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vail, colorado's largest ski mountain offers year round activities for families to the uber elite

by Ken Margolis

Choosing a ski resort to go to is like choosing a winery in the Napa Valley; as you drive down Hwy 70 you have several stellar resorts from which to choose. I set my sights on Vail, Colorado for some spring skiing. Vail was once noted as the training ground for the World War II military troops that patrolled the Italian Alps. In 1962 Vail opened its doors to the world and since that moment has been scaling its offerings to become a top travel destination with opportunities in adventure for young ski crazed adults and family vacationers, as well as the uber elite. I traveled to this culture rich resort and ski heaven destination, whose slogan is “Nothing Like It On Earth”, with its accommodations for every lifestyle.

Aside from some great activities in Vail for year round activities and skiing fun, what is totally remarkable is the evolution and the continuous rise of the entrepreneurs and businesses that truly have made a mark and built up this community. I had a chance to meet and learn from a few generations of the great people that have molded the Vail resort community and who continue to build and grow a list of activities that are enjoyed by its local residents and lucky tourist benefactors.

I want to share my recent trek and mention a few suggestions that you may find helpful for your trip – some recommendations for the first time traveler to this community.

Vail is only a 2-hour drive or bus ride North from Denver, but transportation to the slopes is always serious considerations. Arriving at Denver’s International Airport, I chose to rent a four wheel drive vehicle as I wanted to do some exploring once I got into the Vail area. While I am an expert in winter driving conditions, when driving on the ice and snow, a four wheel drive vehicle gives me an extra measure of comfort and safety.


Vail Valley has many choices for accommodations and you can spend hours researching location, pricing and availability. I wanted to stay in the famed Vail Village which is rich in activates, dining and night life. To my good fortune, I found a real gem situated in the heart of the pedestrian Vail Village and within walking distance to the slopes - The Sitzmark Lodge. Opening in 1969, the Sitzmark was purchased in 1974 by a Chicago Family, Helen & Bob Fritch, an early generation of Vail’s entrepreneurs. The Fritch’s have continuously upgraded the lodge, adding an elevator, heated outdoor pool and hot tub along with a few special creature comforts. I was impressed with the friendly and helpful staff and the top of the line Tempur Pedic mattress as well as a few small pleasantly noticeable auxiliary television speakers in the bathroom ceiling and the free in-room high-speed wireless Internet connection.

I met several returning guests who often request their favorite room, season after season. The property sits on the edge of the International Bridge on Gore Creek with fabulous views in the center of Vail Village. The lodge hosts several specialty retail businesses and the Left Bank French Restaurant, which adds to the desirability and charm of the establishment.

After an exhilarating day of skiing or just taking your time to shop in Vail Village, the lodge has a welcoming lobby and front room with fireplace and roomy tables and couches on which to sit and relax and enjoy a hot cup of spiced wine, cocoa or soup and, to my enjoyment, a machine that makes the finest quality espresso. The lodge has very large rooms with balconies, some with fireplaces. A complimentary breakfast and weekly wine and cheese party plus a public computer connected to high speed Internet and printer make your stay very enjoyable. More information is available their website. http://www.sitzmarklodge.com/

*Things To Do*

The Vail Village is well known for the quality of its restaurants and entertainment.

Upon arrival I recommend you grab a copy of the Vail Daily Newspaper and a Vail Walking Map as a starter to plan your trip over the next few days. These will help to keep you abreast of the local events and nightlife. I also took advantage of renting my ski equipment in the evening, so I could get a head start on the slopes in the morning. At the Sitzmark’s recommendation, I went to American Ski Exchange and to my surprise the rental shop was open until 9:00 PM.

There are many options for meals. My first night, I wanted a quick snack rather than a big meal. I found a great spot to get a beer and a $3 slice of pizza at Vendetta's Italian Restaurant, which was filled with a vibrant crowd of young skiers having a great time after a day of skiing.

*The Skiing*

There are two main embarking locations to purchase lift tickets that you can choose based on where you want to ski for the day; the Mountain Plaza at Vail Village and Lionshead at Vail Square.  My first day, I hit the slopes from the Lionshead gondola with a local skier who gave me a guided tour to the runs and a real work out. On my first few runs I was a little rusty and realized in fast order that I needed to drink water, as the altitude adjustment made me quickly dehydrated from living at sea level. We therefore grabbed a quick drink of water and a snack at one of the mid mountain resorts restaurants. I would recommend starting out your first day by drinking a healthy amount of water before hitting the slopes as well as a good light, but high calorie, breakfast.

After a morning of some the best weather skiing in my life, we headed down to the base of the Lionshead Village and had a great lunch at the Chop House. We toured some of the intermediate runs and closed the day at about 3:30 p.m.  Skiing at Vail accommodates every class of skier. While I did not take advantage myself, a favorite location in Vail is the Back Bowls.  Vail boasts three distinct areas of the mountain, each with their own features and fortes, including three terrain parks, seven bowls and 5,289 acres of free ride terrain. At seven miles wide, finding fresh tracks is as easy as finding elbow room. In fact, on an average day, there are only two skiers per acre, and on a busy day, only four! Vail is the largest ski resort in the U.S. You can see the latest about skiing at Vail at vail.com.


I had made reservations at the notable Vail Village restaurant La Tour, run by Vail entrepreneurs Paul and Lourdes Ferzacca. La Tour is among the best restaurants in the Vail Valley; French-American fine dining specializing in “farm to table” seasonal cuisine. La Tour exemplifies the latest generation of business owners that bring their best game and effort to Vail, and in my opinion, make Vail unique as you can see the entrepreneurs’ spirit in action. La Tour is in a great location with a welcoming warm staff. We had drinks in the lounge before being seated in the dining room, which was romantic, tastefully decorated and lit by ambient lighting with eye pleasing color.

*Other Adventures*

You don’t have to look very far to find truly amazing events in Vail year round. There is much more to Vail than skiing thanks to the dedication of very talented people and a wealth of donor resources that support the growth of culture in the area. The Vail Valley Foundation organizes many of the top events and manages and owns several of Vail’s venues.

A short ride from the Vail Village at the Beaver Creek resort is the 530 seat Vilar Center for the Performing Arts. The venue runs the gambit of all entertainment ranging from opera, plays, symphony, and music from Los Lobos to Dionne Warwick. You can see what is scheduled at their website www.vilarpac.org.  During my visit The Darkstar Orchestra was performing at the Vilar Center. I was very impressed by the Vilar Center; there truly is not a bad seat in the house. The seats are comfortable and the acoustics are superb. The interior of the theater is beautifully decorated with wood-paneled columns, walls and ceilings. Their main floor foyer doubles as a spacious bar area to grab a soda or wine and meet with friends before a show or during intermission. You can expect to see a diverse range of world-class performances rivaling top venues in other major US cities.

There are several “must see and do” items in Vail along with the well managed arts, entertainment, film, food and sports festivals and programs. The Vail Valley Foundation hosts many of the premier Vail Valley events; some of my favorites are the music concert series at the Vilar Center.  The Foundation has special events every season. To see the list of activities take a look at their website, www.vvf.org.

For more information on the places I mention in this article see the list below:

Sitzmark Lodge
183 Gore Creek Drive
Vail, CO 81657
Reservations: 888-476-5001
Phone: 970-476-5001
FAX: 970-476-8702

American Ski Exchange
225 Wall Street
Vail, CO 81657
Phone: 970-476-1477

Vail Daily Newspaper

Vail Mountain

Vendetta's Italian Restaurant
291 Bridge Street
Vail, CO 81657
Phone: 970-476-5070

Vail Chophouse
675 Lionshead Place
Vail, CO 81657-5214
Phone:  970-477-0555

La Tour Restaurant
122 E Meadow Dr
Vail, CO 81657-5249
Phone: 970-476-4403

Vilar Performing Arts Center

Vilar Performing Arts Center
68 Avondale Lane
Beaver Creek, CO 81620
Phone: 970-845-8497 or 888-920-2787

Vail Valley Foundation 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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