Vail Mountain’s multiple runs, lifts and gondolas are officially open and they are spectacular!
After an unforgettable three-day visit in early December, while still early in the Winter season, I experienced some of the best conditions of my life. I have been everywhere from the Swiss Alps, to Park City, to the Upper Northeast and all through Colorado. These were literally some of the best conditions that I have ever experienced! The fresh deep powder was abundant, the trails were perfectly groomed and the multiple lifts and gondolas made it really easy to explore this very broad and beautiful mountain. The staff and their professionalism is top-notch as well. From the marketing gals, the lift pass people, to rental, instructors and food and beverage staff, everyone on the mountain made us feel like family!
Vail is huge! It is nearly seven miles wide, over 5,000 acres of terrain, 31 lifts, and 193 trails. This sheer enormity makes Vail the largest skiing and snowboarding resort in North America. It’s so big that on an average day you may have an entire run to yourself. Vail has 3 distinct areas: the Front Side, the 7 Back Bowls, and the Blue Sky Basin. All are supported by an efficient fast lift system to get you quickly to the top for a fun day of skiing. And Vail has runs for all skill levels – wide groomed cruisers to double black diamonds as well as 4 terrain parks. Vail gets an average of 346 inches of snow and 310 days of sunshine per year! Maybe all of this is why Vail has been selected by Ski Magazine readers as the #1 Ski Resort in North America ten times since 1988. Whatever you do, don’t get frustrated skiing from lift to lift to try multiple areas in a day – pick an area and ski it for a day, then ski another area the next day, and by the end of the week you’ll have covered most of the mountain!
The Front Side offers an awesome variety from wide, gentle, smooth groomers to some moguls and glades. Plus there are four terrain parks including the Golden Peak Terrain Park with jumps, jib park, and superpipe. This area is perfect for warming up and for beginners to intermediate skiers – you’re not just limited to one area like most other resorts, you can ski the entire front side.
For intermediate skiers you can ski down the Front Side Trails (Lionshead is great), head over to the back side and ski China Bowl’s Poppyfield for fun powder skiing or snowboarding, or try the Game Creek Express for fun and fast runs or some of the easier black diamond runs. Intermediates can cruise the entire front side on carpet-like trails – the Lionshead run is a particular highlight.
The Seven Back Bowls are all natural and over six miles wide with 2966 acres to ski and these bowls are serviced by 8 lifts. The bowls make up over 1/3 of the skiable terrain and they are suitable for advanced to expert skiers and snowboarders and offer wide open powder and mogul fields of varying steepness with a few sections of good treed terrain.
For experts and daredevils, the double black terrain around the Highline Chairlift on the Front Side will push even the best to their limits and if you head further left it gets steeper and even more challenging. In the Back Bowls the Forever Trail in Sun Down Bowl is renowned for its large moguls and good powder but the Seldom, Never, and O.S run are even better for pristine powder. In China Bowl the gladed Shangri La Glade under Orient Express Lift is fantastic and the left hand side of the Skyline Express Lift is steep and fast.
Blue Sky Basin is one of Vail’s farthest to reach areas and it has no dining options but does have a warming hut and bathrooms. Blue Sky Basin is home to some of the best backcountry skiing on over 645 acres served by four high-speed quads. Here you find fewer skiers, lots of solitude, and great powder – Blue Sky Basin is two miles into the wilderness area and well away from civilization. This is terrain that is similar to what you experience if you were to hike or helicopter in to ski. This area is for advanced to expert skiers and has only blue and black runs with bumps, steep and deep powder, a couple groomers, and some tree gladed runs. Some parts of the Basin are groomed for intermediates but generally there are no specifically marked trails more just general suggested markers.
Since weather conditions can change so rapidly, I also recommend asking the local staff where the best areas to Ski/Board that day are depending on if the snow is sun-baked and refrozen or if the air is chilled and the winds are light keeping the snow super soft. Certain runs are better for certain conditions. Just ask the staff, they are really friendly.
I would also highly recommend renting their Demo board they set me up with at the rental shop. It was a new 2017 Burton Snowboard called the Flying V. From the side view it literally has a minor V shape as opposed to a traditional flat board and it floats through powder like you’re on a cloud. All that you need to do is put a little weight on your back foot. It’s quite spiritual and the terrain being top-notch made it even more memorable and exhilarating.
Blue skis and low temperatures is what you’ll find on a classic day at Vail. Avoid South facing slopes the morning after a warm sunny day, search for east facing slopes in Winter and just calibrate your internal compass, bring your sense of adventure and think before you leap. Also avoid the Poma lift to Mongolia Bowl when there is a line. Ski Siberia Bowl instead. Avoid the Teacup Bowl lift when the crowds come down from Blue Sky Basin at 2:30PMish and definitely hit the nightlife in town at nighttime.
I like to think of Vail Ski Resorts as the company that saved the industry. They purchased many mountains and instead of taking advantage, they gave back, offering up the legendary Epic Pass for a price that just about anyone could afford. This is the big guy giving back to the little guy and I love that about Vail Ski Resorts.
The Epic Mix app is incredible too! Make sure you download it before going up. It can keep track of your distances skied/boarded, stats and even your top speed, plus so much more!
The end-of-the-day rush is real, so bide your time. Everyone is trying to get off the mountain at the same time. Skip the rush. Stop in a lodge for fifteen minutes, relax and have a drink and try a bowl of delicious bison chili. Let the crowds pass, and then head down. Also take the bus. Vail has an extensive free shuttle bus system. It’s easy to use, if you know where to pick it up at the end of the day. Lionshead has two stops – west and east, while busses from the Village depart the transportation center. Knowing where you are going eliminates lots of trudging in ski and snowboarding boots.
Vail’s slogan is “Like Nothing On Earth!” and boy did they hit the nail on the head with that one! This place is one of a kind and truly a marvel for everyone to behold and enjoy! The perfect place to go for any skier or snowboarder, beginner to expert! You will absolutely love this unforgettable winter sports experience. It truly was one of the best boarding weekends of my life!
For more information on snow/weather conditions, mountain cams, safety, events, open trails and lifts, ticket prices, rentals, apps, restaurants, lodges and Mountain Info Center please visit:
Ski/Board smart, read the terrain, ask for help and choose the right trails!