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Vail, Colorado Is a Popular Gay Ski Destination
Vail, Colorado is America's largest single-mountain ski resort and home to an increasingly popular annual gay ski week and is also one of the most accessible ski areas in the Rockies. With nearly 200 runs traversing some 5,300 skiable acres, the mountain offers an incredible variety of terrain accessed via 32 lifts from two main villages that abound with upscale Austrian Alps-inspired hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Full of energy, diversions, and opportunities for winter-play, as well as an increasingly robust variety of summertime activities, this gay-friendly resort is perfect if you're seeking an endless supply of things to see and do.
For one of the best all-around views of Vail Mountain, take Mountaintop Express Lift or Northwoods Express Lift up the Frontside (easily reached from either the Vail Village or Golden Peak areas). At the top, you'll be at Vail Mountain's highest elevation (11,250 feet), and the mountain's Patrol Headquarters/Buffalo's area. From... here you can take mostly green and blue trails down the Frontside, or blue and black trails down into the Back Bowls, for access to the more secluded (and beautiful) Blue Sky Basin. The photo here is looking east from the Patrol Headquarters area across Headwall Ridge, with the Sleepytime intermediate trail curving off to the right into the Back Bowls.
If you're an intermediate skier looking to get away from the crowds as quickly as possible and seek out some wonderfully scenic and remote terrain, get yourself up to this point (marked "Buffalo's") on the trail map, and then work your way down the Back Bowl's serpentine Sleepytime run, traversing at the base over to Skyline Express Lift. Get whisked up to Belle's Camp, one of the two main peaks at Blue Sky Basin (the other being the top of Pete's Express Lift. This is actually the highest elevation in all of Vail's ski terrain, at 11,570 feet).Continue to 2 of 15 below.
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Top Pick Accommodations: Arrabelle at Vail Square
With its opening in 2008 in the beautifully redesigned Lionshead Village, the Arrabelle at Vail Square (675 Lionshead Place, 970-754-777 or 866-662-7625) has upped the ante for ultra-posh accommodations in Vail. The grand village of 62 huge, sumptuously outfitted hotel rooms and 25 over-the-top condominium residences is part of RockResorts - the hotel is situated around Vail Square, which includes numerous shops and a large ice-skating rink. The Eagle Bahn gondola, just a few steps from the Arrabelle, whisks skiers rapidly up the western side of Vail Mountain.
If Vail Village, a mile east, still captures the cozy vibe of a vintage (although still quite upscale) Tyrolean village in the Austrian Alps, Vail Square and the Arrabelle more recall the grand palaces of Prague and Salzburg - this is sort of a Magic Kingdom take on a Colorado ski community. Accommodations are enormous, with standard rooms average around 550 square feet, and the residences containing anywhere from one to five... bedrooms. Is Arrabelle inherently superior to other high-end Vail properties? Not necessarily, although it's certainly one of the most plush accommodations in any U.S. ski town (note that personalized butler service is one of the hotel's more popular amenities). The Arrabelle does raise Vail's overall profile as a high-end destination, and it gives discerning travelers some very interesting new lodging options.
Hotel amenities include the outstanding French brasseries, Centre V; an expansive and beautifully designed Rock Resorts Spa and fitness center, a deck for enjoying apres-ski cocktails, a lap pool and hot tubs on the roof, one of the most efficient and helpful ski and boot valet programs in Colorado, and instant proximity to dozens of fine shops, cafes, and ski- and outdoor-recreation-related businesses. If you're looking to be dazzled in Vail, this is a perfect choice.Continue to 3 of 15 below.
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Top Pick Bar: Tap Room at Bridge Street
Vail has no specific gay bars, although during Vail Gay Ski Week you'll find a bit of a "family" following at many of the nightspots in Vail Village and other sections of town.
The cozy Tap Room at Bridge Street (333 Bridge St., 970-479-0500) is a classic Vail apres-ski spot, known as much as a straight singles bar as a convivial sports bar. It has no more or less of a gay following than other bars in town, but it's quite gay-friendly and, moreover, an inviting, Bavarian-style hangout that's good fun for drinking and eating. You can dine in the wood-paneled interior or on the large balcony overlooking Vail Village and Vail Mountain.
The kitchen does a nice job here with hearty, simple pub fare - artichoke dip with house-made ricotta cheese, sweet potato fries with barbecue dipping sauce, char-grilled buffalo burgers with sage mayo, chicken gaucamole sandwiches. There's an extensive list of imported and domestic beers on tap and in bottles, plus a good selection of... cognacs, wines, cigars, warm apres-ski favorites, such as peppermint schnapps and hot cocoa, and hot apple cider with tuaca.Continue to 4 of 15 below.
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Top Pick Restaurant: Blue Moose Pizza
Part of the attractive new Vail Square development in Lionshead Village, cheerful and affordable Blue Moose Pizza is a fine spot to fill up on buffalo wing or pepperoni pizzas, chicken pesto calzones, meatball sliders, eggplant parmesan subs, spaghetti, and other classic short-order Italian food - the perfect stick-to-your-ribs dining for a winter-sports town. The modern restaurant has tall windows and warmly lighted seating, as well as tables outside overlooking Vail Square and Arrabelle hotel. Blue Moose is located just a few steps from the ice rink at Vail Square, across the way from Centre V French bistro.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Top Pick Restaurant: Centre V
Attached to the snazzy Arrabelle at Vail Square hotel and residences, Centre V has emerged quickly as one of the most engaging and consistently excellent restaurants in Vail.
The bustling dining room, with its soaring ceilings and rather grand sensibility, feels a bit more formal than the classic French brasserie cuisine might suggest. In fact, you're fine here dressed in casual ski-lodge threads. The food here is perfect for warming up following a day of skiing on Vail Mountain. Cuisine ranges from expected French favorites like moules frites and trout amandine to more eclectic options, such as fried calamari with a preserved-lemon vinaigrette. Centre V also serves breakfast. There's a long, handsome bar at one end of the restaurant, where you can order from a nice list of wines by the glass, beers, and cocktails.Continue to 6 of 15 below.
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Deals on Lift Tickets at Vail Village Mountain
One of the main lift ticket offices at Vail, this window is located right in the heart of Vail Village Mountain Plaza (it's just off Mill Creek Road, just behind the Lodge at Vail), at the base of the Vista Bahn Express Lift. Lift tickets at Vail are also good for the company's nearby sister facility, Beaver Creek, and are generally cheapest when you buy them in advance, and also for multiple days. Here's a link to purchasing Vail Lift Tickets online, and here's a winter trail map of Vail Mountain.
For the greatest deal of all, consider the very reasonably priced Epic Season Pass (which allows unlimited skiing and snowboarding at seven Vail-owned resorts: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, and Heavenly and Northstar in Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada), or one of several more limited and less expensive options. if you're planning to ski more than about seven days at more than one of Vail's ski areas, the Epic Season Pass is... definitely your best bet.Continue to 7 of 15 below.
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Blue Sky Basin
Blue Sky Basin is a backcountry-like section of Vail that was added during a somewhat controversial 2000 expansion. The opening of this 600-acre parcel that's characterized mostly by unfettered meadows and narrow, evergreen-studded chutes incurred the ire of some environmentalists, but over time, it's become a favorite terrain for expert and intermediate skiers attempting the dodge the significant crowds of Vail's Frontside.
The minimally developed Blue Sky Basin is served by three high-speed lifts, the main two being Skyline Express and Pete's Express. At the top of Skyline, you'll find Belle's Camp, a scenic picnic area and warming hut.Continue to 8 of 15 below.
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An open, meandering run that descends from the top of Vail Mountain's Buffalo's/Patrol Headquarters area and curves in a leisurely formation through the otherwise challenging terrain of the legendary Back Bowls, Sleepytime is the most direct way to reach Blue Sky Basin from the Frontside of the mountain.
It's mild enough a run for even relatively inexperienced skiers, which means experts will generally bother with Sleepytime strictly as a means of getting from Point A to Point B. It is pretty, however.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Skyline Express Lift
The Skyline Express Lift carries skiers from Vail's Back Bowls up to Belle's Camp, depositing them in this rustic-looking "barn" right by the Belle's Camp warming hut. From here, your options are many - experts and relatively advanced intermediates can charge through the glades of Earl's Bowl, or follow a series of steep expert descents into Pete's Bowl, all of them feeding into the intermediate Cloud 9 run, which can also be taken the entire way down from the top.Continue to 10 of 15 below.
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Here's a view of Vail Village and, behind it, Interstate 70, from just a short way up above the Vista Bahn Express Lift, along the intermediate Riva Ridge and Riva Catwalk trail. If you're looking for a fairly long, uninterrupted blue run down the lower half of the Frontside, Riva Ridge is an excellent option. Just keep in mind that it begins from the top (Buffalo's/Patrol Headquarters) as an expert run off of the easy Swingsville.
You can pick up Riva at a lower point from the easy Trans Montane traverse. From here it's a mostly intermediate run affordable some fine views and steep drops (including one short expert plunge called Tourist Trap, which you can easily bypass via intermediate Compromise if you'd prefer).Continue to 11 of 15 below.
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Eagle Bahn Gondola
Vail Mountain's one gondola is the Eagle Bahn, which is located in Lionshead Village, just steps from Vail Square and the Arrabelle hotel and residences. Eagle Bahn zooms skiers up the west side of Vail Mountain, to Adventure Ridge and Eagle's Nest (and that area's restaurants), from which a series of mostly intermediate and a few expert trails descend back down the Frontside to the village. Alternatively, from here you can ski from Eagle's Nest to the Game Creek Express Lift and take that to Wildwood (you cannot, however, get from the base of the Game Creek Express Lift back to Eagle's Nest - to get to Eagle's Nest from this area is to ride Game Creek Express Lift to the top, and then ski down the (green) Eagle's Nest Ridge trail.
In addition to this one gondola, some 30 lifts serve Vail Mountain, including 16 high-speed quads.Continue to 12 of 15 below.
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Belle's Camp Warming Hut and Picnic Area
Blue Sky Basin is the more secluded and less crowded backcountry-like terrain south of Vail Mountain, accessed by skiing down the Back Bowls (you can head down a number of expert trails or two longer intermediates, Sleepytime and Poppyfields). The lone facilities in Blue Sky Basin are found at Belle's Camp, a 11,480-foot summit accessed via the Skyline Express and Earl's Express lifts and comprising a rustic and quite scenic warming hut with outdoor grills and a snack bar, plus restrooms. In this photo, the actual Belle's Camp warming hut is the building on the right with the stone central chimney. This is perhaps the beautiful spot in all of Vail's ski terrain for a picnic, or simply relaxing for a bit and soaking up the incredible views - in every direction - of the Colorado Rockies.
Also it takes a bit of effort to reach Blue Sky Basin and Belle's Camp from the Vail resort villages, as the saying goes, getting there is half the fun. This part of Vail is also quite... easily accessible to all but novice skiers, even though the terrain in the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin are dominated by expert runs. In fact, the particular blue runs leading to Blue Sky Basin, and zipping down from Belle's Camp and this section's other major areas - Pete's Bowl and Grand Review - offer some relatively easy ways down even as intermediate trails go. That being said, if you're up for some challenging terrain, you'll find it out here. Best of all, you'll encounter far fewer crowds in Blue Sky Basin than on Vail Mountain proper (just keep in mind that the lifts close earlier in the day over here, so plan accordingly).
Although you can buy light snacks and sandwiches (as well as hot cocoa) at the Belle's Camp warming hut, you're also perfectly welcome to cook your own chow on one of the outdoor grills.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Pete's Express Lift
The highest point of skiing terrain at Vail isn't on Vail Mountain itself but rather along the ridge to the south, that makes up part of Blue Sky Basin. Here at the top of Pete's Express Lift, you're at 11,570 feet, and the views north toward Vail Mountain's famed Back Bowls are stupendous.
From the top of Pete's Express, you can snag two expert runs -- Hornsilver or Resolution -- and follow them to Cloud 9 in Pete's Bowl. Or drop down the intermediate Grand Review or The Star runs -- a pair of rolling meadows that eventually narrow through tight groves of evergreens before crossing China Spur and joining with Cloud 9. As relatively uncrowded, incredibly scenic blue runs go, these are some of the best at Vail.Continue to 14 of 15 below.
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Ice-Skating Rink at Vail Square
Throughout the winter season, an ice-skating rink with fire pits anchors the smartly redeveloped Vail Square in Lionshead Village. The posh Arrabelle at Vail Square hotel and residences are built around the square and ice rink. Behind the rink, with the red awning, note Centre V Bistro, one of the best restaurants in Vail. Lionshead Village and Vail Square are at the west end of Vail, about a mile from Vail Village (and easily accessed via a walking path and the Vail Shuttle Bus).Continue to 15 of 15 below.
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Cloud 9 Ski Run
Here's a look at Cloud 9, a narrow intermediate trail that winds down through the evergreens from Belle's Camp at Blue Sky Basin, eventually merging with The Star and Grand Review intermediate runs as well as carrying traffic from a number of short, fairly steep expert trails. Cloud 9 leads you back down to the Skyline Express Lift, which will take you back up to Belle's Camp, or to the Pete's Express, which will take you up to Blue Sky Basin's other peak, Grand Review.
You can also follow Cloud 9 all the way down to the Tea Cup Express Lift, which will carry you out of Blue Sky Basin and up to the top of Vail Mountain, where you can head back to the resort village via the Frontside trails or return back down through the Back Bowls.