The draw to Vail is no secret. It's the endless outdoor activities in both winter and summer that make this resort so attractive. Do remember that the mud season (mid-April through May, plus November) holds little attraction for visitors – you can't ski; nor can you get up into the mountains to hike around.
Worth a Trip: Shrine Pass
Halfway between Copper Mountain and Vail is Shrine Pass (11,178ft), accessed via an 11.5-mile dirt road/ski trail that cuts south of Vail's Blue Sky Basin to link up with the town of Red Cliff along Hwy 24. In summer, this is a very popular multiuse trail: you can drive it, bike it (three to four hours), use an ATV, and, of course, go hiking – Shrine Mountain Trail is 4.2 miles round-trip; the trailhead is 2.25 miles up the road. From Julia's Deck (Mile 3.75) you have good views of Mount of the Holy Cross. Biking is the most interesting option because once you hump the pass (2.5 miles in), it's all downhill to Red Cliff. If you have two cars you can set up a shuttle; otherwise sign up for a bike tour with Bike Valet in Vail.
In winter this area is known as the Vail Pass Recreation Area and is equally interesting. It's used by both snowmobilers and backcountry skiers and boarders (often teaming together for the uphills), but with 55,000 acres of wilderness and 52 miles of nonmotorized trails, you should be able to find some seclusion. The forest service grooms 50 miles of trails back here, allowing you to get between Shrine Pass, Red Cliff and a third access point, Camp Hale. Additionally, there are four huts in the area (Shrine Mountain, Fowler, Jackal and Janet's Cabin) for overnight trips. It goes without saying that avalanche gear and training are a must. If you've got the cash, Vail Powder Guides run a memorably full day of snowcat skiing here.
To get here, take the Vail Pass exit (190) off I-70, or park in Red Cliff or Camp Hale on Hwy 24. The Minturn ranger office has maps and trail descriptions for the area – you must pick up a map before you go, as it's quite likely you'll get lost without one. In Red Cliff, stop off at Mango's for a meal or drink.
Vail Ski Tips
True, with 5289 acres of ski terrain available it’s tough to play favorites, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you explore the mountain. Beginners should stick to the groomed front side; the Gopher Hill Lift (#12) and Little Eagle Lift (#15) areas are best for first-timers. Other good green runs include Lost Boy in Game Creek Bowl and the Tin Pants and Sourdough in the Sourdough Express Lift (#14) area. Kids will dig the various adventure zones, which include banked turns and tunnels, so make sure to seek these out to break up the monotony of bunny hill-style runs. If they've had enough of skiing, head for Adventure Ridge at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, with tubing, kids snowmobiling, ski biking and free snowshoe tours.
Some good intermediate runs are Slifer Express, Cappuccino and Christmas in the Mountaintop Express Lift (#4) area. Northwoods, in the Northwoods Express Lift (#11) area, Avanti, Lodgepole and Columbine in the Avanti Express Lift (#2) area and Dealer’s Choice in Game Creek Bowl are also great. Intermediate skiers also love the wilder Blue Sky Basin (behind the back bowls), with runs such as Grand Review and In the Wuides. Free tours of Blue Sky Basin meet daily at Henry's Hut at 11am, across from Patrol HQ.
For advanced skiers, the backside is where the action is, with its seven legendary bowls: Sun Down, Sun Up, China, Siberia, Teacup and Inner and Outer Mongolia. The wide-open, spruce-dotted slopes here include favorites like Over Yonder (Sun Up), Forever (Sun Down) and Bolshoi Ballroom (Siberia). Steep & Deep and Lover’s Leap in Blue Sky Basin are two other home runs. The options are seemingly infinite and you can ski a week here without ever covering your tracks.
Trickster snowboarders can find three terrain parks on the front side, including a superpipe that's home to the US Open Snowboarding Championships.