Unsurprisingly, Vail has excellent facilities for beginners with specially designed nursery slopes just behind the village and at other key locations throughout the mountain. These have carpet or other easy-to-ride lifts. The ski school operates to the highest standards and has been fine-tuning its technique for decades to now be as close to perfection as it can get. The school offers lessons only, or packages which can include equipment rentals and beginner lift pass together at a discount, on purchasing these separately. Once you are confident at turning and stopping there are lots of convenient green circle easy runs up the mountain to progress on to. The only question there is on the wisdom of learning to ski in Vail is the cost, which is going to be higher than at many smaller areas closer to home which could do a perfectly adequate job themselves. You might choose to leave Vail, like Chamonix or Jackson Hole, until later in your skiing career. But on the other hand at least, if you find you hate skiing, Vail has the bars and spas to go to and forget it all. And if you’re in a mixed ability group, everyone will be happy whatever.
Intermediate level skiers will enjoy Vail’s skiing the most, indeed some evangelically hardcore skiers say that much of Vail’s steep terrain is in fact of advanced intermediate standard. Officially, however, intermediate terrain makes up just under a third of the resort’s terrain where you’ll find trails up to four miles long. The resort promises 300 blue sky days a year and an average of two skiers per acre on quiet days, 4 skiers per acre on busy days – so that should mean plenty of space on the piste. There are long blue cruising runs on the mountain’s front face and some blue runs in the back bowls and Blue Sky Mountain, with some easier powder slopes too that are a good training ground for those new to off piste.
Skiers holding Vail multi-day tickets can also ski at other Vail-owned resorts Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek as well as nearby Arapahoe Basin. The resort’s Epic Pass costs less than a 7 day non-advanced purchased, non-discounted pass, but is valid all season at all resorts (as well as at Heavenly in California and las Lenas in Argentina during the southern hemisphere winter) so is a good choice if you’re staying more than a week and particularly if you’re planning a few more trips during the season or the summer.
Although it has superb terrain for all standards, Vail is best known for its advanced terrain which is special enough to put it on the, “must ski before I die” list of all serious skiers. 53% of the terrain here is graded advanced, which, if you consider the sheer scale of Vail, means that the advanced terrain area is actually larger than the entire ski areas at about 95% of North American resorts. There are nearly 100 black classified trails and they come in all shapes and sizes (though steep down is a particularly common theme with them all). Double black diamond trails such as the Prima Cornice are particularly renowned for the challenge factor and the newest terrain (although now open for a decade) Blue Sky Basin provides some of the steepest runs and popular tree skiing.
But all those miles of groomed and ungroomed black runs are still not what Vail is famous for. The main attractions are the seven Back Bowls – areas of powdery wonderland where endless lines can be cut for weeks on end. Well, so long as the snow is fresh anyway.
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
Simply a five star resort for boarders, Vail has three big boxes ticked (and that doesn’t mean the three terrain parks and the big boxes within them, although that is one of them) – the other two are the hard-to-beat freeriding terrain in the ski area’s seven bowls and the equally unbeatable high-speed chairlift network which makes getting back up the slopes fast and easy without needing to take your board off.
Easiest of the parks are Bwana and Pride located beneath the Eagle Bahn Gondola on the Bwana piste. As you’d expect the terrain features here are on a human scale and good to get started on with comparatively low-lying rails, boxes and jumps.
Golden Peak is home to the resort's full scale park under the Riva Bahn (Chair 6). It has a competition size 450 feet long superpipe, lots of rails, a 23 feet box, battleship, wall ride and a series of jumps, the largest 50 feet. There are some smaller terrain features below the pipe.
You’ll also find The Landing Pad here that allows you to try big tricks and ride out if you land on your feet, but land in safety with your body weight absorbed if you don’t. The Landing Pad was created in 2005 after a rider was left paralyzed from the neck down after landing badly when trying a big trick.
Vail operates 45km of varied trails in the White River National Forest. Its Nordic Sports Center (+1 (970) 754 3200) based in Golden Peak, offers both lessons and tours of the area (participants must be aged 14 or older). If you take a tour, which can be from two hours to all day long, group leaders will talk about the wildlife in the area and its history, as well as leading the way. Lunchtime tours including a picnic midway are also available.
Average Snow And Weather Conditions
Vail is one of the world’s snowier ski resorts, receiving around 25 feet (7.5 metres) of snow each winter, so snow cover is rarely a problem, particularly when the season gets going. Like other top US resorts Vail endeavours to open in late November each winter in order to offer snow sports during the key Thanksgiving holiday period, which can be a little hit-and-miss if little natural snow has fallen and it’s too warm for snowmaking in mid-Autumn, but it’s invariably well-covered by mid-December.
The resort’s lifts climb above 3,500m which would put it in the 10 highest ski areas in Europe and indeed the base at 2475m is higher than any European resort. There is adequate snowmaking on lower and key runs but really, with all the natural stuff, it’s rarely needed. Finally, mention should be made of Vail’s investment in cloud seeding technology, which endeavours to draw excess precipitation from passing storm clouds – in other words making them dump still more powder on Vail than they would do anyway.