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10 Tips to Make the Most of Your Vail Ski Vacation

November 5, 2013

If you’re anything like me, this time of year you’re getting excited about one thing: ski season.  If you don’t happen to live in the mountains, a ski or snowboard trip can be a major undertaking – but one that’s usually well worth it.  After years of family ski trips, I finally made the Vail/Beaver Creek, Colorado area my home about 5 years ago. This year, I thought I’d use the experience I’ve gained over the years to help you get the most out of your ski vacations. 

Beaver Creek Mountain

Some of this advice is specific to Vail and Beaver Creek, but most of it should apply wherever you choose to strap on a board or two and aim your tips downhill.

Skiing

1. Ask the locals.  This is good advice for travel in general, but it bears repeating here.  In a ski town, locals are going to know which runs to ski to avoid the crowds, how to score some deals and where to eat.  Plus, in my experience, Trip Advisor and Yelp haven’t always matched up with the places I’d recommend in Vail and Beaver Creek.  And obviously, my opinion is better.  Which brings me to my next point…

Local knowledge could help steer you to a deserted part of the mountain and away from the tourist fray.

Local knowledge could help steer you to a deserted part of the mountain and away from the tourist fray.

2. Take advantage of apres-ski and happy hour specials.  This is the best, if not only, way to eat and drink cheaply in most ski resort towns.  Dinner and drinks could cost you a pretty penny, but many bars and restaurants will offer apres-ski specials (usually from around 2 p.m. to around 5 p.m.).  Similar to your basic happy hour, restaurants will offer specific items, usually drinks and appetizers, at very reduced prices.  Apres might even allow you to sample the fare at a higher-end restaurant than you’d usually try at full price.  Plus, it’s always a fun scene.

I'm not necessarily recommending the "shotski," but it is an option.

I’m not necessarily recommending the “shotski,” but it is an option.

3. Shop around ahead of time for lift tickets.  Lift tickets can easily be the most expensive part of your ski vacation, but you can often save a little money over the price at the ticket window.  Some resorts sell tickets online at a slight discount for pre-purchasing.  And most offer multi-day passes that will save you a little money.  If you’re skiing at one of Vail Resorts’ mountains, you might even want to consider one of the iterations of their Epic Pass.  It also couldn’t hurt to ask the hotel where you’re staying if they do any sort of package deals. And if you have local friends, discounted tickets are definitely the favor to ask them for.

Jumping for joy because we got cheap lift tickets! Not really, but this is what you'll feel like when you score a deal.

Jumping for joy because we got cheap lift tickets! Not really, but this is what you’ll feel like when you score a deal.

4. Consider taking a lesson on your first day.  If you’re brand new to your snowsport of choice, this is a must.  But even if you’ve skied a dozen times before but haven’t tackled the hill in a year or two, a lesson to polish up your skills could greatly improve your skiing and make your entire trip more enjoyable.  Even if you’re already shredding it, a lesson could take you to the next level.  Wouldn’t you rather look like this?

Lovers Leap Vail CO

If you do go the lesson route, group lessons are usually much cheaper than private.  Vail and Beaver Creek are also now offering all kinds of specialized classes aimed toward smaller groups or specific skill sets.  The people taking reservations at ski school should be helpful in getting you into the best class for you.

Grouse Mountain Beaver Creek

5. Try on your full ski or snowboarding ensemble while you are packing.  With so many pieces of clothing and cold weather accessories, it’s really easy to leave something behind.  And that pair of gloves you bought for $50 at home all of a sudden cost $100 when you realize that you forgot them slopeside. Your best bet is to put it all on before you leave your house and try to walk yourself through every scenario when you might need a piece of gear.  That said…

6. Plan to over-dress on the mountain.  I don’t mean you should break out your bedazzled ski jacket (although, come to think of it, that sounds awesome).  I mean dress more warmly than you think you’ll need to, at least on the first day.  Yes, this is your mom’s favorite piece of advice.  But seriously, there’s nothing worse than being cold on the hill.  Just make sure that your warmth comes in the form of layers so that you can strip down if you get too hot.  There are lockers easily accessible at most ski resorts, or you can do as the locals do and just stash your stuff somewhere, at your own risk of course.

Womens Social Tour

7. And plan to under-dress off the hill.  I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere in a ski town where you’d look out of place in jeans and a sweater, even at night.  Jeans, boots, fleece or sweater.  Ski jacket on top.  That’s your ski town wardrobe.  Welcome to my casual world.

8. Don’t eat on-mountain (at least not every day).  At a full-service ski resort like Vail or Beaver Creek, there are a bevy of on-mountain dining options.  These might be the most convenient during a day on the hill, but they’re also typically ridiculously expensive.  I still remember the look on a visiting friend’s face when we were skiing Vail years ago and he went into Two Elk for a bottle of Gatorade and a Snickers bar.  Ten dollars later, he was in shock and still pretty hungry.

Head down to the village and you’ll be just steps away from a slew of restaurants, almost all of which will be tastier and less expensive. 

After all, wouldn't you rather be relaxing somewhere like this than battling cafeteria lines?

After all, wouldn’t you rather be relaxing somewhere like this than battling cafeteria lines?

Even consider trying the fancier restaurants in the village.  Some, like my favorite The Golden Eagle in Beaver Creek, offer a wonderful lunch for less than the on-mountain spots.  Plus, the atmosphere will be nicer.  Think sitting at a table and being waited on, rather than getting elbowed out of the way in a cafeteria line while trying desperately not to slip on the tile in your ski boots.

9. Check out the resort’s events calendar.  Both Vail and Beaver Creek put on dozens of events throughout the winter, many of which are free. 

Michael Franti performed an amazing show at last year's Snow Daze, Vail's annual winter music festival.

Michael Franti performed an amazing show at last year’s Snow Daze, Vail’s annual winter music festival.

There are fireworks, torchlight ski-downs, free concerts, snowshoe tours and targeted events like the Beaver Creek Women’s Social Tour (a personal favorite of mine).  You should be able to find plenty of info online ahead of time, or just fly by the seat of your pants and ask the concierge at your hotel when you arrive.

Beaver Creek's Womens Social Tour is an awesome *free* opportunity for female visitors.

Beaver Creek’s Women’s Social Tour is an awesome free opportunity for female visitors.

10. Remember that there are plenty of things to do besides skiing, and even beyond the resort.  Get off the beaten path for a hike or a snowshoe.  Rent nordic equipment and learn how to use it.  Try Ski Biking.

Did I forget to mention Ski Biking on Vail Mountain?  Cheesy? Yes. Amazingly fun? Also yes.

Twirl around an ice skating rink.  Recoup those muscles with a spa day.  Wander around the village and do some shopping.  Leave the village to eat and shop where the locals eat and shop.  Spend time in front of a fire reading a book and drinking hot chocolate (or a hot toddy).  Whatever floats your boat!

Beaver Creek Ice Skating Rink

Ok other ski-town locals – what tips would you add?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2013 10:35 am

    Try free events in town and local businesses. If you get out of the resort proper and hotel spas you can find less expensive food, drink, massages, and activities if you ask locals or check out the local paper.

    • November 5, 2013 12:24 pm

      I couldn’t agree more! And I totally forgot to mention the local paper as a resource – definitely a great way to find out about events, restaurant specials, etc. that aren’t being specifically marketed to tourists. Thanks!

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