There are few places in the United States that provide that quintessential ski village getaway, and Vail is at the top of that list after being one of the most preferred winter vacation destinations for more than 50 years. While being one of the largest ski resorts in the world with more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain is certainly attractive, it’s the intimate feel of the European-inspired Village that makes Vail such an extraordinary place to visit. Being able to spend the Christmas Holidays in such a picturesque environment with abundant spa, dining and activity options is the perfect way to launch the new ski season.
It never fails that when it comes to preparing for a ski vacation, packing light is simply not an option. The ski gear alone almost warrants an entire bag, but fortunately with ski rental shops now leasing out the latest and greatest gear, packing and shipping skis aren’t a necessity for an occasional skier like myself. Always a big fan of LuggageForward, sending the bags ahead is ideal to know that the luggage will be sitting in the room when I arrive, and the company has always proved completely reliable.
The Drive From Denver to Vail:
Arriving into Denver’s Union Station, the clean, crisp air was a welcomed relief. Fortunately, the weather report was clear, and the travel time into Vail was expected to be less than two hours. Having a lot of mediocre experiences with the limo services in Colorado, Mountain Ride came very highly recommended. After several email communications, Erik was there with the Suburban waiting for us as we arrived. Within ten minutes, we were packed into the SUV, and on our way to Vail. Beyond just efficient door-to-door service, Erik proved to be an endless resource of everything to do, see, eat and ski while in his territory. Pulling off the highway, and driving into Vail, the skies as if “on cue” opened, and allowed a steady flow of snow flurries to begin falling.
Getting Settled in Vail:
Vail proved to be everything it promised to be, plus the snow conditions were beyond ideal with more than three feet of snow in the week. Joining the diehard locals and excited visitors, the skiing was spectacular. There are more than 5,000 acres of terrain to ski, and after a week I must have fully experienced at least 4,500 of those acres. There are certainly no shortage of locations within the village to rent ski equipment, but I elected to keep things simple and booked through Vail Sports at the time the lift tickets were purchased through Vail Resorts. The rental process could not have been easier – fittings were done, and the skis were picked up and dropped off each day at their location, which was only a few steps away from Gondola One at the Vail Village Mountain Plaza.
For me, Vail at Christmas was a picture-perfect destination combining two of my favorite things: Christmas, and a European Village experience. Of course, it’s impossible to possess all the charm of the real European villages at the Holidays, but Vail far exceeded my expectations and was the closest thing I’ve experienced in the United States. The boutique shops, authentic European gifts, dining options and the locals came together to create a very magical Christmas destination.
Beyond the many shops selling the standard souvenir Vail shirts and hats, stores such as Annie’s (100 E Meadow Dr – 970.476.4197), Gorsuch Ltd. (263 Gore Creek Rd – 970.476.2294), Noel The Christmas Shop (183 E Gore Creek Dr, – 970.476.6544), Pepi Sports (231 Bridge St – 970.476.5202) and Valbruna (100 E Meadow Dr – 970.476.3444) are perfect for shopping for the must-have items for your wardrobe and home. In my case, it also meant that an additional piece of luggage needed to be purchased and shipped back east via LuggageForward. Fortunately, The Baggage Cheque (242 East Meadow Dr – 970.476.2247) was just a few steps away from the hotel, where great travel accessories and quality luggage were available at surprisingly reasonable prices.
World-class skiing, numerous hotel and villa options, great places to dine and enjoy après-ski, and the friendly people working throughout the Village and on the mountain put Vail at the top of my list for a Christmas Ski Vacation in the United States. I have thoroughly enjoyed other ski vacations in Aspen, Telluride, Beaver Creek and others throughout the United States, but found myself wondering why I had not been to Vail at this time of the year before now. Vail provides a perfect destination to spend time with friends and family in a Village filled with timeless European flair.
Where To Stay…
There are a lot of options in terms of accommodations when in Vail, with a number of great alternatives for those families traveling and seeking units with multiple bedrooms. Since many of the lodges are also designed for vacation residences, a fair amount of larger options are out there. I chose to stay at the Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa, which was a nice and no-fuss lodge – great location, nice staff at the daily breakfast, nice rooms with fireplaces, but just not an abundance of services and amenities.
Beyond these Vail hotels, there are homes and other hotels/lodges in the area to meet the demands of almost all wants and budgets. In my opinion, these options are some of the best the area has to offer in Vail Village and Lionshead.
Arrabelle at Vail Square, A RockResort
675 Lionshead Place, Vail, CO 81657
Austria Haus Hotel
242 E Meadow Dr, Vail, CO 81657
Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail
1 Vail Road, Vail, CO 81657
231 E Gore Creek Dr, Vail, CO 81657
20 Vail Road, Vail, CO 81657
The Lodge at Vail, A RockResort
174 E Gore Creek Dr, Vail, CO 81657
The Sebastian – Vail
16 Vail Rd, Vail, CO 81657
Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa
352 E. Meadow Drive, Vail, CO 81657
Where To Eat…
Dining is always an adventure and simply part of the Vail Dining “scene,” and while there are a number of additional options; this selection is guaranteed to provide a variety of cuisine around the Village. Be aware that there is not currently a grocery story in the immediate Vail and Lionshead area, but a larger store is within driving distance on Frontage Road, as well as the General Store in Lionshead (610 West Lionshead Circle #2 – 970.476.3223). A favorite stop for ice cream, coffee (their Dirty Chai is fantastic) and deli items is Joe’s Famous Deli (288 Bridge Street – 970.479.7580). Another great coffee shop is Yeti’s Grind at the Solaris property (141 East Meadow Drive #108 – 970.476.1515), and for that afternoon sugar-fix, Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory (223 Gore Creek Drive – 970.476.4451) is a wonderland of sweets, including some amazing fresh treats in the bakery area. Here were a few that I personally visited during my recent visit that were very enjoyable overall – brief notes listed below…
100 East Meadow Drive Suite 25
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: A must-visit in Vail with some great lunch specials. The meals here overall are your typical dishes found throughout Switzerland, Germany and Austria, but the best thing about the Alpenrose is the desserts – so many delicious options, so little time…
Bully Ranch in the Sonnenalp
20 Vail Rd
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: A surprising favorite in the Village, as it’s very casual, but the service and food was exceptional. Salads, burgers and sandwiches were all generous portions and reasonably priced.
201 Gore Creek Dr
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: With so much history, this restaurant is the perfect solution when wanting a good steak… this is also the destination known best for their slow roasted prime rib, and for good reason. Delicious!! Ask for a table in the lower section near the window (overlooks the ice sculpture area/park and the creek).
122 E Meadow Dr – Suite 9
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: When wanting a no-frills lunch or dinner, this is the place. An excellent location with a very laid-back staff who is always friendly, and provides quick and efficient service. The pizzas and calzones are really delicious, and they are certainly not cheap with the toppings. Ideal for families or larger groups.
Pepi’s Restaurant & Wild Game Room
231 East Gore Creek Dr
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: A personal favorite for that quintessential European meal in a cozy atmosphere. While I chose to enjoy the Jagerschnitzel and the Roasted Beet Salad, for those feeling a bit adventurous, they also have a Rack of Caribou and other unique menu items. The only negative was that being caught up in the moment, I elected to order the bottle of Austrian wine that was on the menu… I do not encourage this – enough said.
193 Gore Creek Dr
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: After numerous people saying that Sweet Basil was an absolute must, and a favorite when in Vail, it was a major disappointment (perhaps it had been built up too much, or simply a rare negative experience). If you’re craving seafood, they probably have the most seafood on the menu, and is considered to be their specialty. The food overall was okay, but one pork dish was a disaster and the experience had that feeling of simply trying too hard to be pretentious… but without the service and food to warrant such a distinction.
20 Vail Road
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: When in Vail, Fondue is a must, and this is yet another reason to love the Sonnenalp Hotel. Though Fondue can be enjoyed for appetizers, entree and dessert, the cheese fondue to start is ideal, allowing for a chance to enjoy the cordon bleu, roasted duck or one of the Raclette options.
Tavern on the Square – The Arrabelle at Vail Square
675 Lionshead Place
Vail, CO 81657
Notes: A great reason to visit Lionshead for the evening for dinner and to walk around the ice skating rink and take-in the area. A casual restaurant with a really diverse menu that is perfect for families looking for a bit of everything. The french onion soup and bison burger were a big hit at my table – an ideal meeting point after a day of skiing.