Your Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Ski Season in Vail, Colorado

Don Riddle/Courtesy Four Seasons Vail

Come for the skiing, stay for the après.

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Each winter, as temperatures drop, skiers and snowboarders all over the country begin to feel the call of the mountain. And while many New Yorkers flock to eastern ski resorts for convenience, a growing number are visiting the west to take advantage of the powdery (and notably less icy) terrain. If you're thinking of hopping on that bandwagon, Departures suggests adding Vail, Colorado, to the top of your list—here's why.

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Aerial view of vail village
Courtesy Vail Resorts

What to Know Before Visiting Vail, Colorado

Let's start with the mountains. Vail, Colorado weather is low in humidity; at high altitude, this creates the perfect storm (literally) for fluffy snow—and lots of it. In eastern ski destinations like Vermont and New Hampshire, it's more common to experience slick, icy slopes that are more difficult (and arguably less enjoyable) to ski. Vail, Colorado elevation, at peak, is approximately 11,570 feet. Higher elevation means lower temperatures, which, in turn, means more snow—this explains why Vail is on so many skiers’ bucket lists. But even beyond the winter sports, Vail has a lot to offer: restaurants, bars, shopping, activities, spas—you name it. There's truly something for everyone. And despite fierce competition (namely in Aspen), the luxury experience in Vail continues to draw visitors in droves thanks to the understated nature of the town and its people. It's not uncommon to sit down at a local bar in between a college-aged lift operator and the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The whole area, though full of luxury offerings and wealthy clientele, is refreshingly unassuming.

How to Get to Vail, Colorado

The Vail, Colorado airport—that is, Eagle County Regional Airport—is big enough to have everything you need, but small enough to get through quickly if you're in a hurry. Checked bags, skis, and snowboards are typically ready for pickup before you even make it to baggage claim, and signage directing you toward everything from restrooms to ground transportation is clear and helpful. The Vail, Colorado airport is approximately 30 minutes away, by car, from the best luxury properties and mountains.

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View from a balcony at Four Seasons Vail
Petr Wiese/Courtesy Four Seasons Vail

Where to Stay in Vail, Colorado

Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, features 121 guest rooms and suites, in addition to 24 private residences. Despite its size, it feels incredibly exclusive for guests, thanks to the attentiveness of the staff, the seclusion of the rooms, and the extravagance of the amenities. For those traveling in pairs, the newly renovated Mountain Premier rooms are perfectly suited to your every need; the three-bedroom suites and rentable private residences are great for groups and families. Upon arrival, a quick stop by the concierge desk is a must—the team is both passionate and knowledgeable about all Vail and the property have to offer, from winter sports to dining recommendations to spa treatments and more. The Four Seasons in Vail, Colorado also specializes in spectacular private events and celebrations. It's not uncommon to stumble upon a private garden dinner with a bespoke menu or spot a specially decorated balcony from your window—and it's even easier to bring your own celebration visions to life with the team on-site.

For those who prefer boutique hotels, the warm walls of the Sonnenalp provide a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of mountain life. The property is—to this day—family-owned, and it's palpable in every aspect of the experience, from the cozy, casual restaurants to the indoor-outdoor spa area that’s just as welcoming and homey as your own bathtub at the end of a long day. Since Vail, Colorado weather can get so cold, there’s no better feeling than soaking in your private, in-room Jacuzzi.

Interior of the spa at Sonnenalp Hotel
Courtesy Sonnenalp Hotel

Where to Eat (and Drink) in Vail, Colorado

There are some truly fabulous bars and restaurants in Vail—enough that you'd be hard-pressed to fit them all into a single long weekend. Visitors to Flame at the Four Seasons will be greeted by an extravagant array of seafood (raw oysters topped with gold leaf, caviar, and huckleberry mignonette), big cuts (including wagyu, as well as local delicacies like elk and buffalo), and sides (don't skip the lobster mac and cheese) prepared by executive chef Simon Purvis. The Four Seasons also offers bespoke culinary experiences, like après-ski in private rooftop igloos and private mixology classes to suit your beverage-related interests. No matter which experience you choose, swing by The Remedy Bar on the way to your reservation. The Four Seasons' standout cocktail lounge specializes in delicious and beautiful drinks like the "Amethyst," which features butterfly pea shoot-infused gin, Contratto Bianco Vermouth, and house-made citrus vanilla botanical-infused sake. Of course, it's delicious—but the drink also gets aesthetic points, because it's bright purple.

View of the private igloos at Four Seasons Vail
James x Schulze/Courtesy Four Seasons Vail

Another must-visit among Vail, Colorado restaurants is Matsuhisa, a Japanese cuisine and sushi restaurant in the heart of downtown Vail. Guests are encouraged to "experience the essence of chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s cuisine" by selecting the omakase experience—but between toro caviar tacos, uni shooters, and Miyazaki wagyu beef served over Himalayan salt rock, it's hard to go wrong either way.

Interior of the Swiss Chalet at Sonnenalp Hotel
Courtesy Sonnenalp Hotel

More standout Vail, Colorado restaurants include Sweet Basil (a homey modern American restaurant and local favorite), Swiss Chalet (where you and yours can sample the Sonnenalp's signature fondue), Bully Ranch (great for families and casual post-ski outings), and Mountain Standard (a chic gastropub with cozy offerings such as "wings o' the week" and buttermilk biscuits). For those hoping to indulge in innovative cocktails—both single-serving and large-format—the menu at Slope Room by Gravity Haus is ideal.

Interior of the Slope Room at Gravity Haus
Courtesy Gravity Haus 

Vail, Colorado Ski Resorts

At Vail Mountain, skiers and snowboarders alike have access to 195 trails covering 5,317 acres of ridable terrain. Epic Pass gives guests priority reservation access to the mountain, as well as other Vail, Colorado ski resorts (though reservations sell out early in the season), and daily lift tickets are available for purchase online and in-person throughout the season. As the West would have it, Vail Mountain's snow is significantly more powdery than that of its East Coast counterparts, and for all those traveling New Yorkers who are sick of skiing on ice, equipment rentals are available all season long.

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Two skiers at Vail Mountain Resort
Tomas Cohen/Courtesy Vail Mountain Resort 

Things to Do in Vail, Colorado

There are tons of things to do in Vail, Colorado—so even if you're not interested in mountain sports, you can hit the spa, the shops downtown, or one of the quaint walking villages just steps away from the slopes.

The spa at the Four Seasons features hot tubs, lounges, a slumber room, massages and body treatments, salon services, and a barber shop, in addition to private, bespoke wellness and relaxation services. It's the most comprehensive luxury spa experience in Vail, from top to bottom, and reservations are highly coveted by guests and locals alike. The Sonnenalp's spa experience is similarly rejuvenating—the masseuses are well-educated on high altitude's effects on the body, and they work your muscles accordingly. The indoor-outdoor pool provides a focal point for the experience, while an on-site Oxygen Bar helps newcomers adjust to the same Vail, Colorado elevation that typically causes shortness of breath and insomnia.

Destination spenders will be thrilled to find a wide variety of luxury shopping opportunities in downtown Vail. Visitors can find more than 20 art galleries in Vail Village alone, and you'd be hard-pressed to walk more than 10 steps between stops without running into a clothing, jewelry, home goods, or sporting gear shop. But besides fashion boutiques and equipment hubs, the legendary Kemo Sabe—just down the street from Vail Mountain—is an absolute must-visit. The store specializes in bespoke felt hats and cowboy boots; buying something there is the chicest (and easiest) way to blend in with the locale.

Vail's pedestrian villages are full of restaurants, bars, shops, and après offerings that are absolutely worth a visit, and the town is home to the country's largest free transportation system, which makes the entirety of Vail easily accessible without the hassle of renting a car. Vail Village and Lionshead, in particular, are packed with family-friendly activities just off the base of the mountain, so even if half your party is hitting the slopes, the non-skiers can enjoy a day on the town before regrouping for après.