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UnVAILed: An Occasional Skier’s Luxe Way to Stay and Play in Vail

Writer, Sophisticated Living
With the interlaced fingers of my gloved hands securely wrapped around a steaming cup of hot chocolate, I pondered the scene playing out in front of me. Tiny dots of color-carved serpentine curves into a pristine blanket of white high atop the mountain.
“Fresh powder” was the phrase of the morning as I strolled through the lobby of The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort, and outside to where, mere steps away, giddy skiers piled into the gondola to grab rights to first tracks on their favorite runs.
As magical as it all appeared from this vantage point, I am a late bloomer when it comes to skiing (and a stubborn learner at that), but as I’ve learned in Vail, there are plenty more over-the-top ways to get your heart pounding that don’t involve being a powder chaser.
Enveloped by the White River National Forest, the Town of Vail is an outdoor enthusiasts’ dream in all seasons, but particularly in winter, when some 5,000 acres are transformed into a skiers’ playground and the enigmatic "eyes" of leafless aspen trees serve as silent observers of the seasonal spectacle.
Determined to prove that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, I always make a point to use my first day in Vail for a refresher lesson with a private instructor from the Ski School. As a new adult skier, the professionalism and calm demeanor inherent in their teaching pool work wonders in building up my confidence, particularly after I find myself getting passed by a lineup of toddlers fearlessly gliding down the beginner’s slope.

From level one to four, in just one day

On my most recent visit, I was joined by my teenage daughter, a slightly nervous first-time skier.
Good instructors are worth their weight in gold; I was excited to be paired with a highly sought-after instructor who embodied the enviable “forever young” demeanor of the fortunate few who’ve had the privilege of living most of their life in such pristine environs.
The instructor seized on my daughter’s athleticism and fearlessness, using patience, firm persistence, and a little sprinkling of comedic relief as needed to keep her spirits up and allow her to go from a Level 1 to a solid Level 4 after just one day.
It was a thrill to watch her skills develop right before my eyes and I shudder to think how very differently her first-time experience would have played out without his expert guidance.

A little bit of Europe in Colorado

There is certainly no shortage of lodging options for the discerning traveler in Vail but the place I return to again and again is The Arrabelle at Vail Square.
Located in the heart of Lionshead Village, it perfectly encapsulates what a high-end mountain town vacation should encompass: luxurious and impeccably maintained accommodations and amenities, an enviable location, and outstanding service.
Designed to mimic the aura of storied resorts that dot the European Alps, each of The Arrabelle’s 62 guest rooms are extremely spacious and elegantly outfitted. From our balcony, we could watch intrepid skaters as they made loops around one of Vail’s three ice rinks and just down the hall a complimentary indulgent afternoon hot chocolate bar was set up daily to satiate our sweet tooth.
For a fitness fanatic like me, the RockResorts Spa at The Arrabelle's fully-equipped gym was a dream. Indulging in a massage and utilizing the steam room and whirlpool at the 10,000-square-foot spa helped to assuage the muscle soreness that came from engaging in so much physical activity.
Equally relaxing was sitting in The Arrabelle’s rooftop pool and hot tub and looking out over the quaint rooftops of the village to the mountains beyond; the storybook setting made it quite easy to imagine being in Innsbruck or Salzburg.


From breakfast to nightcap, you're covered

Beginning with a hearty breakfast buffet all the way to a day-ending nightcap, The Arrabelle’s Tavern on the Square restaurant is a constant hub of activity.
The mountain-front outdoor patio is ideal for savoring a bacon-infused vodka bloody mary, while fireside is the perfect place to indulge in chef Paul Wade’s recently revamped menu that puts his unique spin in familiar favorites like Lamb Shank Pot Pie and Bone-in Veal Schnitzel.
On both of our ski days, we enjoyed a casual sit-down lunch at Bistro Fourteen, located at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola. A wall of windows in the high-ceilinged dining room provided panoramic views of the snow-capped peak of the 14,000-foot Mount of the Holy Cross.
Accompanied by a glass of bubbly to toast the morning’s accomplishments, I found that their hearty salads proved to be the perfect mid-day pick-me-up, although more substantial fare is available to satiate heartier appetites.
For dinner, there are several Vail institutions to choose from, but few have the staying power of Sweet Basil, which opened in 1977 and has remained a favorite of both locals and visitors.
Situated in the heart of Vail Village, their modern American cuisine is accompanied by a globally sourced wine list of more than 500 selections.
Menu standouts that are as pretty on the plate as the palate include the charred octopus, the Alaskan Halibut, Barramundi A La Plancha, and the tastes-like-summer Strawberry Tart.
Within the cozy and rustic surroundings of Sweet Basil’s sister restaurant, Mountain Standard treats its diners to upscale gastro-pub fare cooked over a wood-fired grill.
Our favorites among the fire-kissed features included the calamari with pineapple curry, sweet and spicy peppers, Thai basil, and black lime peanuts as well as the Colorado lamb sirloin, served with sweet pepper piperade, charred eggplant, chickpea fritter, and basil chimichurri.
High above Vail Valley is Game Creek Restaurant.
Located in a picturesque chalet in the middle of the Game Creek bowl and only accessible by Snowcat in the winter, this spot gets high marks for its unique location. As a private club by day that is only open to the public for dinner, the pervading atmosphere feels very exclusive.
Opt for the prix fixe Chef’s Table menu to experience five outstanding five-star courses. 

Dressing up, dressing down

In my humble opinion, half the fun of skiing is dressing the part, and shopping could nearly be classified as a sport in Vail, where you can find everything from a kitschy $10 t-shirt in a souvenir shop to a limited edition $15,000 ski jacket at Gorsuch. 
While there are free shuttle options to get you from one side of town to the other, walking in the fresh mountain air on the paved trail that winds along the banks of Gore Creek through the center of town is a simple pleasure that only adds to my running list of Vail’s beguiling attributes that continue to draw me back to the mountains year after year.
Sitting next to an outdoor firepit at the base of Lionshead Mountain, my fingers gingerly wrapped around the stem of a champagne flute, I can’t help but think that effervescent, an adjective often used to describe the bubbles in the glass I’m holding, is also apropos for summing up the giddy emotion one feels at the end of another eventful stay in Vail.


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