By John Leach
Vail Ski Resort offers 5,289 acres of skiing on 10 bowls on Vail Mountain and gladed terrain the adjacent Blue Sky Basin, making it the largest ski area in the United States. With its prime spot on Interstate 70 about 100 miles west of Denver, Vail draws 1.8 million skiers and snowboarders a season.
The front of Vail Mountain reaches a summit of 11,250 feet from a base at 8,120 feet for a vertical rise of 3,130 feet. Blue Sky Basin has a higher summit, at 11,570 feet, with a vertical rise of 1,910 feet.
There are 193 trails, with 18 percent rated beginner, 29 percent intermediate and 53 percent advanced or expert. The 10 bowls are on the front and back of the main mountain, with retro-style back-country skiing through the trees on the 645-acre Blue Sky Basin.
The average snowfall is 366 inches a year, with a ski season running from mid-November to mid-April.
There are 31 lifts, with one gondola and 18 high-speed quads, with a capacity of more than 53,000 passengers an hour. A second gondola is scheduled to open in late 2012.
Vail is unusual in having beginner runs scattered across the front of the mountain instead of being clustered and in having beginner runs at the top of the mountain. There are some good trails under the Sourdough lift and at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. For a long run, take Eagle’s Nest Ridge off the Wildwood lift or Avanti lift. Take a trail map and pay attention to the signs.
For intermediates, there are some good narrower runs starting at the top of the Avanti lift and runs that mix steep and flat stretches beginning at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, though both spots get crowded at lunch and in the late afternoon. Riva Ridge is excellent for advanced intermediates and is Vail’s longest run at four miles. Intermediates wanting to try out the back bowls should start with groomed runs in the China Bowl such as the Poppyfields trio. Or they can venture into the Blue Sky Basin for sweeping runs like Grand Review and In the Wuides (“weeds,” get it?).
Expert skiers will want to explore Vail’s famed back bowls, along with Blue Sky Basin. The back bowls offer 3,017 acres where skiers can find their own routes without the front side’s crowds, and they are at their best with fresh powder. This is where the well-known Genghis Kahn, Over Yonder and Bolshoi Ballroom runs can be found. Across the way is the Blue Sky Basin, where north-facing slopes keep the snow fresh longer and offer gladed terrain. On the front of the mountain, experts will enjoy the Prima and Riva Ridge, or the three trails off the Highline lift.
Vail has three terrain parks, with one superpipe. The largest park, Golden Peak, has 18- and 13-foot halfpipes, plus nine jumps of 10 to 50 feet and a series of 30 jibs, boxes and rails. The other parks, Pride and Bwana, are designed for freestyle progression with small and medium hits.
The ski area has four restaurants for casual dining. The top of the mountain has Two Elk Restaurant and Wildwood BBQ, and partway up the mountain are the Mid-Vail soup stand and Eagle’s Nest with Greek gyros. For fine dining, The 10th serves lunch at Mid-Vail, Bistro Fourteen offers casual, upscale lunch and dinner at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, and Game Creek features American cuisine for dinner in a European chalet at the top of the mountain and serves as a private club for lunch.
The ski area opened in 1962 with a gondola and two other lifts and sits directly south of the town of Vail, which was built from the ground up as a ski resort and opened in 1966. At the time, the Gore Valley was largely unpopulated and was served by U.S. 6, though there were plans to build Interstate 70.
Vail was founded by Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton, who had worked at Aspen and other Colorado ski areas before setting out to build their own. Seibert discovered Colorado while training at Camp Hale south of Vail during his service in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division for World War II. Eaton, a Colorado native, had grown up skiing and had worked in Leadville’s mines and prospected for uranium.
P.O. Box 7
Vail, CO 81658