Vail, Colorado has an esteemed reputation. As the largest ski resort in the state, Vail is often called “the Disney World of ski resorts”.
From mountain sports to après activities, this travel guide details the best things to do in Vail in winter.
Vail Mountain Resort is one of the best ski resorts in Colorado for families. Thanks to the sheer size of the resort, you’ll find a lot of variety in difficulty and type of runs. Whether you’re seeking easy, beginner terrain, groomed runs, bowl skiing, or tree runs, you’ll find plenty of all of those in Vail.
- Skiable Terrain: 5,317 acres
- Number of named runs: 195
- Vertical: 3450 feet
- Percentage of Green/Beginner Runs: 23%
- Percentage of Blue/Intermediate Runs: 35%
- Percentage of Black and Expert Runs: 43%
Aside from the mountain, the town, which is home to about 5,000 residents, boasts boutique shops, local restaurants, and high-end spas.
How to get to Vail
When visiting Vail in winter, It is easiest to fly into Eagle County Regional Airport which is a 45-minute drive from the Vail Mountain Resort. You can book a transfer or rent a car to make it from the airport to the resort.
As an alternative, you can fly into Denver. However, the drive from DIA is a minimum of 3 hours. The drive on Interstate 70 into the mountains can be even longer and quite precarious during winter. Adding to the challenge, the Vail Pass, which is a section of the highway that takes you to Vail, often closes due to avalanches or slick roads.
ALSO READ: HOW TO PACK AND FLY WITH SKIS
How to get around Vail
Although Vail is a huge resort with multiple base areas, getting around the town is fairly easy. Vail offers free local bus services that run from 6:30 am to 1:00 am, stopping at several different locations along the route.
The shuttles run every few minutes, making this a great way to get around Vail during winter.
Where to stay in Vail in winter
When visiting Vail in winter, it is best to stay in either Lionshead Village or Vail Village. This will put you within walking distance to the chair lifts and many of the best things to do in Vail in winter.
Lionshead Village Hotels
Things to do in Vail in Winter
While Vail is equally beautiful in summer and makes for a great base for hiking some of Colorado’s awesome 14ers, Vail is perhaps best known as a winter destination.
As avid skiers who have been to Vail multiple times, we’re laying out the best things to do in Vail in winter – both on and off the mountain.
Hit the slopes
The incredible ski runs are the biggest draw to Vail in winter. With 195 named runs ranging from beginner terrain to tree runs and the legendary back bowls and Blue Sky Basin, snowboarding and skiing is the number one thing to do in Vail in winter.
Whether you are just learning to ski or you can handle any type of terrain with ease, Vail will impress you with its sheer size and variety.
Here are a few of our personal favorite runs to check out when you ski Vail in winter. We’ve broken them up by level:
- Greens: FlapJack, Lost Boy, Boomer, Lions Way
- Blues: Ramshorn, Born Free, Simba, Avanti, Big Rock Park, Poppyfields
- Blacks: Blue Ox, Northstar, Riva Ridge
Don’t understand the mountain rating system? Check out our guide to the most frequently used ski expressions and skier lingo
Enjoy the après atmosphere
Whether you’re staying in Lionshead Village, Vail Village or elsewhere, one of the best winter activities in Vail is to take part in the tradition of “après”.
Après, which means after in French, has come to mean enjoying a beverage with friends at the end of the ski day and recounting your experience on the mountain.
Restaurants and taverns typically offer après specials that run until about 5pm. It’s the perfect way to cap off a fun day skiing or snowboarding in Vail.
Test your skills on snowshoeing trails
If you’ve never been snowshoeing, this winter workout is a great way to explore Vail’s snowy beauty if you don’t ski or snowboard.
At the Vail Nordic Center, you can snowshoe on 10 kilometers of scenic trails. If you don’t have your own snowshoes, don’t worry! You can rent a pair at the facility.
Aside from snowshoeing, you can also take cross-country ski lessons or rent fat tire bikes to explore 17 kilometers of trails.
Take a scenic gondola ride
Even if you aren’t planning to glide down the mountain on skis or a snowboard, consider taking a scenic gondola ride up the mountain for beautiful views of Mount of the Holy Cross and the Gore Mountain Range.
You can buy a ticket for a scenic gondola ride if you don’t already have lift tickets. Children under 5 do not need a ticket.
At the top of the gondolas there are photo spots where you can take a family photo or simply enjoy the view from the top. There is also a cafeteria-style restaurant where you can enjoy lunch before heading back down the mountain.
Visit the Nature Discovery Center
Also at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, which takes you up the mountain from Lionshead Village, you’ll find the Nature Discovery Center. This small yurt is free to visit and includes interesting exhibits about winter ecology and animals that live in the mountains around Vail.
The center is operated by Walking Mountains Science Center, which also offers free guided snowshoeing tours for those 10 years old and up.
Go ice skating
Ice skating is one of the best things to do in Vail in winter. Both Lionshead and Vail Village have great outdoor skating rinks with cozy warming stations and seating for parents or non-skaters to sit and watch.
You can bring your own skates, if you have them, or rent a pair for $15 and skate as long as you would like, or until the rinks close for the night at 9pm.
For little ones or novice ice skaters, the rinks also have skate helpers that you can use, available for free on a first-come first-served basis.
Go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride
A winter sleigh ride is the perfect family experience for those looking for a unique and memorable Vail experience.
Located about 30 minutes west of Vail, the historic Bearcat’s Cabin offers a starlit, horse-drawn along snowy trails. You’ll be given warm blankets and hot drinks to enjoy during your evening sleigh ride. Each sleigh can hold up to 14 people.
After your sleigh ride, you can complete the evening with dinner in a rustic cabin setting.
Spend an afternoon at a spa
If you plan to take a day off from mountain activities while the rest of the family skis or snowboards, book a massage, facial, or other luxurious body treatment at one of the many spas in Vail.
There is no shortage of spas and wellness centers in Vail offering everything from a one hour massage to more robust spa packages that include body wraps, scrubs, and sound therapy.
It is a great way to feel pampered while prioritizing self-care and physical wellness.
Dine in a private gondola
Alpenrose has long been one of our favorite places to eat in Vail, but the addition of a private gondola dining experience makes it even better! Renowned for its traditional Bavarian decor and atmosphere, the restaurant located in Vail Village now offers a private gondola dining option.
Guests are treated to an intimate evening in a gondola that has the same interior design style of the German-Austrian restaurant.
The private dining experience comes with a set menu of grilled meats and fondue served with a German pretzel appetizer.
Go dog sledding
Dog sledding is another one of the most memorable things to do in Vail in winter. Tours with Mountain Musher begin and end in Wolcott, about 15 miles west of Vail or 10 miles west of Beaver Creek. The twice daily tours take up to 12 people on 6 different dog sleds, each pulled by a team of eager Alaskan huskies.
On your tour you’ll get to bond with the sled dogs while also getting to see and experience the unique bond the mushers have with their canine teams as you glide along private trails through Aspens and Pine trees in the Vail Valley.
Attend a winter event
Throughout the year, Vail hosts numerous fun events for both the local community and visitors to the ski resort.
Winter time is no different. There are several events that take place throughout the ski season, like Winterfest.
Winterfest is a celebration of public art and ice, with more than 25,000 pounds of intricately carved ice sculptures that run along the Gore Creek Promenade in Vail Village. The ice sculptures created during the event remain on display until they melt, so even if you miss the actual event, you can still enjoy the artistry left behind.
Spend an afternoon at Imagination Station
If you’re visiting Vail with kids, Imagination Station is a great place to spend an hour or so on a day that is too cold for little ones or on a day when your children just need a break from the slopes.
This interactive facility is designed to engage young minds through a variety of hands-on exhibits and activities. With a virtual reality headset for older kids to a light wall for younger kiddos, and pottery painting for everyone, Imagination Station is a place where kids can unleash their creativity.
Soak in a hot tub or heated outdoor pool
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should leave your swimsuit at home. Many of the hotels and lodges in Vail provide hot tubs, heated pools and even saunas where you can sooth your achy muscles after a day of skiing or snowboarding.
This is one of the most relaxing things to do in Vail during winter. For kids, spending 45 minutes in a heated pool is also a great way to wind down at night and get out any leftover energy before bed.
Other things to do during winter in Vail
There are so many fun things to do in Vail in winter. While some winter activities in the Vail Valley require a short drive from town, here are a few more things you can do within the small mountain town.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Rocket Fizz or Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory
If you’re visiting Vail with kids, you are sure to be persuaded to visit one of Vail’s candy stores.
In Lionshead Village, you’ll find Rocket Fizz, where you can select from a variety of popular candies or make your own bag of assorted salt water taffy.
In Vail Village, Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory offers both traditional favorites and homemade chocolate concoctions like truffles and caramel apples. They also serve a selection of ice cream flavors, for those who like to enjoy the cold weather with a cold treat!
Crack the code at Escape Room Vail
Escape rooms have become increasingly popular. These immersive experiences are fun for everyone from grade-schoolers to adults.
Escape Room Vail, located in West Vail, challenges participants to work together to solve puzzles, crack codes, and unravel mysteries within a set time frame. With different themed rooms, like a Wizard Room, Pet Shop, and Santa’s Naughty List, which is an easier room for families to do with kids, the escape rooms are each designed with unique storylines that create an atmosphere of suspense and excitement.
Walk through the Colorado Snowsports Museum
The Colorado Snowsports Museum is a fun tribute to the history and culture of snow sports like skiing and snowboarding.
Located at the welcome center in Vail Village, this museum shows you how skis and mountain fashion have evolved over the years. For the snowboarders, you’ll see one of the most comprehensive collections of snowboarding history. You’ll also be able to see the “snowboard” that James Bond made and used in the 1984 movie “A View to a Kill”.
This small, nonprofit museum is free to visit, although a $10 donation is encouraged. It is a treasure trove of artifacts, exhibits, and stories all about the beloved winter sports that draw so many people to Vail each year.
ALSO READ: WHAT TO WEAR SKIING THE FIRST TIME
Where to eat in Vail
Vail is known for its many dining options – ranging from pizza and pub food to Nepali, French, and Austrian cuisine. Here are a few great places to eat in Vail.
- Garfinkel’s – a casual sports bar at the base of the Eagle Bahn gondola serving American-style pub food.
- Blue Moose Pizza – a traditional pizza parlor in Lionshead Village adjacent to the ice skating rink where kids can skate while parents relax.
- Annapurna – A quiet, informal restaurant serving Nepali and Indian Cuisine.
- First Chair – A great place to grab breakfast in Vail Village specializing in modern burritos with a unique combination of ingredients you wouldn’t expect, but are surprisingly delicious!
- Alpenrose – A cozy German-Austrian restaurant that has been a Vail staple for more than 40 years.
Tips for visiting Vail in winter
When traveling to Vail there are a few things to know in advance that will make your winter experience an even better one.
Expect DisneyWorld prices
Vail used to be known for skiing, but now it is perhaps better known for luxury.
Vail Ski Resort is a very posh mountain. The village is home to shops selling high-end apparel, art galleries, and fine dining restaurants. If you visit Vail in winter, expect your travels to come with a high price-tag.
They call Vail the DisneyWorld of ski resorts, and just like at Disney, come prepared for an expensive trip.
Stay in Lionshead or Vail Village
Both Vail Village and Lionshead are great, walkable areas with lots to do. While you might get a better rate at a hotel or condo in West Vail, if you’re seeking the premier ski town experience that Vail is known for, stay in Lionshead or Vail Village.
Avoid holidays and Saturdays, if possible
Vail can get very crowded, especially on holidays, school breaks, and weekends. If you can avoid those peak days, you’ll not only get better prices on your lodging, but you’ll avoid crowded runs that feel like you’re trying to ski through a sea of people.
Do you have a question or comment about any of these best things to do in Vail in winter? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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