With more than 5,200 acres of ski and snowboard terrain and 7 miles of celebrated Back Bowls, it’s no wonder Vail is considered one of the best ski resorts in the world. But that’s not all it should be known for.
The one-of-a-kind town has a storied history that starts with Pete Seibert, who founded Vail Mountain with Earl Eaton. That was 60 years ago, after returning from the mountains of Northern Italy where he fought during World War II. Seibert was a U.S. Army veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, which was made up of top skiers and mountaineers who trained for alpine combat at Camp Hale, just south of Vail. They set the tone for what has become an iconic resort town.
President Biden recently designated Camp Hale a national monument, and it’s always a great time to pay a visit, even if you’re a novice when it comes to winter sports. Vail’s après-ski culture is legendary, and there are enough activities to keep you busy off the slopes, no matter the season.
“Everyone knows about the winter but if you come in fall, you get to see the Golden Aspens at their peak,” says Pete Seibert, Jr., Town Council Member and son of Vail’s founder. “If you come in the summer, you can go fishing, rafting or even to hear the New York Philharmonic and see the New York Ballet. To have all of this in one place is so rare and what makes Vail so special.”
Here are 10 reasons you’ll understand the local saying, “You come for the winter, but you stay for the summer.”
Nova Guides at Camp Hale Lodge
Now that Camp Hale has been declared a national monument, there will be more interest than ever in this historic site, and Nova Guides has the permits to show you around. Depending on the season (leaf peeping in the fall is breathtaking), you can take a side-by-side tour through White River National Forest or head out in a jeep, ATV or snowmobile. Opt for a guided tour to get an in-depth history lesson while surrounded by the beauty of the Colorado Rockies.
The lodge itself is an inviting place to relax after your activities – which, in the summer, can also include fly-fishing and archery. Lunch in McAllister’s Grill is included in many of the packages, and their signature Camp Hale Burger is a must. After you eat, be sure to check out the memorabilia and black-and-white photos of the 10th Mountain Division located throughout the lodge.
Art in public places
You don’t have to step into any of the galleries (although you should!) to see museum-quality art in Vail. With over 60 permanent works of public art on display – most of them outdoors – it’s a delight to unexpectedly come across one of them. You might spot one while walking around the village or leaving your car at the parking structure, where you’ll be greeted by a cheery mural painted by acclaimed interactive street artist Kelsey Montague.
One of the most photographed pieces is the 10th Mountain Division Memorial, a 12 1/2-foot-tall painted bronze statue entitled “The Ski Trooper,” by Scott Stearman/Victor Issa. Download a map from the Art in Vail site, check out the colorful “We are all building nests,” and wonder at the human-made art that often rivals the area’s natural beauty.
The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort
This gorgeous hotel is all about luxury and comfort, with impeccable service and a casually elegant atmosphere. Be sure to book a massage at the on-site RockResorts Spa, acclaimed for its alpine-inspired treatments that incorporate natural ingredients and help soothe muscles after a day on the slopes.
The hotel’s Tavern on the Square features lovely mountain views along with generous portions of upscale comfort food, including a hearty chili and the most amazing artisan bread that could be a meal in itself. Because the hotel is located in the center of Lionshead, just steps from the gondola, it’s super convenient to everything – which, ultimately, may not matter because you won’t ever want to leave.
Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame
This fascinating little museum is an unexpected treat that’s worth a visit for the gift shop alone, which is filled with eclectic items celebrating skiing and snowboarding.
The thoughtfully curated museum will give you a real appreciation for the rich history of Vail. You can learn all about the 10th Mountain Division, marvel at the accomplishments of the state’s ski and snowboard icons, explore the evolution of equipment and fashions over the past couple of centuries, and even get to see the Tom Sims snowboard used in the James Bond movie, “A View to a Kill.” You just may be inspired to get yourself out of the lodge and onto the lift.
I hesitate to bring attention to La Cantina – literally a “hidden” gem in the basement of the Transportation Center – because it feels like giving away a local secret. You could easily overlook it or simply dismiss it due to its location, but you would be missing out on some of the best burritos you’ve ever tasted.
Although La Cantina only has a few tables, it boasts a surprisingly extensive menu of authentic Mexican favorites from tacos to enchiladas to chile relleno, all accompanied by complimentary baskets of bottomless tortilla chips. Order at the counter or grab a seat at the bar, where you may be able to convince the regulars to tell you about some of their other favorite local haunts.
Vail Mountain Gondola
A great way for non-skiers to experience the mountain at more than 11,000 feet, a scenic gondola ride is an exhilarating way to enjoy the breathtaking views any time of year. There are two gondolas, both offering dining options and access to a variety of hiking and biking trails.
Gondola One leaves from Vail Village and Eagle Bahn Gondola leaves from Lionshead. During the winter, take Eagle Bahn to Adventure Ridge for guided snowmobile tours, snow tubing, ice skating, snowshoe tours and snow biking. In the summer, it will take you to Epic Discovery, which features tubing hills, a climbing wall, mini golf and so much more. Kids ride the gondola free with the purchase of an adult ticket and, after 3:30 pm, the gondola is free for everyone.
Goat yoga at Vail Stables
Don’t worry if you don’t know a Tree Pose from Downward Dog. You’ll still fall in love with goat yoga, which puts the focus on the goats and, honestly, doesn’t always have a lot to do with yoga.
Sure, you’ll get a little bit of a workout but most of the wellness benefits come from the belly laughs and smiles elicited by baby goats climbing all over you as you strike a pose. Surrounded by beautiful scenery and adorable four-legged kids, it’s impossible not to feel joyful. GOAT, indeed.
Note that Vail Stables is a seasonal business and operates during the summer.
With its small alpine town vibe and top-notch shops, restaurants, galleries and bars, Vail Village offers Old World charm in the heart of the mountains. Not only is it easily walkable but cars aren’t allowed at all, making it safe and pedestrian friendly. In fact, the streets are heated in winter and the middle paver is ADA-compliant.
For some of the best dining experiences in Vail, book a table at Matsuhisa (extraordinary sushi), Sweet Basil (trendy New American), La Tour (creative French cuisine) and Flame at Four Seasons Resort Vail (steakhouse with a modern twist). Don’t worry; Vail offers plenty of opportunities to work off the calories.
Take a Llama to Lunch hike
It’s no wonder this is Paragon Guides’ most popular hike. The Private Backcountry Llama Lunch gives you an exclusive opportunity to experience Vail Valley’s beautiful backcountry trails accompanied by a couple of adorable companions. It’s perfect for families, and your guide will customize the hike to meet everyone’s fitness level, offering lots of interesting and fun facts along the way.
The ”boys” – two gentle pack animals – will help carry gear, including all the fixings for a red checkered picnic, while you get in your steps, take in the scenery and breathe in the fresh mountain air. Best of all, they’ll provide comic relief and great photo ops.
Featuring 112 luxury suites and 15 hotel rooms, this family-owned mountain resort shows off its German roots with custom-made Bavarian furniture that has a homey, welcoming feel. You’ll want to plop yourself on a cozy couch by the fireplace and settle in with a drink and a good book. Or spend the day at the spa, where you can indulge in a Mountain Sports Massage or revive at the Oxygen Bar.
Start your day at Ludwig’s Breakfast in the stunning glass-enclosed terrace overlooking Gore Creek. The signature buffet is a delight for the senses, featuring pretty much anything sweet or savory you could want, all served on pretty floral dishware. Save room for dinner at Swiss Chalet, where Sonnenalp pays homage to traditional European cuisine with regional favorites including schnitzel and fondue.