By Stacey Leasca
January 20, 2020

Welcome to Mountain Mondays, our eight-week series introducing you to some of the coolest mountains in America. Stay tuned each week for a new mountain for you to explore.

Vail is a dangerous place to have friends.

On a recent visit to one of Colorado’s most famous towns I heard the line over and over again: “I ended up in Vail because a friend told me it was awesome. And then, I never left.”

Though, even upon first glance, it’s easy to see why this place could lure in just about anyone: It’s stunning, friendly, happens to be home to the largest ski mountain in the state, and has more activities than I could possibly experience over a four-day visit.

“Vail is all about variety,” Cole Dissinger, Vail resident and snowboard instructor on the mountain, says. “There’s absolutely something for everyone.”

All that variety makes Vail one of the best ski town destinations in the country for an extended family trip or a place for friends to gather and still ensure everyone has a good time. Here’s just a taste of all the things this beautiful slice of winter heaven has to offer.

Courtesy of Vail Mountain

For the Downhill Lover: World-class Skiing at Vail Mountain

Look, we won’t beat around the bush, the mountain is most certainly the main event when visiting Vail — but that’s with good reason. It’s got more than 5,317 acres of skiable terrain and receives an average of 354 inches of snow a year, and there's a trail for everyone. But that doesn’t stop Dessinger from having a favorite.

“When there are over 5,000 acres of trails, plus incredible hidden tree runs, if I had to pick one I would say Seldom in Sundown Bowl on a powder day when the sun hits it first thing in the morning,” he says. But, for first-timers, Dissinger says there’s no trail better than “Cloud Nine in Blue Sky Basin,” which helps “you really get a sense of how far into the wilderness Vail extends.”

To make the most of their time on the mountain guests are encouraged to hire a guide who can customize the experience to whatever they happen to be looking for. Vail also offers free tours including Back Bowls Tour, Legacy Tours, and Women’s Tours.

As for those who want to up their game, Vail also has a stellar lesson program where you can learn from people like Dessinger (seriously, request him). Guests can sign up for group lessons, book a private instructor, or try out the Early Access Tune-Up program, for a quick personalized tips-and-techniques refresher and the chance to hit the slopes before the lifts open to the public. Vail also prides itself on being a mountain open to all thanks to its renowned Adaptive Ski & Ride program.

For the Outdoorsman: Backcountry Skinning

During my time in Vail, I got to experience an entirely new side of the terrain thanks to The Sebastian hotel's epic new package, Brews, Bindings, and Backcountry. The Colorado-inspired pairing came with its own beer pairing, a CBD massage, and a day of expeditions in the backcountry with Paragon Guide Jim Gabriel. Gabriel has been living in neighboring Eagle, Colorado since 1990. He arrived when — surprise, surprise — a friend invited him out for a stay.

“A buddy of mine said he was going to Vail and invited me to come along,” Gabriel says as we make our way up to Vail Pass. “It was such a big resort, beyond anything I had experienced. It was a big deal for me to be here.”

Gabriel quickly found a job, a place to live, and a brand new life. Though he “really fell in love with the mountain,” he found “there were so many more things to do year-round, too.” Things like backcountry skiing, which he became so passionate about that he became both a guide and an avalanche instructor to keep everyone safe.

On our day together, Gabriel took us skinning (where you ski uphill using special equipment) up Vail Pass, an area so breathtaking it’s hard to put into words. As Gabriel notes, the activity is prime for people who “love hiking, and sort of like skiing.” With a guide, guests can go up as far as they’d like (or in my case as far as my body was willing) and ski back down. It’s an activity tailor-made for those who just want to breathe fresh air, take in the views, and share a good laugh or two with people like Gabriel.

For the Snow Bunny: Spa Time Abounds

Look, we get it, not everyone wants to freeze their buns off in the cold. Thankfully, in Vail, those who want to stay warm and cozy all day can in one of its stellar spas around the mountain.

For example, at The Sebastian guests of the hotel and visitors alike can spend some quality time at Bloom Spa. The quaint space punches way above its weight class when it comes to spa services including traditional and deep tissue massages, body treatments, and specialty add-ons like CBD and hot stone therapy. And, best of all, all the products at Bloom Spa are organic, eco-friendly, biogenic, anti-inflammatory, cruelty-free, and locally-sourced. The spa also comes with a steam room and sauna for visitors to sit in as long as they’d like.

Courtesy of Vail Mountain

But that’s not all. Snow bunnies can also book time at the neighboring hotel, The Arrabelle. This spa comes a bit bigger with 10,000 square feet of relaxation space. It also comes with the same level of attention to detail on keeping everything natural, organic, and as relaxing as humanly possible. And, if you’re fresh off the mountain or a backcountry adventure you’re welcome to come in for an apres-ski treatment on one of the spa’s heated tables to soothe every ache, pain, and sore muscle.

Courtesy of Vail Mountain

For Foodies: World-class Dining in Vail Village

Normally, ski towns are filled with okay food meant to satiate hungry skiers. But not Vail. No, no. Vail is filled with some of the best dining west of the Mississippi. I learned this first-hand by eating nearly everything off the menu at Fall Line Kitchen and Cocktails, located just off the mountain. Off the bat, I fell in love with dishes like its Skuna Bay salmon, which came with a divine honey miso glaze, broccolini, wild mushroom medley, and bamboo shoots for good measure. But, my palate went into overdrive the second I tasted the restaurant’s tots and caviar. Let me state this again: I ate tater tots with a heaping spoonful of caviar on top and just the right amount of truffled creme fraiche sitting underneath to bring it all together. And if that’s not food heaven I don’t know what is. Though you may want to just return to Fall Line over and over again, don’t forget to try these other Vail foodie favorites, too.

Vail is all of this and also so much more — but you’ll have to go visit to find your own personal take on the mountain that has it all. Maybe just try not to make too many friends, unless of course, you want to stay forever.

How to Ride:

Pick up a day pass for about $169/day, or purchase an Epic Pass, which includes access to Vail Mountain Resort.

Where to Stay:

Perhaps the friendliest hotel on the mountain, The Sebastian Vail is the place to stay if you’re looking for a curated vacation. At the Sebastian, guests can book experiences like Brews, Bindings, and Backcountry, The Art of Romance, and more.

If you’re hoping to be as close to the mountain as possible, look no further than The Arrabelle At Vail Square. The hotel is located right off the slopes and even comes with its own ski valet so you can park your gear next to the gondola. The luxury hotel will make you swoon upon arrival thanks to its plush amenities, stunning spa, delicious food offerings, and views for days.

Where to Dine:

Put simply, do not miss Fall Line Kitchen and Cocktails while in town. Fall Line has a dish for everyone including local meats, fish, vegetables, and cocktails you’ll clamor over.

For a unique Vail dining experience book a meal at Game Creek Restaurant. Located above the Game Creek chair lift, the restaurant serves up gourmet dinners with a view worth traveling up the mountain for. At the top, guests can enjoy American classic cuisine paired with a global wine list sure to delight.

Where to Apres-ski:

The George is a no-frills favorite among locals in Vail to grab a quick drink post-mountain. Get there for Happy Hour deals on drinks, apps, and delicious entries.

Another low-key Vail favorite is Bart & Yeti’s. On our visit, we spotted locals and visitors alike sharing a drink. We also witnessed a dog named Spaghetti walk in, head to the bar, order a bone, and leave. And if that’s not the perfect bar scene we don’t know what is.

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