With skiing, shopping and cuisine to suit every taste and budget, Vail, Colorado, is what every ski resort should be.
With metres-deep powdery snow and more than 300 days of sunshine annually, Vail is the ultimate alpine playground. This month has seen more than 50cm of fresh snow on the ground and with numerous bargain travel options to be found until season's end on April 18, there's no better time be there than now!
Don't go past Vail Sports for affordable, quality equipment rentals. With six slope-side locations, they offer complimentary storage, upgrades to demo packages, free full-service ski and board tuning, online reservations and free delivery to your room.
Once you're kitted up, it's time to get amongst some of the most powdery, skiable snow in the world. Beginners will love the mountain's front side, with its long, wide, forgiving runs. New skiers edging towards the next level, should head to Game Creek Bowl, while intermediates and advanced will relish Blue Sky Basin with its picturesque tree runs and waist-deep powder.
Thrill seekers will delight in the Mongolian Bowls, where challenging runs like Genghis Kahn with its cornice drop-in will get your adrenaline pumping. If you love skiing bumps, ride Highline Express lift for a thigh work-out like you've never known.
In the unlikely event you grow tired of skiing Vail, your Vail Mountain Ski Pass allows you access to six nearby resorts, so you can zip to oh-so-ritzy Beaver Creek, take a 20-minute drive to Keystone for its world-famous Kat Skiing tours, head over to the historic mining and mountain town of Breckenridge, or ride the world-famous A-Basin. You can also access Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Resort, if you want to break your trip home with a stop in California.
In what must be one of the best mountain pass bargains on the planet, Vail Resorts Epic pass, US$599 ($680), allows unlimited skiing or riding at all of Vail's six resorts, at any time during the ski season.
Vail has more après watering holes than you could shake a swizzle stick at. The Tavern on the Square at the Arrabelle at Vail Square is spacious, friendly and fun, with a list of cocktails as long as your ski poles. In Vail Village, The Red Lion has the best margaritas this side of Mexico, with a bustling atmosphere that ramps up even more when owner Phil Long belts out some of the world's best drinking songs.
Also in Vail Village, Vendetta's has the best pizza slice in town, while The George is a basement-level sports bar with $3 food and drink après deals. For a more subdued atmosphere, head to the Lodge at Vail and sing along with the piano man as you sip warm cider.
Vail bursts at its seams with mouth-watering cuisine. Most restaurants use organic, locally grown produce, with many also offering low-fat, low-carb, low-cholesterol meals.
Don't miss Centre V at the Arrabelle at Vail Square, for mouth-watering French food. Ocotillo Prime at Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa serves high-quality steaks and chops for dinner, or for a healthy breakfast, enjoy the most delicious egg white frittata or low-carb eggs Benedict.
La Bottega in Vail Village serves melt-in-your-mouth Italian, as does Campo de Fiori, while at Terra Bistro at Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa, you'll find fine modern dining of free-range meat and poultry. The degustation menu at Wildflower Inn at the Lodge at Vail will blow the top button off your pants, and at Sweet Basil modern American cuisine fuses with Mediterranean, Italian and Asian influences.
If it's budget you're after, you won't have to look far. For a few dollars, Covered Bridge Coffee offers delicious breakfast bagels teamed with the best coffee you'll find in all of America.
If you're lunching on the mountain, head to Two Elk Lodge, Mid-Vail or Eagle's Nest facilities for healthy, hearty choices. If not, head into Vail Village and pick up a pizza at Pazzo's, or an award-winning chilli at The Red Lion. These are all great dinner choices too, as is Garfinkel's Sports Bar in Lionshead Village, which serves burgers, fish tacos and quesadilla for lunch and dinner.
Shopaholics will love Vail for its art galleries, jewellery, clothing and ski stores. Stop by The Golden Bear and pick up a signature bear charm or necklace. In nearby Minturn, newly-opened Jayded stocks affordable, fashionable men's and women's clothing.
Make the drive to the neighbouring town of Silverthorne and lose yourself in the outlet mall. With brands including Gap, Calvin Klein, Nike, Osh Kosh and Nine West, there are bargains to be found for men, women and kids!
No ski trip is complete without a spa experience and the Vin Chaud (Hot Wine) Indulgence at the The Spa at the Arrabelle at Vail Square is the ultimate. The 105-minute pamper begins with full-body exfoliation using wine essence and Dead Sea salts.
A massage with body cream and a warm wrap follow, before a full body vino-therapy massage and mini facial finishes the treatment. As you float out to the relaxation room, you're presented with an oversized glass of red wine and a serving of sorbet — exactly how every spa treatment should end.
For a five-star feel at a truly great price, stay at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa, just minutes walk to the Eagle Bahn gondola at Lionshead and directly on the free village shuttle route.
The Arrabelle at Vail Square is slightly more expensive, but has a seconds-to-the-slopes location; ditto for the Lodge at Vail. For more budget digs, try the Evergreen Lodge, located halfway between Vail and Lionshead villages and close to the free shuttle route.
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