Ski-Hacking My Way Through Adventure at Vail

Writer, Town & Country Magazine
Imagine, my biggest concern on a ski trip being “What haven’t I skied yet?” and never running out of answers. With more than 5,200 skiable acres and seven bowls, I could not only ski for days, but am pretty much guaranteed to never ski the same line twice.
Adventure in Vail isn’t anything over-the-top like helicopter access or skinning uphill, touring to points unknown.
Adventure here is distilled simply into one word: access. Access to some of the world’s best, most varied terrain at my fingertips, whenever I wanted it, whatever I desired. Due to the sheer vastness of the mountain, skiers of all levels can find their bliss at every turn.
Terrain parks, glades, trees, bumps, perfectly groomed corduroy, untouched powder fields—if it exists on a mountain, Vail has it. Vail’s terrain has been the epitome of the word epic since the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division occupied these hills to train during WWII.
I’ve devised three keys to maximizing adventure:

1. Get the most of your day: hire an “instructor”

On a recent spring visit, when the variable weather adds another layer of complexity to already diverse terrain, I decided to hire a mountain guide.
As a passionate skier from a coastal city, I consider myself advanced, having logged 30+ days on-mountain last year. There is nothing a ski hill can throw my way that I can’t handle.
My primary concerns: What do I ski first? What is best to ski today? How do I get it all in? My guide (called "instructors" in Vail parlance) was less of a hit to my ego than the word “instructor” implies, and in fact, represented the ultimate ski-hack to achieving true downhill nirvana.
In other words, these instructors ensure efficiency.
No one knows the mountain better than the locals, and of the locals, the instructors are the crème de la crème of knowledge on the hill. Day in, day out, many of them have logged 70+ days a season, and most have multiple seasons under their belts. That is hundreds of people they have created memorable experiences for.
Just think of the insight!
The secret knowledge!
The exclusive access to adventure!
These are true mountain whisperers, able to conjure up fresh tracks on the busiest of days, discover hidden glades and stashes anywhere, and traverse great distances on the most effective (and challenging) paths possible.
These are the personal trainers of the ski world. On top of the fact that their presence just makes your experience more seamless, you actually can learn (and let’s face it, we all have learned bad habits along the way). Want to tackle a particular problem like bumps or the terrain park? They got you. Want to tighten up your form or break in a new pair of sticks? No problem.
Oh, and did I mention you get to cut lift lines? I told you so: the ultimate ski hack…


2. The back bowls

Most ski resorts are lucky to have one bowl (if you can even call it a bowl). Vail has seven.
You read that right—the backside alone represents more than half of the mountain’s total acreage (3,017 acres to be exact). A resort unto itself, you need not ever ski anything else on your trip and you wouldn’t get bored—there is something for every condition and ability level imaginable, every day of the week.
The sheer vastness of the terrain makes for the feeling of skiing a private mountain even on the busiest of days and each high-speed chairlift allows for lapping favorite runs to your heart’s content or trekking from bowl to bowl.
Not that I was looking for groomers back here, but some runs do benefit from frequent grooming. This comes in especially handy in warmer, more variable weather conditions when frozen, tracked-out areas become impossible to tackle.
Pro tip: Eat early or late. Lunchtime is the best time to hit the bowls. While everyone is gorging themselves, go take advantage of the back bowl emptiness! Speaking of lunch…


3. Fuel Up

What is a day of adventure if you aren’t properly fueled to go the distance?
For one of the best on-mountain dining experiences around, I only choose Vail’s premier restaurant, The 10th. Definitely make a reservation; this is one of the hottest tables any day of the season. I trade my boots in for furry slippers and enjoy Colorado-focused American cuisine with a modern Alpine twist.
As a rule of thumb, I never eat lunch alone, primarily because I’m never satisfied with a single menu option—having other people’s orders at my table are essential to trying maximum dishes.
And with culinary masterpieces like Pot Pie, Spatzle, Charcuterie, and Raspberry S’mores, who can blame me? After an hour or two luxuriating, the rest of the day is mine for the taking.
A sense of adventure is part of the price of admission to a vacation in Vail. Whatever you are looking for, wherever you are coming from, and whatever experiences you seek in your ski vacation, Vail’s innate grandiose nature permeates every acre.
Choose wisely, as there is so much excitement in these hills, you’ll find one visit isn’t enough. I guess you’ll just have to come back.

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