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Let’s face it, Vail Mountain deserves better than this rank. The manicured groomers are near perfect every morning, the lift system seems to add more capacity every season, and there are 5,317 acres of terrain for everyone. “Massive place,” says one reader. “The scope and breadth of runs are difficult to match.” This season, the ski area moves its early-season high-efficiency snowmaking equipment to the slopes underneath the Mountain Top and Wildwood chairs, so expect better terrain to open sooner at the start of the winter.
When the rest of the mountain fills in, resist the temptation to follow the weekend crowds to the backside. Instead, skip the notorious lift lines and lap the lonely glades of Northwoods or Game Creek Bowl. Visiting Vail on a weekday? Lucky you. Expect to have the powdery goodness of Blue Sky Basin, China Bowl, and Siberia Bowl almost entirely to yourself. “Vail, and especially the Back Bowls, is my happy place!” says one reader. End the day exploring ski history at the newly renovated Colorado Snowsports Museum or with some local liquor in the 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirits Tasting Room in Vail Village. — Jon Jay
2021 Reader Resort Rank for Vail: No. 14 in the West
- WHAT’S NEW: Stop in at the new Legacy Hut at the top of Vail Mountain for a guided or self-guided history tour. Follow the historical signs placed around the resort that explain the cherished history of the iconic ski area. Then visit the newly renovated Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail Village for more.
- APRÈS SPOT: 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirits opened a new tasting room in Vail Village this year. The 10th Mountain Rye whiskey is a staff favorite here at SKI, and the brand’s Moonshine burns so good, you’ll probably need to shed a layer.
Read about No. 15 in the West: Lake Louise, Alta.
Wondering who just beat Vail this year? No. 13 in the West: Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Vail’s 2020 SKI Magazine Reader Resort Survey Rank: 11th in the West
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
- 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.