After a day on Vail’s slopes, you’ll find a mountain of places to dine, relax and drink.
By Lauren Glendenning
The Vail Valley’s only beer maker, Gore Range Brewery (Edwards, gorerangebrewery.com) offers about six of its microbrews at a time. The Powder Day Pale Ale is an excellent après-ski sipper, but even more intriguing is the Great Sex Honey Ale, a beer brewed with Colorado western slope wildflower honey. Vail Mountain is a skier’s paradise, and beer is no afterthought. The Blue Moon Bar & Restaurant (Vail Mountain, 970.479.4530) atop the Eagle Bahn Gondola is sponsored by MillerCoors and offers a tantalizing variety of the company’s beers. A menu that boasts big, belly-filling burgers lures skiers and aprés-pros alike. Time your trip around a few beery events: In January, the two-day Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines (Lionshead, bigbeersfestival.com) showcases hundreds of beers, educational seminars and free bus passes. From the Brewmasters’ Dinner to a homebrew competition to a tasting event in the largest room full of beer you could imagine, this is beer geek heaven. Beaver Creek hosts the popular Beaver Creek Blues, Brews and BBQ (Beaver Creek, beavercreek.snow.com) on Memorial Day weekend to kick-start barbecue season. ’Cue specialists from Kansas City, Iowa and Colorado dish up mouthwatering masterpieces, while the Beaver Creek Park Hyatt Resort & Spa hosts the beer portion of the event, serving up more than 100 brews from 35 Colorado breweries. And being a Bavarian-themed village, Vail does Oktoberfest (Lionshead and Vail Village, vailoktoberfest.com) right: There’s bratwurst-eating contests, live music and endless barrels of Erdinger beer. Crowds come in droves from all around the state, and the streets fill up fast.
Those escaping the mountain to check NFL scores head to The Tap Room (Vail Village, taproomvail.com) and for multiple TVs and a solid beer selection that includes Smithwick’s and Trumer. Eight beers on tap and another 20 or so bottles make this an excellent spot for a brew, day or night, and the burgers and wings are some of the best in town. On Tuesday, $6 buys you a burger and a beer. The George (Vail Village, 970.476.2656) is tucked away in the basement of the Vail Mountain Haus hotel just before the village’s covered bridge. The après ski scene starts hopping right around 4 p.m., when tired skiers and boarders plop down on the cozy sofas in front of the fireplace and sip off five taps and 15 bottles. Happy hour begins at 3 p.m., and the food and drink specials are cheap. Late-night pizza joint Vendetta’s (Vail Village, vendettasvail.com) has been packing crowds in for 25 years. It’s the only place in town to grab a bite to eat in the wee hours, when it serves up slices of thin-crust to the masses. Walk beyond the pizza counter to check out the bar scene, which is usually brimming with tourists. Longtime local entertainer and co-owner Phil Long plays live music at The Red Lion (Vail Village, theredlion.com; pictured) Wednesday through Sunday nights in the winter, moving the party from the mountain to the top of Bridge Street. The patio stays full even when it’s 5 degrees outside. For those who want to trade in their ski boots for their dancing shoes, Samana Lounge (Vail Village, samanalounge.com) is one of the few places in town where you can get down all night. People line up out the door on the weekends waiting to get into this Vail version of an L.A. nightclub to hear anything from electronic to house to pop hits.
This Northern Italian restaurant La Bottega (Vail Village, labottegavail.com) has a large patio that stays full most of the day in winter. At dinner, a beef carpaccio with truffle cream practically melts in your mouth. Don’t miss the White Truffle Gnocchi or the Lamb Osso Bucco, either, and ask the chef/owner’s wife for an Italian wine recommendation. Local’s tip: make a reservation. Gerald and Betty Ford dined at La Tour (latour-vail.com) almost weekly when they lived in town. The French-inspired white tablecloth restaurant delivers with a succulent menu including extravagant selections like Colorado lamb chops and seared foie gras as rich as the customers at the next table. La Tour has as many as seven sommeliers on staff in winter, so don’t hesitate to ask for help when browsing the extensive wine list. The third “la” on our list is cheap, fast and delish. Locals rate La Cantina (Vail Village, 970.476.7661) as the best place for a meal under $10 in the local newspaper’s reader’s poll year after year. Housed oddly under the Vail Transportation Center in the parking garage, it’s the place to go for flavorful burritos, tacos and fajitas. This no-frills Alabama barbecue joint Moe’s (Lionshead, moesoriginalbbq.com) offers favorites like pulled pork, baked beans, ribs and sweet tea. It’s inexpensive for Vail, so it’s worth the extra few minutes it takes to walk there from the bottom of the ski hill. If filling up on ’cue, banana pudding and cornbread for about $10 sounds good, Moe’s won’t disappoint. Larkspur (Golden Peak, larkspurvail.com) dishes up gluten-free options, as well as adventurous appetizers like veal sweetbreads and pork belly. The large bar and lounge opens up to the Golden Peak area of Vail Mountain, making this a ski-in/ski-out hotspot by day and a posh dinner choice by night.
The majestic Arrabelle at Vail Square (Lionshead, arrabelle.rockresorts.com) has just one purpose: pamper the guests. A personal butler is available 24/7, and he’ll do anything from adjust the room temperature to draw a bubble bath complete with magazines, sea salts and rose petals. Skiing in the morning? The hotel will warm your boots by the lobby fireplace and carry your gear to the gondola. The Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer (Vail Village, pepis.com) has a happening lounge that features live music and fills up during après. The owners, who helped found Vail Mountain in the 1960s, are almost always there, giving it more of a B&B feel than that of a large ski-town hotel. Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant on the main level serves up traditional Austrian fare, while the Antler’s Room offers a menu of wild game like venison and buffalo. Located on Vail’s north frontage road is Roost Lodge (West Vail, roostlodge.com), an inexpensive alternative to Vail Village. The town’s free bus service makes getting to and from the slopes easy, and nightly rates that don’t require taking out a second mortgage keep the lodge popular. There’s a free continental breakfast and a sauna to boot. The Holiday Inn Apex Vail Hotel (West Vail, apexvail.com) might not have a personal butler, but it was completely renovated in 2004 and is cheaper than most hotels in town. A grand lobby features a huge fireplace with comfortable couches and chairs where guests like to read or sip on drinks. One of Vail’s best breakfast spots, the Westside Cafe, is connected to the lobby, and the hotel offers a free shuttle service to and from the mountain. The Vail Cascade Resort and Spa (West Vail, vailcascade.com) boasts its own ski lift on Vail Mountain, beautiful accommodations and a free shuttle that carts guests to Lion’s Head. One of Vail’s most popular spas, the Aria, is located inside, where massages and body treatments help sea-levelers adjust to the alpine environment.
Vail Mountain (Vail Village, snow.com) is arguably the best ski resort in the United States, and it’s definitely the largest, with more than 5,200 acres of terrain ripe for skiing and snowboarding. The mountain receives an average of 350 inches of snowfall each year—last season Mother Nature dumped more than 470 inches—leaving the mountain’s backbowls full of fluffy powder. More than 30 lifts transport nearly 55,000 people per hour, but there are plenty of spots where you’ll feel like you’re the only one on the mountain. One place you might notice the crowds, however, is in town, where parking lots fill up fast. Go beyond the traditional sports at the resort’s Adventure Ridge. There, a tubing area whisks you down the mountain and back up a convenient lift, and for those seeking more thrills, there’s ski biking: Throw on a headlamp and follow a guide through tight trees and steep runs on an odd apparatus that’s part skis, part bicycle. Or, check out the trampoline and snowshoeing, or just drop off the kids and enjoy an evening to yourselves. The quaint mountain town of Minturn (Minturn, minturn.org) has a true Colorado Western vibe, with old Main Street as the town’s only real thoroughfare—it makes a perfect day-trip. Mom-and-pop shops and eateries decorate the street, where evidence of the town’s old mining and railroad industries are still apparent. Don’t miss the “Booze Burrito” at the Turntable, the barbecue brisket sandwich at Kirby Cosmo’s or a grill-it-yourself steak at the Minturn Country Club. The out-of-bounds Minturn Mile isn’t for beginners, but if you can handle narrow trees and untouched powder, this is your run. Snowboarders have a hell of a time getting through it, so only experts should try. The gold at the end of the rainbow is a brew, or several, at the Minturn Saloon in town. Catch a bus back to the parking lot to get home, or pair up with a friend and have a car parked in town.
On-the-go skiers and boarders can’t be tied down to one mountain, let alone one mountain town: Good thing the neighboring towns of Beaver Creek, Avon and Edwards have slopes, shopping and eats to satisfy the itch. Beaver Creek Mountain (Beaver Creek, snow.com) is Vail Mountain’s sister to the west. Escalators hoist skiers to the base of the mountain, and smiling chefs greet them with free, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at the end of the day. The Birds of Prey downhill course keeps thrill-seekers coming back for more. The beloved Larkburger’s (Edwards, larkburger.com) inexpensive burgers and fries, made with all-natural ingredients, will have you begging for seconds. Don’t miss the Truffle and Parmesan Fries or the Larkburger with truffle aioli, and a tuna burger seared rare with wasabi ginger sauce and cilantro will make you lick the little cardboard box it’s served in. The bustling Riverwalk at Edwards (Edwards, riverwalkonline.com) shopping center features the area’s only movie theater, charming Western architecture and several boutiques, furniture stores, an all-natural and organic grocery store, a bookshop and many local restaurants. Keep an eye out for all the one-way streets. Beaver Liquors (Avon, beaverliquors.com) has made a name for itself on, well, its name: It’s not located in Beaver Creek, but at the bottom of the mountain in Avon. The wine and beer selection is extensive, the staff knows its stuff, and there’s an adjoining souvenir shop where tourists can grab gifts donning the store’s classy name. Part coffee shop, part live music venue and bar, Loaded Joe’s Coffeehouse and Lounge (Avon, loadedjoes.com) is a cozy hangout in the town of Avon. Don’t let its strip mall location deter you from the cool scene inside. Drink specials are cheap and often, and the music is loud and fun. Check out the local artwork on the walls for sale, too.
[Photos: top, Gore Creek; bottom, The Red Lion]