Get your skis shined up: Travel like a local in Vail, CO

Research says that 85% of the time people vacation, they return to a place they have already been. That seems ridic considering how many new and wonder-filled places there are in the world. That is, unless you are talking about Vail, Colorado.

IMG_4074.JPGVail (and it’s neighboring Beaver Creek) are as close as it gets to a second home for me. Having spent a month in 2009 in “the valley” (as the locals call it) and then multiple long weekends every year since, I know where to drink, eat and most importantly, ski.

There’s no denying that Vail (and the Vail Resorts machine) is enormous, but with that comes that fact that there is something for everyone, both on and off the mountain. So whether you want perfectly groomed blues and high-falutin shopping, or gnarly back bowls and dive bars that allow dogs, Vail and Beaver Creek have it.

Julie and I watching the Birds of Prey World Cup World Championship in 2015 at Beaver Creek.

If you are a skier who is not living under a rock, then you know about the Epic Pass which is the smart way to get unlimited skiing all season at what 13 US ski resorts (and a few European and South American ones too, but that’s another post). Considering that Vail and Beaver Creek now charge $165 at the window for a day and I paid $659 to ski all season, if you plan to ski more than 4 days, get an Epic Pass.

To sway you further on Vail/Beaver Creek, let’s start with the reason you are here, the skiing. Vail is divided into two main parts, the front and the backside. The front has long groomers where you can ski for miles and the back offers untouched bowls that can challenge even the most seasoned of skiers. The acreage is vast and you can actually ski all day without hitting the same run twice.

The ski patrol avalanche dogs are hard at work every day at Beaver Creek. Cutest photo ever!

Beaver Creek, just a few miles west of Vail on I-70, may be known for wealthy fur-wearing old ladies and homemade chocolate chip cookies, but don’t forget this is also where the steep-as-shit Birds of Prey World Cup is held every year. So yes, they have perfectly-groomed corduroy and overpriced everything, but you can also find some of the steepest and deepest terrain around if you head back towards Rose Bowl or Grouse Mountain.

To tip the scales further, both American and United offer direct flights from ORD to EGE and if you book them early enough, you can get them for 25K reward miles round trip.

Watching the Birds of Prey race.

So now that I’ve cleared up why Vail valley is in a class of its own, here is where to eat like a local (who’s not ridiculously affluent):

Beaver Creek:

Coyote Café: This place may look like a Mexican restaurant, but arrive at 3 or 4pm and it’s a raucous après ski spot with good beers and decent nachos. This is where Ski Patrol and all the local ski bums hang out because at the beginning of the year they sell mugs that get you a free beer every time you stop in.  No worries if you don’t have a mug with your name on it, they’ll happily hand out plastic cups and pitchers of both PBR and local mircobrews like Crazy Mountain made in nearby Edwards.

Lunch and wine on the sun deck at Beaver Creek.


Pazzo’s Pizza: Avon has a handful of high-end restaurants that I’ll likely cover in a later blog post, but if you want a place for dinner that won’t cost as much as a day of skiing, definitely stop in for some really great thin crust pizza and a cold beer. This is also a great place to watch a game, because there’s no shortage of TVs.

Avon Bakery: With a slogan like “We bake all day,” this local bakery is my go-to stop for a bagel sandwich if I’m en route to Beaver Creek for the day. Get it go or snuggle up to a local and read The Vail Daily and your belly will be good to go until lunch.

Beaver Liquors: No, this is not some buried lesbian joke to see if you are reading, the best-stocked liquor store near Beaver Creek is actually named Beaver Liquors. Rest assured they carry everything from tacky printed T-shirts and hats to an impressive, high-end selection of wines,  craft beers and yes, liquors. It’s hard to be offended when a pun is this good!

West Vail:

Westside Café: Whether there’s a wicked storm brewing or you fly out of EGE at noon, if you find yourself with a morning to spare head to Westside Cafe about a 5 minute drive west of Lionshead. Great Bloody Mary’s, breakfast burritos and standouts like Captain Crunch French Toast make this place a favorite for the locals.  I can’t speak to their lunch or dinner offerings firsthand, but their menu looks like American comfort food for hungry skiers.

Vail (Lionshead):

Tavern on the Square: Full disclosure, my good friend used to be the GM of this upscale pub that’s located in the very chichi Arrabelle Hotel in Lionshead, so we always made sure to stop in for a Bloody Mary (get the bacon one!) or a bite before/after we hit the mountain. Their menu feels more like Chicago (poke tuna, shishito peppers, bison burgers), which is a welcome change from the chili and pizza fare you usually get in town. Grab a seat on the outside patio for après ski and get a great view of people taking their last turns of the day under the Eagle Bahn Gondola.

Circa December 2008 when Gunther and I spent a month friendless skiing in the Vail valley.

Bart & Yeti’s: All right, time for a sappy story. In 2008 well before I met Julie, I took some time off work, packed up my Audi with my dog, and came out to Vail to ski for a month. I didn’t know a soul at the time and I would take my dog Gunther to this dog-friendly bar for dinner. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a dive but they have great wings, buffalo chicken sandwiches and a killer craft beer list. Just don’t come in wearing makeup.

@ Moe’s: I’m lucky enough to have some local friends who make it even easier to come back.

Moe’s Bar B Que: Walk towards the local bus stop in Lionshead and follow your nose up the stairs to the sweet-smelling, bone-licking goodness that is Moe’s. Julie, my resident southerner and connoisseur of BBQ, can testify that the pulled pork, wings, collard greens and mac n’ cheese are legit. Started by three Alabama boys who loved the mountains as much as BBQ, Moe’s is now a chain, but there’s something original about their first location in the Vail valley.

To sum it up, Vail Resorts may get a bad rap for turning little-known ski towns into burgeoning meccas in less time than most places can cut a new run, but with that kind of size and strength, skiers with the highest of expectations will find a reason to come back to the place where it all started. Wanna join me?


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