Let me start this post with a disclaimer – I’m not an expert skier nor do I have much experience with ski destinations. So I’m going to consider this a guide for first timers in Colorado. My brother and sister visit Vail every year for some West Coast skiing, which everyone admits is far superior to our “little” mountains on the East Coast that often lack decent snow. This year, I finally made the trip to tag along and have them show me how the real skiers ski.
There are a ton of mountains that are all drivable from wherever you choose to stay as your home base. We stayed in Vail and ended in Denver, stopping in Breckenridge along the way. Tickets out west are much more expensive than East Coast ski resorts, up to about $200 per day. Our friends (who are avid skiers) are Epic Pass holders (a sort of season pass for several different resorts) so we were able to get discounted tickets with them via a “buddy pass”. If you plan to go for multiple days (or multiple trips throughout the year) it may be worth looking into an Epic Pass for the season. (Vail Resorts also recently purchased some Vermont resorts, so check their website if you plan to do a lot of skiing next year!)
An Important Note on Altitude
If you’re a first timer skiing out West, there are some important things to keep in mind. Being from New Jersey, I did not have experience with the altitude and wasn’t sure how I would react. Some people can get altitude sickness, and there are some medicines that can assist if this becomes unbearable. Fortunately, I didn’t become sick, but the air certainly feels thinner from the moment you step off the plane. You’ll notice it most when you walk up stairs or carry heavy equipment and you’re out of breath much quicker than you normally would be.
What I was not aware of, is that higher altitudes cause you to lose more fluids, and therefore dehydration can set in much quicker. After a full day of skiing and only stopping in for lunch (dehydration flag #1), followed by drinking wine (flag #2) in a hot tub (ugh I know, flag #3) I ended up getting so dehydrated that I began to pass out. After a night of resting and chugging water I was perfectly fine and ready to ski the following day, but let my negligence be a lesson learned for all: drink more water than you think you need!
Vail is a popular spot if you want a great mountain, great après ski spots, and delicious food options (although most mountains in Colorado probably fit that description). You can fly into Denver and drive to Vail, or fly into Eagle which is the the closest airport to Vail (and also smaller, with less flight options). We opted to fly into Eagle. From Eagle you can take a $4 bus that drops you off right in town.
At the base of the mountain is Vail Village and Lionshead, two little resort areas that are connected and VERY pricey to stay in. We stayed in a VRBO condo across the bridge, on the other side highway. It’s still walkable, but condos on the other side are MUCH more affordable. There is also a free town shuttle that stops at the condos and the mountain, making it pretty easy to get from place to place. Condos at some spots like Simba Run have their own free shuttle that takes you wherever you want to go.(Uber Ski is also available if you want door-to-door service.)
Unless you have a lot of cash to spend, check Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway for condos on the north side of the highway.
- Pepi’s – This was top of the list for all the annual visitors I was with. It’s an Austrian restaurant in the heart of Vail Village and has amazing food. Ask to sit in the Antler Room (the food and service is slightly different) and order the beef tartare and spatzle!
- Westside Café – An easy Uber ride gets you the best Eggs Benedict you’ve ever had. There’s an entire Benedict menu and you can mix and match different kinds. They also have a pretty awesome Bloody Mary that is a meal in itself.
- Tavern on the Square – Also in the heart of Vail Village, this is a great apès spot that has great Bloody Marys, nachos, and flatbreads.
It’s an easy drive to Breckenridge from Vail, but we chose to stop on the way to Denver since that’s where we were concluding our stay. While Vail is a pricey, five star destination, Breckenridge is a bit more low key (although still pricey). The town is less of a resort feel and has a bit more character. It also has some history from the Gold Rush era which shows in the town’s architecture.
- The Overlook – This is on the mountain and great stop for lunch. It’s a cafeteria-style lodge, but they have a ramen station which is a nice, warm break from the burgers and fries you’re often eating on the mountain. And it was really delicious …
- Breckenridge Tap House – Despite the American name, it’s actually a taco spot, with a great happy hour and great beer selection.
After Breckenridge we hopped back in our Tahoe and headed to Denver for the next leg of our trip…
Check out our Colorado Travel Guide page for a map of our favorite destinations.