An Insider’s Guide to Vail’s Hidden Trails
Vail Ski Resort
In 1962 Vail Ski Resort opened in a nearly uninhabited Colorado valley with two chairlifts and the first gondola in the United States. Founders built the resort over six months to be the best ski resort in the world, “Like No Place on Earth” a slogan would later boast. Interstate 70 would arrive in the 1970s, connecting the haven to state capital Denver and cementing its success. From the beginning, the base area’s winding streets echoed a Bavarian ski village design and now there is the enduring draw of 195 named runs, the wide-open “Legendary Back Bowls” plus the north-facing gladed trees of Blue Sky Basin to make Vail Mountain a world-class, one-of-a-kind ski destination. There’s plenty more offerings in the summer with more than 20 miles of hiking trails and 40 miles of freeride biking trails.
In winter, standing on any peak and taking in the panoramic view of 5,317 acres of skiable terrain, endless miles of groomers to carve, zones to explore, or new lines to find, it’s easy to be wowed, and just as easy to be overwhelmed. Without a guide, skiers and snowboarders can spend all day just looking at the trail map, so here’s a breakdown of a few secret spots based on your ability.
Ability Level: Green Circle
Located off Sourdough Express (#14) in Northeast Bowl, Tin Pants, Boomer, and Sourdough are shorter green runs ideal for getting away from the crowds and working on turns. The north-facing terrain means the snow is always soft, and the groomers seem to pay special attention to making sure the corduroy is perfect. When you’re ready for a break, from the top of the lift you’re only a few steps away from Two Elk Lodge.
Named for a 14-year-old who skied into a then-undeveloped area of Vail, Lost Boy (don’t worry, he found his way out!) is a long, groomed green run in Game Creek Bowl. This part of the mountain benefits from some of the best afternoon sun, making for warmer runs even on the coldest days. The adjacent blue and black runs funnel to the new six-person Game Creek Express (#7) chairlift, making this a great area for families of mixed abilities to explore and regroup at the lift.
From the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola (#19), Simba is a long, wide-open winding run for skiing and snowboarding from the top of the mountain all the way to the base. Although this area is easily accessible, it is often uncrowded and makes for a great warm-up to the day.
Ability Level: Blue Square
Vail is probably best known for its phenomenal intermediate terrain. Northwoods is a long, groomed blue run with rolling terrain that allows for easy rest stops after steeper pitches. As the name implies, this north-facing terrain is sheltered from the sun and is one of the best places to find soft turns all season. Served by the Northwoods Express (#11) six-person chair, this is one of the best blue runs to lap all day long.
When you’re ready to explore Vail’s backside, Poppy Fields East & West offer a great introduction to the treeless, wide-open experience that defines back bowl skiing. From the top of Sourdough Express (#14), a short road lets you traverse across and drop in. The Orient Express (#21) brings you back to the top of China Bowl and Two Elk Lodge.
Blue Sky Basin is as far away from the base area as you can get and offers exceptional intermediate skiing to explore. Big Rock Park off Skyline Express (#37) and Grand Review off Pete’s Express (#39) are two favorite runs where you can experience world-class grooming that winds through open trees. Snowboarders, be aware that runs in Blue Sky require cat-roads out.
Ability Level: Black Diamond
Riva Ridge is one of the definitive black runs at Vail and is the longest run on the mountain with over four miles of steep pitches from Mountain Top Express (#4) to the Vail Village base area. When it’s freshly groomed, Riva is a dream for steep corduroy and there are gladed trees on either side for those looking for softer snow or more challenge. This is a go-to run on a powder morning. While everyone else is headed out to the back bowls, you can lap Riva with others in the know.
Forever is a backside black run under High Noon Express (#5) that rides down the ridge separating Sun Down Bowl from Sun Up Bowl. With exceptional black terrain and numerous trails, including the wide-open bowls and pitches off either side, you can find steep bumps, trees, and optional cliff drops.
Only rarely groomed, Blue Ox (black) and Highline (double black) offer some of the longest, steepest bumps around. Served by Highline Express (#10), there’s never a lift line, and no easy way down. vail.com
Where to Stay in Vail
When Earl Eaton and Pete Seibert, both avid mountaineers and skiers, hiked seven hours to the top of what is today Vail Mountain Resort, they looked over the back of the peak to the powder-covered bowls and thought they’d found heaven. Quickly and quietly they secured permits and financing, and over the summer of 1962 built ski lifts, cleared runs, and opened the country’s newest ski resort.
Sixty years later, The Hythe, A Luxury Collection Resort, Vail (hythe means “haven” in Old English) has opened its doors, revealing a black-and-white, mural-size photo of the mountain the friends climbed that day, marked with their handwritten notes for laying out various runs. Their vision for the place was clear from day one. Another nod to Vail’s beginnings is the lobby bar, called 10th Mountain for both the local distillery partnered with the hotel and the 10th Mountain Division in which Seibert served during WWII. The team of elite US Army skiers fought in Northern Italy, and only half returned home. Many of those who did worked to create Vail, transforming the newly acquired, undeveloped ranch land into an alpine playground. Open for breakfast, Margie’s Haas focuses on flavors of the Italian and Austrian alps, where 10th Mountain Division soldiers spent time in the home of the local cook, Margie, for whom the restaurant is named.
While rooted in the past, the hotel remains focused on what today’s travelers look for in a premier destination: a convenient ski-in/ski-out location (1,000 feet from Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead Village), sleek yet comfortable mountain décor by Wilson Ishihara Design, and amenities including a Well & Being spa and menu of outdoor experiences available through outfitter Adventure IO. The centerpiece of the cavernous lobby, styled like a modern Alpine chalet, is a circular glass fireplace surrounded by lounge seating. Formerly Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, which opened in the coveted location in the 1980s, the hotel makes a studied use of texture more than color to enhance the new interiors. Swathed in faux furs, leather upholstery, flannel, wool, wood, and stone, public spaces, 344 rooms (including 22 suites), and 16 residences maintain a sense of place and newness.
Even with a budget of $40 million, it’s hard to take a property that wasn’t luxury and turn it into a five-star resort. The Hythe has done it. Rooms outfitted with modern cuckcoo clocks, high-top desks, and leather rocking chairs complement their greatest feature: mountain views through wood-trimmed windows. In many accommodations, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors open to large balconies furnished with comfortable director-style chairs. Skiers begin and end their days at the hotel, with in-room ski fittings and Revel Lounge on the second floor for après dining of shareable, copious portions and cocktails such as Margie’s Reprieve made with gin, pomegranate, and honey syrup.
The Well & Being Spa is equipped with every tool needed after a day of skiing. The concept takes healing your body beyond the jets in the hot tub, with massage therapists to hit all the pain points and a Himalayan Salt Inhalation Lounge to restore respiratory function. Recharged, The Hythe can arrange a day of heli-skiing with an Olympian or, in warmer months, customized fly-fishing excursions to see Vail Valley in all its glory without the snow. From $700; thehythevail.com —Jennifer Ashton Ryan
Digital Ski Coach
Carv lives in your boot with 36 pressure sensors in each footbed to track your movements 20 times per second. Review your stats on the Carv app, which can teach you how to improve your skiing. In Training Mode, watch a video of a drill and then try it yourself with real-time audio feedback through your headphones. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can improve your performance. The 3 mm footbed fits any ski boot, even those fitted with custom orthotic footbeds. You have to ski the revolutionary technology to believe it. From $298; getcarv.com
The incredibly thin Hestra Tactility Heat Liner warms hands using innovative heated yarn technology that can be set to automatically heat up on the chairlift and cool down on the downhill when you are generating your own heat. Hands stay warm regardless of what outer glove you are wearing. $320; hestragloves.us
Ditch annoying ski pole straps with LEKI poles, equipped with the company’s Trigger 3D grip system for a click-in/out experience. Each pair comes with lightweight straps that attach over your glove. The all-carbon construction Carbon 14 3D ($170) is one of the lightest poles on the market, allowing for precise pole plants, a favorite for freesking. The durable Spitfire Vario 3D ($160) offers quick adjustment between 110–140 cm pole lengths. For even better integration, LEKI’s full line of gloves and mittens, like the goatskin Patrol 3D ($130), have the grip connector built-in. leki.mwrc.net
Sport Coaching App
With a subscription to Givego you can experience ski and snowboard coaching from some of the top experts in the world. Upload your 20-second video, share what you’re working on, and shortly you’ll receive video analysis with voice-over, drawings, and full annotation. Not just for alpine sports, Givego has thousands of qualified experts and provides coaching in golf, wake surfing, and most major sports and activities. The app also includes a library of tricks, tips, and drills so you can always find something to work on. From $15/session; givego.io
The Therm-ic Sock Set V2 UNI S-1400B is a unisex, fitted sock designed for skiing and snowboarding. A flexible, removable battery attaches to the sock above the calf and hugs your leg just above the boot. Heat settings can be controlled from an app to quickly adjust the temperatures independently for each foot. Set them on 1–3 for a gentle heat throughout the day, and on colder days bump them higher so that toes remain warm. $330; us.therm-ic.com —C.R.