Synonymous with living the good life, Vail is perhaps the ultimate ski town in that it was a ski destination before it was even a town! Yet, while it is one of the world’s best known spots for snow sports, Vail is very much a year round destination. In fact, summer is catching up with winter in terms of popularity. Comprising a trio of base villages - Vail, Lionshead and Golden Peak - there are just over 5,000 permanent residents (with another 5,000 part-time and at it’s winter peak another 4,000 seasonal workers), Vail has a small-town feel with a big Alpine attitude.
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Anyone who has been to Vail could not have failed to notice that it’s pretty pristine. It has a sort of Disneyland-meets-ski-resort feel and that’s because the town was incorporated in 1966, four years after the ski resort was opened (Vail Mountain is another product of the 10th Mountain Division and was identified as a ski destination by Peter Siebert and Earl Eaton in 1962), making it younger than your grandmother. But what Vail lacks in terms of a storied history it makes up for in sheer awesomeness thanks to its near perfect location for recreation.
There will always be detractors, disparagers and denigrators who have thoughts and opinions about Vail and its undeniable appeal to those who love to live in the lap of luxury, but we see beyond the Louis Vuitton parkers and the Gucci goggles to the incredible expanse of exquisite wilderness than envelops the town. Yes, there are decadent dining options, five-star accommodations and bourgie boutiques, and if that’s what you’re looking for you’re in luck, but it is Vail’s location, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in White River National Forest and what that offers, that most people come for, especially in summer. In short, Vail has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to options for outdoor activities.
The town itself owns 1,100 acres of open space, but it’s the 350,000 acres of national forest around Vail that makes it such an incredible place for outdoor enthusiasts. There are hundreds of miles of river and trails that snake from one end of the Vail Valley to the other. Eagle County’s trail system has almost 300 miles of options for hiking, from paved paths to rugged backcountry trails that can transport you from your morning espresso to a mountain peak, a waterfall, or a secret lake in no time.
Want to give those joints a little respite? Jump on a mountain bike and bounce around on the 340 miles of mountain biking trails or slip into some spandex and enjoy the nearly 300 miles of road biking-friendly roads in the area.
Don’t feel like exerting yourself at all? No judgement here. There are a ton of options for those who want some technological assistance. Get behind the wheel of a Jeep or an ATV and whiteknuckle it around the area. And as we are living in a post-coronavirus world (hopefully), these are great options for those who want to be cautious and maintain a little more distance than they otherwise normally would.
Summer also means water sports and activities. There are more than 80 miles of river and whitewater rapids in the region (up to class V; for those who don’t know the rating system only goes up to class VI!) for your rafting, kayaking and SUP boarding pleasure. There are also lakes and plenty of stretches of calm river for something more relaxing. Rivers and lakes also mean there are also plenty of opportunities for anglers to cast a line.
Vail Mountain also offers a wide range of options for adventurers including chairlift and gondola rides and activities.
And if you really, REALLY want to take it easy, there is, so we are told, some of the best golf in the state here with more than a dozen courses in the area. There are public options like Vail Golf Club, EagleVail Golf Club and Eagle Ranch Golf Club as well as more ritzy options like the Greg Norman Course and the Tom Fazio Course at Red Sky Golf Club. Be sure to check what coronavirus-inspired guidelines are in place before you go!
For a lovely stroll, the Betty Ford Alpine Garden is lovely and at an altitude of 8,200 ft is one of the highest botanical gardens in the world. That is next to the Gerald R Ford Amphitheater which hopes to have events of 250-500 people from July during the “black diamond” phase of Eagle County’s Public Health Order. Currently scheduled to perform this summer is violinist, songwriter, dancer, and America’s Got Talent alumni Lindsey Stirling. Be sure to check the websites of cultural organizations and event organizers in the area as they are all looking for creative ways to offer smaller, more intimate performances, gatherings, outdoor movies, etc.
Other options for strolling include weekly walking tours from the Colorado Snowsports Museum (the museum will also be open) highlighting the history of the area as well as tours from the Vail Arts in Public Places program.
Recharge, Refuel and Relax
Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and Vail is very well-equipped to satisfy everyone from gluttons to gourmands - and those of us that fall into both categories! And by that same token, a well-crafted cocktail or a masterfully produced beer are of equal delight.
A Vail institution, Sweet Basil is a modern American restaurant that is well known in the valley. Expect tempting morsels like whipped feta with Calabrian chile and garlic honey or whiskey maple pork belly bao buns with pineapple, soy molasses, fried cashews and cilantro. As far as accolades, Chef de Cuisine Martin Woods of Sweet Basil took home the top prize at last year’s Annual American Lamb Cook-Off at Taste of Vail, and while he didn’t get to defend that title this year, the win, against almost two dozen of the area’s finest chefs, is testament to what you can expect at Sweet Basil. Also in Vail Village and offering American cuisine, Game Creek Club is a private member’s club that opens to the public for dinner. Expect prix fixe menus with dishes like bison tartare, wild boar and black cod. For something quicker and perhaps more homey, the Little Diner in Lionshead Village is a classic American diner with all the classics including eggs benedict, omelettes, huevos rancheros as well as a few things that nod to Vail’s Alpine legacy such as pannekoeken which is also known as a Dutch baby. Lunch offers sandwiches and burgers and something called Cincinnati Chili.
For possibly the best cocktail you’ve ever had, and in a pretty swish environment, too, head to The Remedy Bar inside the Four Seasons Vail (FLAME, the property’s steakhouse is also excellent). At places like this, nothing is likely to disappoint, but the Peanut Brittle Old Fashioned is a genuine masterpiece. Peanut infused Buffalo Trace, burned sugar simple syrup and aromatic bitters is nothing short of alchemy. It’s Vail, so there are plenty of places to get a great cocktail. For something a little more sudsy, 7 Hermits (next to Almresi where you can get a taste of authentisches Deutsches essen) and Vail Brewing Company, both in Vail Village, have awesome Colorado brews on tap. And you can’t miss 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirits on Bridge Street. Stop by for a snifter or take a bottle home. There is rye, vodka and moonshine, but we always come away with a bottle of their award-winning bourbon (we spiked eggnog with it in our winter issue, but it would make a damn good Manhattan).
If you want to create your own lunch, head to the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show. There are dozens of vendors with wares of all kinds, including clothing, jewelry and crafts aplenty, including edibles like grilled seafood treats from from Kaleb’s Katch (hear more from Kaleb in our grilling story on page 42), pastries from Homemade European Food, Jeffreezz Jelato, as well as old faithfuls like tacos, pizza et al.
For perhaps the finest cup of coffee this side of the continental divide, stop in at Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company. A 10-minute drive from Vail in Minturn, you’ll find great coffee and great people!
As for where to stay, Vail actually has both a range to suit different budgets as well as promotions throughout the summer. And there are plenty of other spots throughout the valley. The aforementioned Four Seasons represents the pinnacle in Vail. Want to bring the family? Check out the four-bedroom designer residence.
For something a bit more inclusive, there are guest ranches that offer all kinds of experiences on site including horseback riding, archery, campfire cookouts and ziplining.
Then there is Vail Racquet Club Mountain Resort. Spread across 20 acres with Gore Creek flowing right through the property, the resort has chalet-style one-, two-, and three-bedroom condos as well as three-bedroom townhomes that offer more of a home from home than a traditional hotel thanks to full kitchens and spacious living areas. Among other facilities, Vail Racquet Club has a year-round heated lap pool, eight tennis courts, children’s playground and a park with a patio and barbecue area.
There is also an on-site restaurant and complimentary morning coffee in the lobby, and it’s located on Vail’s free shuttle route with two stops on property.
Other great places to stay include the Grand Hyatt Vail and Manor Vail Lodge.
As you might expect, there is plenty of shopping to be done in Vail. All of the huge outdoor brands are represented, of course, but there are also plenty of locally-owned boutiques and galleries for your browsing or perusing pleasure.
The Wider Valley
Located two hours west of Denver, the Vail Valley is home to charming mountain destinations including Minturn, Red Cliff, Avon, Beaver Creek, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum.
Vail has one of the largest free transportation systems in the country, which reduces pollution and traffic congestion year-round.
Current Covid Regulations
At the time of writing the Vail Valley is open for business with certain restrictions including lodging properties, restaurants and bars operating at reduced capacity for the time being. Pools, hot tubs, fitness centers and gyms are also open with occupancy limits, but saunas, spas and steam rooms remain closed. Check online to stay up to date with the area’s plan to reopen so you aren’t surprised by any new restrictions.
Perhaps a silver lining is that several restaurants have added tables throughout the pedestrian village to allow for more open air seating and visitors will be able to enjoy alcoholic beverages in designated outdoor locations.