With snow falling from Atlanta to Hawaii and Europe frozen to the point of lockdown, consider a snowy adventure to combat the winter woes and restore blood flow to flabby limbs. Vail, Colorado, is a glorious, albeit fully manufactured, ode to a Swiss village packed with snowboarder dudes, de-stressing bankers, doctors and lawyers, and handsome ski buffs and buffettes that adore the versatility of this cozy winter wonderland.
Unlike other famous mining towns like Aspen and Steamboat Springs, Vail was founded (thought up, really) by injured WWII Army veteran Pete Seibert and his friend, rancher Earl Eaton. The first ski resort opened in 1962 and the town, which now boasts an uncluttered 5,000 residents, followed four years later. Seibert took to skiing after a war injury and focused his ambitions to create "the most beautiful ski resort in the world." Clearly many believe he succeeded: Vail is now the second-largest single ski mountain in North America.
Vail Village stands at 8,150 feet above sea level and the mountain elevation jumps to a lung-stinging 11,500 feet. Die-hard snow bunnies love the diversity and proximity of Vail. A picturesque two-hour drive from Denver International yields stunning panoramas that practically envelop you with mountain. Vail isn’t the only option in this area—Breckenridge and Beaver Creek are both within 30 minutes—but Vail somehow feels more civilized while offering options for both beginners and pros with 5,289 acres of skiable trails, 33 lifts, 193 marked trails, and an average of 200-350 inches of snow in the November-April season. Statistically, it makes a lot of sense to visit Vail: There is almost always snow and sunshine, the people are inviting, and the charming and useful "in-town shuttle" is one of the country's largest free bus services, year-round between the main parts of town.
A sister city of St. Moritz, Switzerland, Vail makes being cold the center of its universe and you should, too.
The Sebastian is the standout for combining local flair with boutique-inspired charisma. This stylish lair has just undergone a $10 million renovation from a team brimming with taste. Beyond fresh amenities and yummy snacks, you’ll find tremendous artwork (originals from Manuel Felguérez in the The Library—a.k.a. the lobby), Bloom Spa, restaurants Market and farm-to-table Block 16, and the GWS in-town fave: Frost. With faux icicles and no kiddies in sight, this lounge and bar boasts creative cocktails and live music that go down like butter. Sex and the City fans should try the "Antioxidant" (house-infused blueberry vodka, pama pomegranate liqueur, cranberry, lime, orange) and spice fiends should opt for the Horseradish Martini (horseradish vodka, green peppercorns, shrimp.) Spending 10 bucks never felt this good. 100 rooms, seven suites, and a private residence club of 36 suites. Rates from $605 in the winter months; $325 in the summer, and $295 in shoulder seasons.
Closer to the base of the mountain is Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa, offering a manageable 28 rooms, family suites, and two- and three-bedroom condo rentals. Well-known for their included breakfast at yummy Terra Bistro, this lodge is all the good stuff sans the excess nonsense. Winter/holiday rates from $495; in spring, summer from $179. Check for spa deals before 2 p.m.
Nobody remembers to share that the eating in Vail is as good as the skiing. This is reservation central—even for lunch—so think ahead, sign up for opentable.com (nearly all local restaurants use it), and walk your boots to:
Sweet Basil, which has been around since 1977, serves amazingly fresh lunch and dinners, and has all-day bar hours. The charbroiled Angus burger is just what the doctor ordered ($13) and the duck confit pot pie ($16) sticks to the ribs. End with spiced honey cider ($11), sticky toffee pudding or both. Waddle back to slopes.
GWS would make the trip to Vail just for the open kitchen and stellar service of Larkspur. Upon entry, you are hit with an avalanche of truffle. Immediately partake in the truffle Parmesan fries. DO NOT SHARE. Consider repeating order, but resist. Graduate to the tomato soup & three-cheese grilled cheese entrée. Boast to lunch companion. Then unzip another layer to make room for the Saigon cinnamon doughnuts with dulce de leche. Gloat with pleasure. Two people, with cocktails (it’s a vacation!), all for under $100. The only drawback is the restroom outside at the restaurant near the skiing facilities.
Since you’re still eating light, consider dinner at local Italian favorite Campo de Fiore. Try the Autunnale (grilled portobello mushrooms, butternut squash, artichoke hearts with balsamic vinaigrette, white truffle oil, and shaved Parmesan) or chef’s favorite Casunziei all' Ampezzana (homemade red beet ravioli in a brown butter sage sauce and poppy seeds).
Skiing, it speaks for itself. For the basics, Vail has three mountains with skiing 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. daily. Lift tickets are $94 per day for adults ($64 for kids) with heavy discounts for multiday skiing. Lessons are easy to arrange—both private and group—and are found at Golden Peak, Vail Village, and Lionshead, Monday through Friday. Private half-day lessons from $310, group from $85 adults for half-day.
If you crave an outdoor activity but aren’t interested in the slopes, grab a pal and go ice skating at Solaris ice rink on East Meadow Drive and Willow Bridge Road in the heart of the village. Open from 1 p.m. daily. Adults $15 with rentals, kids from $10.
If indoors is more your thing, try the quirky bowling spot, Bol, also at the Solaris complex. Ten lanes, lush couches, and full bar with inspired food options.
For dinner and a movie, head to CineBistro for a little booze with your schmooze. American bistro cuisine, leather seating, and full-service appoints your experience nicely. Family-friendly until 8 p.m., then all bets are off.
For a little local retail therapy, saunter into Axel’s. This high-end Western shop can equip you with a variety of one-of-a-kind buckles, hand-tooled cowboy boots, and authentic hats. If you’re less adventurous, try the cashmere, shearling, or leather goods.
The Four Seasons has just opened in Vail. It is painfully generic and boring. Unless you are above the age of 80 and have an aversion to color, do not bother with this colossal letdown. Also worth skipping are the older huge lodges that charge a dear fortune for the pleasure. No thanks, Sonnenalp or The Lodge at Vail.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than half of the year. Her recommendations are aimed at business travelers who are short on time but not on taste. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. She lives between New York and London.