It Takes a (Super Varied and Terrifically Diverting) Village

By: ELAINE GLUSAC
Travel Writer
There’s a massive amount of snow in Vail’s Back Bowls, and on the seemingly endless runs down the front side. I know because I’ve just skied them. But when it comes to après-ski in Vail Village, there is no snow to be found—at least around my feet.
 
Oh, there’s snow all around me. There’s even snow flocking the marble sculpture of a bear before me. But as for my feet—well, the sidewalks are secretly plumbed to melt it away lest I get a flake on my Sorels.
 
This epitomizes Vail’s relationship to winter: crisp and abundant just where you want it, but not an inconvenience where you don’t. No wonder the après crowd looks so unencumbered and the village so bustling in the depths of the season.
 
The snowmelt walkways are my first inkling that Vail has anticipated my geography-specific love of snow, a state that swoons for it on the mountains and in the trees, in perfectly carved turns and spontaneous snow angels, but loses some luster during urban commutes. 

Size matters after all

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Dear Skier,
 
The village says to me, forget the car and ride our buses from base to base.
 
For free.
 
So I have, repeatedly. And here’s what I know about Vail: size matters.
 
Not just on the slopes—we all know the mountain is vast and multi-dimensional—or in providing public transportation. But size delivers variety, a multitude of on-slope and off-mountain activities abundant enough to satisfy the die-hard skier, the tentative beginner, the party person, the mildly active, the aesthete, the indulger and the family wrangler dedicated to the happiness of all the foregoing.
 
Size begets choice.
 
Think of the dining options alone in New York versus Peoria and you get the picture.
 
As someone who is satisfied with four great hours on the hill, then seeks a life-in-balance pivot, allow me to enumerate the benefits of being a temporary Vail local.
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First, there’s the town itself, an alpine model perfected by those pedestrian streets and driven by love for the outdoors. The village embodies a romantic streak as wide as its covered bridge.
 
For example, only with the Gore Range as an idyllic backdrop, does the iconic Clock Tower serve as a reality check of time’s existence.
 
In the village, it’s all about play.
 
My perfect multi-sport day continues with laps around the ice rink—there’s one in both Vail Village and Lionshead—where I seasonally renew my life goal of perfecting a toe loop. I never miss the chance to snowshoe along Gore Creek where I’ve encountered fellow fitness nuts, architects, massage therapists and one former Olympian, on the pine and aspen-covered hillside.
 
At the Vail Nordic Center, I’ve cross-country skied on miles of rolling trails as the local high school team blazes by—on an uphill no less—in trash-talking sprint chases.
 
Since you’re here for the climate and the scenery, it’s fortunate that you don’t have to go indoors for mental stimulation. Vail’s Art in Public Places program has scattered 45 sculptures around town—including the snow-flocked bear—and provides maps for self-guided tours. It’s hard to mistake the connection to place with “Spirit of the Skier,” a bronze in perfect downhill form; the sense of play in the granite “Ptarmigans” that kids crawl all over in Gerald R. Ford Park; or the functional creativity of “Eight Bells” that acts as light posts.
 
It does bear ducking inside the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum for a quick tutorial on the fascinating origins of skiing in the U.S., which lie with the local Alpine-trained 10th Mountain Division and their deployment in World War II in the Italian Alps.
 
Whether you’re into gear or not, the historic exhibits of ski racing over time is a hysterical fashion retrospective and the gift shop offers some of the best souvenir shopping in the village, including vintage ski poster reproductions. 
 
Size, too, matters in the shopping realm where retail shops are alive and well, along the window-lined streets of Vail. There are your sporty staples and also mountain-lifestyle aspirational Gorsuch, which manages to make down into a sexy material, Axel’s for the bohemian rancher, and Kemo Sabe western wear to look at home on the range.

 

 

Be a cocktail Sherpa

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Finally, when your friends want that special après-ski drink or that hidden restaurant within the restaurant (hint: it’s in the Four Seasons resort’s kitchen), you can play critic at large with conviction. Because choice, in quantity as well as quality, is your friend in the foodie-friendly village.
 
For steaks, flip a coin between Elways and the Vail Chophouse.
 
For Italian, heads it’s Campo de Fiori, tails it’s Mezzaluna—you win either way.
 
Be the cocktail Sherpa, guiding supplicants to lobster deviled eggs and alpenglow drinks at the tiny Root + Flower.
 
Take credit for getting your name on the list for rotisserie chicken at Mountain Standard before pre-dinner Manhattans at 10th Mountain Whiskey’s rustic tasting room. For suggesting chicken-and-waffle brunches at the indulgent Vintage. For tracking down tucked-away Green Elephant Juicery for a pre-run cold-press in Lionshead.
 
For being someone who appreciates that a good base is often better bigger. And sometimes snow-free.

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