Nick and I have made it an annual tradition to take a winter ski trip. Last year for his birthday we headed to nearby West Virginia to ski in the Canaan Valley, and this year to celebrate Nick’s special day we headed to Vail, Colorado for a long weekend getaway.
While Nick has visited Vail numerous times, this was my first time visiting, and I was awe struck by the area’s scenery and incredible natural beauty.
We flew into Denver and took a two-hour shuttle ride to Vail. We stayed right in Vail Village, which is a very small pedestrian-only area with heated, cobblestones streets that are lined with little shops and restaurants. The area had a large snow storm just before we arrived and the snow-covered buildings and trees looked so picturesque.
Our resort, the Vail Mountain Haus, was very conveniently located in Vail Village and was only a few minutes walk to the base of the mountain. The hotel had an outdoor heated pool and hot tub, which we took advantage of nightly to soothe our sore muscles.
We arrived in Vail early afternoon and walked around for a few hours before picking up our skis and finding dinner. The next morning we woke up early and headed for the slopes, which open at 9 a.m. Vail mountain is huge, with hundreds of trails and nearly a dozen lodges and places to eat.
*This map only shows the trails on the front of the mountain – there are just as many runs on the backside.
Even though the temperature was only in the teens, it was sunny and almost warm at the higher elevations (9,000 feet above sea level!). Since we only ski once a year — and this was Nick’s first time skiing in Vail; he’s always snowboarded in the past — we warmed up on some easier runs before making our way to some more challenging trails.
West Virginia’s Appalachian mountains don’t have anything on Colorado, just look at these views!
Nick and I had such a fun time making our way around the mountain and down different trails. We skied all morning before taking a late-lunch break on the mountain and then heading back out for a few more runs. The day went quickly since the lifts start closing down by 3 p.m. so skiers and snowboarders have plenty of time to make their way down the mountain before it gets dark.
The next day (Nick’s birthday), we decided to take a rest from skiing and instead headed to nearby Red Cliff, a small 200-person town near Beaver Creek, where we rented a snowmobile to trek around White River National Forest.
After 30-minutes of safety instructions and an overview of the trails, the rental company sent us off into the park’s 54,000 acres, which also happened to be outside of cell-phone coverage 🙂 Thankfully we had a good map and the trails were well marked.
The views in the park were even more breathtaking than those from Vail Mountain. Pictures don’t do it justice and words can’t describe what it’s like to stand on the top of a mountain range and not see another person, building or road for as far as the eye can see.
As I mentioned above, the area had several feet of snow on the ground, and the rental company warned us to stay on the trails where the snow had been packed down – well, Nick and I both made the mistake of walking off the trail to capture a photo and nearly ended up waist deep in snow!
After our day of snowmobiling, we spent the rest of the afternoon window-shopping in nearby Lionshead village before heading to a nice birthday dinner to celebrate Nick at a local steakhouse, Russell’s Restaurant. I didn’t get any photos, but we had a great table near a large window (so we could watch the falling snow), and we enjoyed a really delicious meal. The waitress even surprised Nick with a slice of the most amazing mud pie adorned with a birthday candle.
Early the next morning we made our way back to Vail Mountain for another full day of skiing. Unlike our first day, the weather was cloudy and overcast and it snowed on and off throughout the day (thank goodness those gondolas have heated seats). We didn’t let the weather stop us from having fun though, especially since we had already warmed up with that first day of skiing – yay for fewer wipe-outs and getting in more runs!
Given that it was midweek, the ski trails were also much less busy than our first day of skiing and we almost always had the gondola to ourselves.
Below is a common view on the ski slopes in Vail. You frequently can’t see the trail below the ridge in front you, just the mountains in the distance. Even if Nick and I skied down a trail multiple times and I clearly knew the trail was down there somewhere, I always had to stop and look down before going over the ridge! Can’t say the same for Nick 🙂
Despite the weather, our second day of skiing was just as great as the first, since we found a couple of trails that we really enjoyed skiing down. At the end of the day we caught the very last gondola up the mountain before the lifts closed, I was literally running up the line in my ski boots to beat the clock, and Nick and I were the last two people to get on.
It was snowing so hard on our way down the mountain that we could hardly see the trail, but we loved every minute of it. We had this picture taken right after we successfully made it to the base of the mountain, since it was our last run and final day in Vail.
That night, Nick and I road the nearby Lionshead gondola up to Bistro Fourteen, a restaurant named after the view of the fourteen thousand foot Mount of the Holy Cross – unfortunately it was way too dark to see anything, but we definitely enjoyed the experience of taking a gondola to dinner.
We left Vail early the next morning and made the full-day trip back to D.C. What a great trip to celebrate the birthday of a great guy 😉
Nick and I love to travel and we almost always have a good time when we visit places, so I feel like a broken record always saying that I can’t wait to get back to visit. But there was just something about Vail and being in the mountains that’s stuck with me, and I don’t think we can get back soon enough!