Of all of Colorado's many famed ski resorts, you might say Vail is the one that's most purely obsessed with powder.
For starters, it's America's largest and most visited ski area, with some 5,289 skiable acres, 193 trails, 33 lifts, seven massive Back Bowls, and the largest expanse of groomed terrain on the planet. The massive resort celebrated its 50th birthday during the 2012-2013 ski season, and it's worth noting what was here on these slopes before developers built the current village: absolutely nothing. Unlike Breckenridge, Aspen, and Steamboat Springs, which got their starts as mining or ranching towns, Vail was little more than a wild, untamed mountain valley before visionary developers started crafting the perfect slopeside village from scratch. Naturally, they looked to the world's most glamorous ski scenes for inspiration, resulting in the Alpine-tinged design you'll encounter at every turn throughout Vail, from its pedestrian-only cobblestone streets to its white clock tower and Bavarian-inspired architecture. In case you forget the inspiration, there's a rollicking annual Oktoberfest to remind you.
Nowadays, the resort has expanded beyond this borderline Alpine kitsch to become Colorado's go-to spot for serious skiers. More than half of Vail's trails are black-diamond expert runs and the once underexplored Back Bowls — nearly 3,000 acres of steep slopes almost completely above the treeline — now experience "rush-hour" traffic every morning. Of course that doesn't mean Vail ignores beginners. In addition to ski and snowboard schools, the resort offers a number of services to reel in new converts, from ski valets who transport your gear directly to the slopes to state-of-the-art lift tickets embedded with chips that track vertical feet covered, trails conquered, and other special accomplishments. But, despite all signs to the contrary, this place isn't all about skiing. And when the snow melts, there's plenty to keep Vail cool, including a free summer concert series, film festivals, the world's highest botanical garden, and even a restaurant from a Top Chef finalist.
Get deals from Vail and other top timeshare
destinations straight to your inbox.
Mourning the end of ski season? Stop by the free Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum for an in-depth look at the history and culture of Colorado's favorite pastimes. In addition to a skiing hall of fame, the museum features exhibits dedicated to the invention of skiing, World War II ski troopers, and the history of the U.S. Olympic ski team.
At Restaurant Kelly Liken, the namesake executive chef and former Top Chef finalist takes her inspiration from the bounty of her Colorado surroundings. Each week from mid-June through September, Liken hosts Sunday Harvest Dinners, during which she creates an on-the-spot tasting menu based on whatever she digs up that day at the Vail Farmers' Market, the largest in the state. Think of it as a real-life Top Chef challenge! You might find anything from elk carpaccio to roast Colorado rack of lamb to locally raised bass, paired with picks from her husband, wine director Rick Colomitz.
One of the best ways to take in the brilliant fall foliage is from up above on the Eagle Bahn Gondola, which departs from Lionshead Base. During weekends in September, the gondola will transport leaf peepers to Adventure Ridge for 360-degree views of the valley, the Gore Range, and the Mount of the Holy Cross. Colorado's famed aspens turn their shining gold color around mid-September, and the display usually lasts for about three weeks.
In these parts, there are many thrilling ways to get down Vail's slopes, from skiing and snowboarding to sledding and tubing. But there's only one exhilarating way to get back uphill: ice climbing! You may feel like a fish swimming upstream as you use crampons and ice axes to hoist yourself up 30 to 100 feet of slippery ice curtains or freestanding pillars, but you don't have to go it alone. In addition to courses in rock climbing, rappelling, and backcountry skiing, Apex Mountain School offers ice climbing lessons for any skill level, in groups of no larger than five per instructor.