Vail — Mountain layout
If you‘re skiing with a group, arrange a meeting place in case you get separated. This is one big mountain. After about a week here, youll still be discovering new pitches and trails. By the way—locals call the lifts by their numbers rather than their names. If you want to play with them, do the same.
Another suggestion: If you’re staying at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, take Cascade Way back to the hotel at the end of the day. This run is really a hoot and is reminiscent of skiing in the Alps as it curves, twists and ducks under bridges. Look for it skiers left near the bottom of Simba.
We give the expert and advanced terrain here a thumbs-up because of the “sheer volume” quotient. That is, advanced and better can comfortably spend a week working out kinks in trees and bumps, and if you luck into a powder day, doing laps on Genghis Kahn alone will test your mettle. Overall, nothing should scare the bejeebers out of you, but you will have to sweat.
On the front side, as you face the hill, check out the double-black diamonds named Blue Ox, Highline and Rogers Run. Don let the double-diamonds fool you—this is advanced terrain, but nothing thats dangerous. The straight-down-the-lift, waist-high, mogul-masher Highline is the stiffest test of the three, its challenge upgraded by the fact that it spills right under the Highline lift where other talented skiers are free with their vocal evaluations of your work. Nearby Prima, off Northwoods Express, is tougher still, and the best skiers like to make the Prima-Pronto run their endurance test. Pronto drops right down to Northwoods Express and gets its share of oglers in line. The Prima Cornice can get you sucking air at the top, but it needs plenty of snow to open. The only authentic gut-suckers on the front face are the tops of South and North Rim off the Northwoods lift, leading to a tight but nice Gandy Dancer, and even those are short and sweet.
Under the Vista Bahn, when theres enough snow, The Chutes beckon. Its a bit of work to get to them, and the payoff is short, straight timber bashing. LionsHead has only three very short sections of advanced terrain. Simbas short, steep stretch at the bottom often bumps up, as does Minnies Mile, a short run that pops out onto the cruiser Born Free, and Lower Ledges.
Solid skiers, of course, will also want to explore Vails famous Back Bowls. Stretching 6 miles across, they provide more than 2,734 acres of choose-your-own-path skiing. On a sunny day, these bowls are about as good as skiing gets. Just about any skier will tell you there is no other place to be on a powder day. Skiers who have skied Vail for years say they now ski the front side only when they come down at the end of the day. The bowls also are an excellent way to escape crowds.
Youll certainly want to try the steeps and glades in Blue Sky Basin for a taste of lift-served backcountry skiing. The secret in Blue Sky Basin is that its north facing, so the snow stays better here longer and theres a lot more of it. The Skyline Express Lift runs from the bottom of Tea Cup Bowl up the ridge between Petes Bowl and Earls Bowl, providing the main access to terrain in the area. Earls Express Lift is in the western part of Earls Bowl and runs up the east face, where you can dive into acres of gladed terrain.
Intermediate skiers and boarders will run out of vacation time before they run out of trails to explore. Few other mountains offer such expansive intermediate terrain and near-countless trails. Especially worthy cruising areas include the long ride down the mountain under and to the right of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, almost any of the runs bordering the Avanti express chair, the Northwoods run and the relatively short but sweet trio of runs down to Game Creek Bowl. Our vote for best run on the mountain, and one available to advanced-intermediates (though parts are rated black), is the top-to-bottom swath named Riva Ridge.
LionsHead is all about intermediate skiing. The trails tend to roll from the top of the gondola down to the valley like ribbon candy—each trail has a steeper section followed by an easier stretch, and steep is a relative term. Simba is a long swooping run, good anytime, and often chosen as the last run. But beware, it can resemble a freeway of skiers “heading to the barn” for apres-ski. Born Free is another classic intermediate run that loops lazily to the valley floor.
Confident intermediates also can enjoy the Back Bowls, but stick close to groomed trails in China Bowl and Tea Cup Bowl. (Poppy Fields in China Bowl often is groomed during the day, too.) If you get tired or frustrated with the natural conditions, you can bail out easily.
In Blue Sky Basin, when some of the trails are groomed, low-intermediates can ski this remote area, which is peaceful and secluded. If they are not groomed, you need to be a strong intermediate who can handle powder and some trees. Petes Express Lift runs up the eastern most point of Blue Sky Basin in Petes Bowl to access more than 125 acres of intermediate terrain.
Best areas are at Golden Peak and the top of the gondola, and a group of short green runs under the Sourdough Lift on the top left of the trail map. Unfortunately, Vail doesn have a large area of concentrated green runs. Most lifts on the front face have one or two green-designated trails, a bunch of blue trails and one or two blacks. Take a trail map and pay attention to the signs.
Vail is one of the few resorts with beginner terrain at the top of the mountain. Take the Eagle Bahn Gondola and at the top, the beginner area offers an inspiring 360-degree view. A group of short green runs are served by a chairlift to skiers right (east) of the gondola, and beginners can do laps on this chair. The best part is beginners are the only ones using the chair.
Beginners can follow a series of cat tracks with names like Cubs Way and Bwana Loop that crisscross the mountain. If cat tracks make you nervous, Vails trail map marks them with dotted lines so youll know where they are. However, its tough to avoid them here, unless you ride the gondola back down.
For first-timers, there are small learning areas in the Golden Peak base area and the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola at Adventure Ridge. From Adventure Ridge, you can return to the valley via the gondola.