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When it comes to winter sports in the poshest possible setting, Vail, Colorado, can’t be beat. People come from around the world to enjoy skiing and snowboarding down the mountain’s plentiful wide-open powder bowls. The celebrity-studded après-ski scene in the lodges that line the slopes and fill the Alpine-styled village at the base is a draw unto itself. None of Vail’s resorts or hotels come cheap (especially in the on-season), but if you find the one that suits all of your needs, you’ll almost certainly feel that it’s worth every cent.
Best Overall: Sonnenalp
Get cozy at this stunning German-style hotel in the heart of Vail Village, with giant fireplaces, heated floors and huge soaking tubs in every suite. Rooms are elegantly rustic, with wooden furniture, fluffy bedding and decor that combines elements of the Old West with the chic amenities of European mountain lodges. Get your ski-sore muscles back into shape at the on-site spa, and enjoy one of the best après-ski food and drink scenes at the Bully Ranch bar and restaurant.
Winter visitors, of course, enjoy all of the winter sports that Vail has to offer. Sonnenalp is in the village and does not have direct access to the slopes, but a ski valet can do your schlepping for you and the walk to the lifts is just 5-10 minutes.
Best Ski-in/Ski-out: Lion Square Lodge
Serious skiers love the location of this slopeside lodge, with a door mere steps from the Eagle Bahn Gondola and the Born Free Chair Lift, both of which will take you to the top of the slopes. Après, enjoy top-shelf margaritas, killer Mexican food, and people-watching at the onsite ski-in/ski-out cantina El Sabor, or relax and defrost in one of the resort’s outdoor hot tubs.
A combination of condo-style units and more traditional hotel rooms means that there is some variety in accommodations, with some rooms and suites being a bit more rustic in their decor and some a bit more contemporary. All, however, have complete access to the lodge’s wonderful facilities and, of course, the fabulous location.
Best Boutique: Vail Mountain Lodge
Warm your chilly bones next to your in-room fireplace at this cozy boutique lodge, which offers just 20 guest rooms and 7 condos. Don’t let the size fool you, though: Vail Mountain Lodge’s amenities, which include a five-star restaurant, Terra Bistro, and a full-service spa and fitness center, rival a much larger property.
But back to that fireplace. You’ll find one in every room on the property. You’ll also find a deep soaking tub, fluffy down bedding and plush chairs to curl up in. Decor is pared-down rustic-chic, and many rooms have a view of Vail Mountain and Gore Creek as their centerpiece. The Lodge is right in the heart of Vail Village, just a quick walk (via a charming covered bridge) to Gondola One and Golden Peak Chair Lift.
Best for Families: Vail Marriott Mountain Resort
Kids and their parents will feel right at home at this massive resort hotel that prides itself on maintaining personal service for all guests. Multiple pools, an arcade/game room, on-site restaurants that include a pizza parlor, and daily cookies and hot chocolate in the lobby are just some of the attractions that will keep your kids entertained, if the mountains outside don’t do it. The Marriott is in bustling Lionshead, not far from Eagle Bahn Gondola and the Born Free Express Lift. Your resort fee includes complimentary ski valet service, so you only need to schlep the children — their gear will be brought to the lift.
Room options for those traveling with a group include adjoining rooms, suites, and two- and three-bedroom condos. Decor is simple and homey — nothing the kids can ruin, but plenty comfortable.
Best Romance: Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail
A tub large enough for two. A crackling fireplace. A bottle of champagne. Snow falling outside the window. The Four Seasons, with their brand-wide focus on quality and comfort, truly knows how to set the perfect romantic scene in their beautifully-appointed contemporary Rockies-styled rooms.
For those moments when you’re not canoodling, the Four Seasons offers a spa with couples’ suites, a year-round pool, a gourmet steakhouse, a chic après-ski clubhouse and patio and convenient access to all of the shopping and dining at Vail Village. It’s a bit farther from the lifts than some other choices — a 10-minute walk to Gondola One — but a ski concierge and a locker next to the gondola makes things easy. The less time you spend schlepping, the more time you can spend snuggling, after all.
Best Luxury: Ritz-Carlton Club
If luxury’s your goal, spend your off-mountain time in one of the two-, three-, and four-bedroom suites offered at the iconic luxury brand’s Vail property. Everything is top-of-the-line here. The bathrooms are all-marble with deep bathtubs and separate showers with rainforest shower heads. Each bedroom (plus the common area) has a flat-screen TV. Each room has a balcony and a fully-equipped kitchen, complete with washer and dryer. The floors are heated, the robes are plush and the decor is a perfect blend of rustic and elegant.
An on-site fine dining restaurant and lounge, The Lobby Lounge, offers gourmet seasonal options, but if you want to do it up right, the hotel can arrange for an in-room chef dinner prepared in your personal kitchen. The Ritz is located at the edge of Lionshead, which offers plenty of additional dining options. The Eagle Bahn Gondola is a five-minute walk from the hotel, but a valet will tote your skis and a shuttle service is offered to and from the gondola.
Best for Singles: The Sebastian Vail
The Sebastian Vail is an all-around fabulous hotel for travelers of all ages, from kids to seniors, but young and single travelers should take a special look. The sleek modern guest room decor (a stark contrast to the rustic look of most lodges) and excellent location, just steps from the nightlife in Vail Village, make it a perfect landing pad. The on-site bar, Frost, is a hip hangout, and solo travelers and young groups of single friends alike will enjoy the tapas menu at Leonora. The decadent Sunday Funday brunch, complete with bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys, is also not to be missed.
The Sebastian has a small separate facility called Base Camp at the foot of Gondola One, about a five-minute walk from the hotel, where ski valets will warm your boots, wax your skis and otherwise do all of your skiing grunt work, so you can simply enjoy your day on the mountain.
Best for Non-Skiers: The Arrabelle at Vail Square
Whether you’re a tag-along with a group of winter sports enthusiasts or you simply prefer your aprés-ski to not be tainted by any chilly pendant-ski, there’s no shame in coming to Vail as an indoorsy person. Nor, indeed, will you lack for ways to fill your days. The Arrabelle puts you right in the heart of Vail Square in Lionshead, close to shopping, dining, art galleries and the ice-skating rink. But the real highlight for many non-skiers will be the massive, luxurious RockResorts Spa, where you can get facials, body wraps, mani-pedis, waxing, and a wide variety of massage treatments, plus a sauna, relaxation rooms and more.
Since it’s not fully possible to spend your entire trip in the spa (or is it?) you may also like to sit in the Arrabelle’s cozy library with a book, take a dip in the rooftop hot tub or heated pool, enjoy a leisurely lunch at the on-site Tavern on the Square or simply stretch out next to your private in-room fireplace after a dip in your deep soaking tub. Also, do note that the Arrabelle is just steps from the Eagle Bahn Gondola and offers extensive ski and snowboard services, so if you’re the only non-skier in your group, everyone else will be equally delighted with your choice.
Best Views: The Lodge at Vail
Vail views are a little bit tricky: on the mountain side of the town’s buildings, they’re stunning. On the opposite side of the buildings, they’re dominated by an interstate, complete with tractor-trailers barreling by at all times of day and night. That said, as far as the mountain views go, you won’t find a bad one, but the Lodge at Vail is located in a place and at an angle that provides a particularly spectacular vista of the ski mountain — but be sure to reserve one of the rooms with a mountain view if it’s important to you to have that view. Rooms on the East and West side may have small glimpses of the mountain, also, but will be dominated by other buildings.
As for location, the Lodge at Vail is great: it’s right on the pedestrianized stretch of Gore Creek Drive in the center of Vail Village, steps from Gondola One. The central location should not come as a surprise when you learn that the Lodge was the first hotel built in Vail. Rooms are well-appointed and simple, with a bit more of a Nordic-rustic touch than the more standard Rockies style, with pale woods and light colors. Suites include wood-burning fireplaces, instead of the more typical gas fireplaces, a nice touch for traditionalists. An on-site spa, two restaurants and ski valet services make this a great choice for visitors of all kinds.