Vail fans have two words for you: Back. Bowls. Those legendary, sprawling bowls on the backside of Vail’s already generous frontside “make Vail what it is”—the most expansive resort in Colorado (and fourth-largest in North America), boasting more than 5,000 acres of skiable terrain for beginners and experts alike. It’s the sheer size of the place that readers highlight above all else, ranking it No. 5 in Terrain. Those in the know acknowledge “while there are other mountains with more extreme terrain, Vail is exceedingly diverse, has an offering for the whole family, and is easily navigated” thanks to a “lift system that is second to none.” This makes Vail, in many readers’ eyes, “one of the best ski areas in North America, maybe even the world.”
But as with any starlet who enjoys more than her fair share of the spotlight, Vail continues to be a resort that many love to hate. Some readers complain that “the resort is so vast, it can be hard to get around” and that Vail “has typical good Colorado snow, but is overgroomed” (the resort ranks No. 7 in Grooming). While it’s hard to take these criticisms too seriously, other complaints are more difficult to dismiss: soaring ticket prices, unaffordable lodging and parking options, and the lack of a “real town” with some soul.
True, Vail is “very expensive for those without a pass,” but as one reader points out, “value can be had with an Epic Pass.” Another reason that “while Vail is expensive, all resorts are now expensive, and the bang for your buck at Vail is by far the best!” In the end, there’s something to be said for a resort that, despite these criticisms and other nearby options, continues to attract skiers who will shout their love for Vail from the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. — Jenny Wiegand
Vail's 2020 SKI Magazine Reader Resort Survey Rank: 11th in the West
- APRÈS-SKI: Think Vail is too high-end and overpriced? Stop into Vendetta’s for cheap pizza slices, pitchers, and a dose of normalcy.
- WHAT’S NEW: Massive snowmaking upgrades are underway to ensure pre-Thanksgiving opening days from here on out and increase Vail’s snowmaking terrain by 200 acres, making higher elevation terrain and access from two base areas more dependable in the early season.
SKI Magazine's 2019 Review of Vail, Colo.
The original Colorado behemoth continues to make its already world-class winter experiences better. To complement the reader-praised, numerous high-speed chairlifts spider-webbed throughout the mountain, the ski resort is investing in 10 new large-capacity, low-energy snowmaking fans to make early season turns under the Born Free Express even more delightful. When snowfall picks up, Vail will increase grooming operations in the famous Back Bowls this season by 30 percent, allowing more skiers to experience the joy of making turns down Morning Thunder, Genghis Kahn, and others.
One thing that hasn’t changed for the better is price. Vail is expensive, with the steep cost of parking and lodging remaining the largest complaint from visitors and residents alike, but money will be the last thing on your mind when enjoying the views from Game Creek Bowl and Blue Sky Basin.
When the lifts close, it’s hard to make a wrong choice for après, but we prefer getting a pizza at Vendetta’s or Normy style wings at Bart and Yeti’s. If you’re feeling fancy, end the day watching the alpenglow of the sunset on Vail’s frontside with a cocktail from Matsuhisa or a local pint at the Vail Brewing Company Taproom, followed by a stroll along the babbling Gore Creek before dinner at Mountain Standard or Russell’s. - Jon Jay
Come to Vail for the...
- SNOW On storm skiing days, the crowds head to the Back Bowls, but the Northwoods area has phenomenal glades and visibility.
- LODGING Spend some nights at The Sonnenalp or The Lodge at Vail for proper pampering that’s worth the price.
- NIGHTLIFE When Shakedown Bar has live music, it’s hard to beat.
- FAMILY ACTIVITY Hairbag Alley rides like a natural banked-slalom course through the trees. It’s a hoot.
- APRÈS SPOT Grab a couch at The George, Vail Village’s iconic subterranean lounge. With drink and food specials (try the king crab), this place gets packed with locals and visitors alike.