Depending on how you look at things, we either got a lovely extended fall or were robbed of primo skiing due to unseasonably warm weather. If your thinking falls into the latter camp, you'll be glad to know that resorts are finally opening – and offering more than ever this year.
In this year's edition of Edge, our snow-activities guide to resorts in Colorado, we've told you about what’s new at every major ski area in the state, must-do experiences and insider tips. We’ve also done our own tireless research all over the state and reached out to some experts for suggestions on how to make the most of it all, whether you’re looking to drop some coin for something special or just trying to get by as a dirtbag ski bum like the rest of us. We'll roll those out at resorts open, like Vail Ski Resort, which opens Friday, November 25.
VAIL SKI RESORT
What’s new: The new high-speed, four-passenger Sun Up Express Lift, also known as Chair 9, is the ninth chair replacement at Vail in the last decade, and should be a popular change. “The Sun Up Express is a primary lift on the back bowls of Vail Mountain, serving intermediate and advanced terrain and dispersing skiers and snowboarders into the legendary back bowls,” says Vail Resorts spokeswoman Maggie Meisinger. Opening day at Vail is November 25; the back bowls typically open in December, depending on snow conditions.
Signature experience: Powderhounds will want to head straight for the back bowls, starting with Sun Up and ending with Sun Down, which are appropriately named. In between, work your way out to Siberia Bowl and take the Mongolia T-bar surface lift to access the Outer Mongolia Bowl: the farther out you get, the better your odds of finding fresh snow and leaving the crowds behind you. Eat at Two Elk — at the top of China Bowl and accessible by three different chairlifts — to avoid heading back to the base area and its teeming masses.
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Insider info: Lift-ticket and lodging prices fluctuate throughout the season, with the best deals during off-peak periods including most weekdays, early season from opening day to Christmas, and mid-April to closing day. Conversely, prices and crowds spike between Christmas and New Year’s and on three-day weekend holidays like Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day. Plan your trip accordingly.
Splurge: Make a reservation for dinner at Game Creek, where chef Steven Topple’s prix fixe menus range from $99 per person for a three-course meal to $145 for his signature five-course Chef’s Table feast. Getting there requires a ride up the Eagle Bahn gondola and a snowcat ride through the woods. “This European chalet is the perfect location for a romantic evening out or a gourmet meal for the whole family, and was rated as one of the top ten restaurants in Colorado on OpenTable,” Meisinger says. For a restaurant specializing in bison, venison, elk, lamb, rabbit and foie gras, Game Creek is also surprisingly vegetarian-friendly. Either way, save room for dessert.
Ski bum tips: Vail doesn’t necessarily scream “ski bum,” but it can still be done. Park on South Frontage Road to avoid fees at the resort’s parking garages, or take the Vail Resorts-owned Colorado Mountain Express shuttle and leave the car in Denver. For lodging, try the Bunkhouse hostel in nearby Minturn, which offers free shuttle service to and from Vail and Beaver Creek. For lunch on the mountain, had to Belle’s Camp, a warming hut at 11,480 feet. You’ll find grab-and-go pizzas and sandwiches inside, and two DIY grills outside, just in case — like all the other ski bums you’ll find there — you’ve somehow made it all the way up there with your own food to cook.
Drink local: Vail is one of the best party towns on this list, and the après scene starts right around lunchtime at on-mountain bars like Bistro Fourteen, or slopeside patio spots like Tavern on the Square. After dark, dress it up a bit and head to Pepi’s or the Frost bar at the Sebastian in Vail Village. Put on your dancing shoes for Shakedown Bar or Samana Lounge, or your bowling shoes for B?l, a sleek and modern bowling alley and bar in the Solaris base-area village. For local flavors, make your way to Vail Brewing Company or its new tasting room in Solaris for a dozen beers on tap, or visit the 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company’s distillery and tasting room at 227 Bridge Street in Vail. The whiskey, bourbon, vodka and cordials are available in classy tourist-friendly branded bottles like you’d expect from an upscale distillery in Vail, while locals love the Mash Bill moonshine served in Mason jars.