. So, we ski with hot cocoa packets, tea bags and cup of noodles and use the free cups and hot water. A hot cocoa is about $7 at Vail. Gatorade is over $6.
Another tip for Two Elk Lodge is – look for the picnic table area in the back room of the lodge. It is often way less crowded than the main seating area – it is a bit further to the bathroom, but we love anything with fewer people.
Purchasing Lunch on the Mountain
We have eaten in many places on the mountain in Vail. Some suggestions for you include:
Two Elk Lodge – It has a huge seating area, a bar, a cafeteria, restrooms, ski patrol and a sporting goods store. If you see Two Elk in the distance from the top of the Sun Up or Tea Cup Express lifts, DO NOT attempt to push over to the lodge. It is too difficult. Follow the signs and take the quick run down Whisky Jack and ride the super fast Sourdough lift back up. It is so much faster and easier than pushing across. Trust us! Additionally, if you come to the top of Highlands Express lift (Chair #10), you will need to descend on an easy green trail to the Sourdough (Chair #14) lift to reach the lodge. Otherwise, you will be walking up hill.
Two Elk has a pasta bar, burrito bar, baked potato bar salad bar, fried foods, burgers and wraps. They have the most variety on the mountain as they are the largest lodge by far. They have a complete alcohol bar, too.
One of the best “deals” at Two Elk Lodge is the salad bar. Last season, it was $16 for a large one plate fill-up at the salad bar. I could fill one plate with enough food for three people!
We still recommend eating at Two Elk by 11:15am to avoid crowds and hovering for a table. Also, look for the picnic area in the far back of the lodge. It is often way less crowded. You do not need to picnic to eat there.
Wildwood – This small place, located at the top of the Wildwood Lift has smoked barbecue food and some really great waffle fries. There is indoor and outdoor seating and restrooms. Gorgeous views of the Gore mountain range. The inside is very, very small, so go early. We have eaten our picnic lunches here several times.
Eagle’s Nest – Located at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola. There is a medium-sized cafeteria with good, but expensive food. Beautiful mountain views. On top of the building, the cafeteria is three stories up. There is a small elevator if you need it. We have eaten our picnic lunches here several times.
Buffalo’s – On top of the Mountain Top lift, this very small restaurant is always crowded. Always. We have only run in here to grab a hot cocoa or use the restroom. Expect it to be busy 100% of the time.
Mid Vail – Located at the top of Gondola 1 and at the bottom of Mountain Top and Wildwood lifts, this large cafeteria is sunny and bright with multiple indoor and outdoor levels. It can get very busy, so follow our advice and eat lunch by 11:15.
We once had friends in who made reservations at Bistro 14 for our two families. Bistro 14 is at the top of the Lionshead Eagle Bahn gondola on the first level. It is extraordinarily expensive and the portions are miniscule. We would not recommend eating here. While the views are gorgeous, the prices are simply too high!
Belle’s Camp – This TINY place sits atop Blue Sky Basin near the top of the Skyline Express and Earl’s Lifts. It is always crowded. Always. It has a small menu. We have tried to eat our lunch here and it never works! We are always cranky and cramped. There is a small amount of outdoor seating. There is a grill, and we have seen people bring their own food and grill it outside. I never wanted to ski with raw meat in my backpack!
There are many other places to eat at Vail, but we have not sampled them.
Things to Do
There are lots of other things to do at Vail.
The top of Vail has lots going on, day and night. Tubing, snow bikes and a ski coaster are just some of what Vail has to offer you. Visit their website for more information on all these fun (but expensive) activities.
Rec Centers – The Vail Recreation Department has facilities open throughout town for skating, golf, tennis, cross country skiing and special events like road races. Visit their website to plan a non-ski day activity.
If you have a car, visit the Avon Recreation Center. Just 10 minutes down I-70West, this 40,000 square foot center is fun for everyone! There is a huge aquatics center and workout facilities. Rates are $14 for non-resident adults and $10 for non-resident children. The waterslides are super fun.
Alpenglow Stube – If you have a car, we highly recommend visiting Keystone and their mountain top restaurant. You ride two gondolas at night to get to the Alpenglow Stube. The restaurant used to serve fondue, but now it appears to be an a-la-carte menu. The restaurant sits in a building that is a ski lodge by day, fancy dining by night.The experience is fun, and unique!
Tubing – We have not tried the tubing at Vail, but we have done it several times at Keystone. It is fun for the whole family. The tubing is open all day, but we have done it several times at night. You get to tube for an hour. Be sure to be early for your reserved time.
Gore Creek Trail
Gore Creek Trail – There are many summer hikes using the Gore Creek Trail. Simply google Gore Creek Trail and you will find dozens of gorgeous hikes using this trail.
When we visited Vail in March 2020, the corona virus pandemic cut our vacation short by a week. While planning our return trip home, Kendall and Michele set out for the Gore Creek trail. We parked at the free-for-three-hour lot on Bighorn Road. You take exit 180 off of I70 and look for the lot on the mountain side of the highway.
We walked for about three miles roundtrip. Boots are helpful. Snow shoes were not necessary on a warm March afternoon. It is very pretty. Part of the trail winds around a nordic center and golf course. It was a way to get some exercise on a wildly disappointing afternoon. Never have we had a vacation cut short for almost any reason.
From April through December, you can visit Zip Adventures in Wolcott, Colorado, just 30 minutes from Vail. This super fun zipline course offers great views and lots of adventure! Michele did it on a girls’ weekend and it was lots of fun. Not as scary as some of the other places we have zipped, but worth the money! TripAdvisor reviews are excellent!
When we ski, we primarily eat from our backpack at the lodge. We are usually exhausted at home. We tend to come home, clean up and eat dinner in our PJs. However, we do have some bar/restaurant recommendations in Vail for you.
Located right in Lionshead, Bart and Yeti’s has a nice outdoor patio. The inside is dark. However, the drinks are cold, the nachos are good and the vibe is fun. We have taken the kids many times. Way less people at Bart and Yeti’s than Garfinkels.
Garfinkels – This bar/restaurant is right across the way from the Born Free lift and the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead. It has a large deck and a dark interior. Given its location, this bar can get very crowded. However, with the outdoor seating, it can also be quite fun. Expect to hover for a table!
We have eaten several times at the Vail Chophouse. It is located at the base of Lionshead across from the gondola. It is expensive, but does have very good food.
The Red Lion in Vail Village is teeming with skiers for après-ski. and for most of the night. Inside and outside, it is not a great place for young kids. Young adults will love it! Go mid-week and not on a weekend.
We also enjoy Vendetta’s. It is Italian food and pizza located right in Vail Village. Reasonably priced.
Located at the base of the Vail gondola in Vail Village, Los Amigos is busy apres. Food is reasonable and you have a great view of people coming down the hill. Go mid-week if possible.
If you have a car, drive the 10 miles to the Minturn Saloon. The old West vibe and good food will make you happy. Expect to wait.
About 40 minutes away is the Ski Tip Lodge. It is very close to the Keystone ski resort. This bed and breakfast also serves amazing food and drink in a delightful setting. It is worth a drive or an overnight stay. The gardens are delightful. Both times we visited in the fall months, not during ski season.
We like El Sabor, located at the Lions Square Hotel across from the gondola entrance. The outdoor patio fronts the mountain and Gore Creek. The nachos are good and the drinks are cold. This pretty deck is way less crowded than Garfinkels.
We just love Vail. We are never bored there. It is gorgeous and the skiing is usually fantastic. Be sure to plan a visit!