VAIL, Colo. — Although Vail had to delay their opening day because of a lack of snow, there’s still plenty to do in the Colorado mountain town without the fresh powder.
When the snow falls, Vail consistently ranks as one of the best skiing and snowboarding destinations in North America with loads of epic powder-filled trails and seven legendary back bowls spanning seven miles
For more than 150 days out of the year, the dreamy slopes of this Colorado town attract adventurers from around the world for snow-filled fun of all sorts. Think careening downhill on a ski bike, zipping past aspen trees via snowmobile and tubing at top speed.
It turns out that the Bavarian-themed town is also worth checking out during the no-snow months when wildflowers are aplenty.
This is high time for trekking 14ers, mountain peaks upwards of 14,000 feet, with or without llamas along. It’s also perfect timing for mountain biking and stand-up paddleboarding, all while taking in killer views of the Sawatch Mountain Range. Not to mention, you’ll save a little moolah during this time of year.
First, though, let’s talk about snow season.
Cold weather fun
Caravan with canines: There’s nothing quite like starting the day off with more than 100 howling sled dogs. We’re talking super-friendly pups, private trails and lots of entertaining terminology like “haw,” “gee” and “hut hut.” (That means “left,” “right” and “go” to the dogs.)
Alpine Adventures Dogsledding in Leadville, about 45 minutes from Vail, takes mushers along six miles of quiet trails where elk tend to roam.
Post trail run, there is no shortage of hot cocoa and spiced apple cider to sip by the fire and plenty of time for snuggles with your new four-legged friends. There are even adoptable dogs on site.
Alpine Adventures Dogsledding, GPS not recommended, follow directions on website; +1 719-486-9899
Ski or snowshoe to a four-course meal: Upon arrival at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, guests strap on nordic skis or snowshoes and set out for a gorgeous one-mile trek. Destination: The Cookhouse, a solar-powered yurt that functions as a backcountry, fine-dining restaurant.
Among the pine, fir and spruce trees, it’s not uncommon to see moose, fox, deer, elk and locals hiking with their dogs.
At the Cookhouse, the forest clears and a large meadow provides views of Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, Galena Mountain, Homestake Peak and Mount of the Holy Cross.
Inside, the yurt is heated by an old pot-bellied, wood-burning stove and propane lanterns provide a warm glow. Want to Instagram your pan-seared risotto cakes? No dice. There is little to no cell phone service or wifi in these parts.
In the winter, chocolate mousse with a raspberry glaze tempts taste buds. Come summertime, it’s all about the strawberry-rhubarb pie. Both happen to be made from scratch.
Guests can ski and dine from Thanksgiving until mid-April and hike and dine from late June to late October.
Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts, GPS not recommended, follow directions on website; +1 719-486-8114
Tear down the slopes on a bike: Another must-visit is Adventure Ridge, the perfect spot for snow biking from mid-December until early April.
It goes a little something like this: 1) Hop onto your bike. 2) Push off with your feet. 3) Launch yourself down the slope.
The thrill factor is kicked up a notch since you’ll be flying down the slopes at night. With bikes mounted on skis rather than wheels, it’s easy to pick up speed and zoom your way down as fast as you would on traditional skis. (If you prefer biking with no snow, however, plan a trip during the summer months and go mountain biking at Adventure Ridge instead.)
For additional thrills before you jump on a ski bike, arrive early and go snow tubing or ride the Forest Flyer alpine coaster.
Adventure Ridge, Eagle’s Nest, Vail, Colorado 81657; +1 970-754-8245
Dine in the village: After all that fun, head to the heart of Vail Village, where mountain-chic Sweet Basil has been a staple in the Vail community since 1977.
Crowd-pleasing dishes include the marinated lamb shank with a side of eggplant raisin caponata and Colorado potato puree and the hot sticky toffee pudding. (It’s so popular that it’s been on the menu for 22 years).
Wash it all down with The Perfect Margarita made with Herradura Silver, Cointreau, lime and Grand Marnier.
Don’t be surprised if you spot a few A-listers. Over the years, Clint Eastwood, Matt Lauer, former first lady Michelle Obama and the Kardashians have all dined at Sweet Basil.
Sweet Basil, 193 Gore Creek Drive, Vail, Colorado, 81657; +1 970-476-0125
Enjoy art alfresco: Vail takes its outdoor art seriously. This explains why there are more than 45 masterpieces on display in Vail Valley.
During hour-long Wednesday Art Walks, guests learn more about the artists and the history of the area. Standouts include a 12-foot kinetic sculpture, an art piece made of Douglas fir wood hanging from a vaulted ceiling, a bronze ski trooper sculpture and an impressive artist-inspired playground.
And you can’t beat the fact that your knowledgeable tour guide doesn’t charge a fee.
During the summer months the walks are held weekly from June through August. From January through the beginning of April, they are held on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
Vail Village Welcome Center, 241 S. Frontage Road West #8150, Vail, Colorado, 81657; +1 970-476-4790
Stop and smell the Parachute Penstemon: At the world’s highest botanical garden, alpine plants are the name of the game: Some 3,000 species of alpine and mountain plants, including a nationally accredited collection of Colorado’s alpine flora, grow here.
The five-acre Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is home to one of only a few cold greenhouses open to the public in North America.
Kids will appreciate the self-guided activities involving microscopes, magnifying glasses and binoculars.
Adults can Zen out with aerial yoga on the rooftop terrace or a meditation session. Not to mention, cooking demonstrations, gardening, science workshops and toe-tapping Bluegrass performances. (It’s impossible to be bored here.)
Free admission. Open year-round.
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, 522 S. Frontage Road, Vail, Colo. 81657; +1 970-476-0103
Once the snow melts
Get to know the llamas: Here’s one way to score some one-on-one time with llamas: go hiking with them. Paragon Guides offers a 4- to 5-night hike between Vail and Aspen where guests make their way through the White River National Forest while being treated to views of the Maroon Bells and the Sawatch Range.
With elevation changes throughout the 45-mile excursion, it’s possible to see everything from aspen trees to spruce forests to Douglas firs. If you are short on time, consider the take a llama to lunch program in the Arrowhead Ski Area.
Paragon Guides, 210 Edwards Village Blvd. B 107, Edwards, Colorado, 81632; +1 970-926-5299
SUP your heart out: Skimming across Sylvan Lake’s calm waters on a stand-up paddleboard is pretty epic, especially considering the majestic mountain backdrop. Half-day trips with Timberline Tours are a great way to get to know the locals (aka rainbow trout, bald eagles, red foxes and cottontail rabbits) and burn some calories.
To test your balance skills on a moving current, consider the Upper Colorado River SUP tour where you’re nearly guaranteed a wildlife sighting. Beavers, otters and red-tail hawks make their home here.
Tours are available from June through September.
Timberline Tours, guests are picked up from accommodations in Vail Valley; +1 970-476-1414
Where to sleep
Come nighttime, there are plenty of options to rest your head.
If you prefer a posh, private getaway, The Lion, which opened in July 2017, is less than 350 yards from Vail mountain. Chose from 1- to 5-bedroom residences with loads of amenities, including a large outdoor salt-water hot tub, an indoor infinity current lap pool and salt-water hot tub, a fitness center with steam room and an entertainment room.
Hotel Talisa, also new to the scene, will open this fall, just before the winter season. As the first mountain resort in the Starwood Luxury Collection, it offers a true ski-in/ski-out experience and has a chairlift on property.
The only true boutique hotel in the area, The Sebastian — Vail has a whole lot of character, right down to its hot chocolate program. Think Valrhona chocolate and house-made Bailey’s Irish Cream marshmallows, white chocolate, dulce chocolate and dark chocolate crunch pearls, all sprinkled with edible gold dust and whipped up table side.
The property has 84 luxury rooms, 16 executive suites, seven residential suites and a 36-residence private residence club. Not to mention, it offers some pretty dreamy mountain views.