Vail Colorado is a top destination ski resort. It lays out groomed corduroy intermediate runs for days, you can dip into feathery powder in its world famous Back Bowls, you can choose to stay or dine in the three main villages, and it has plenty of entertainment off the ski hill for all kinds of families. You cannot go wrong with a ski trip to Vail. But you can do it better when visiting this massive ski resort armed with insider tips and information so you don’t miss out on any fun. Our family insider’s guide to Vail Colorado will help guide you in planning and maximizing your family ski vacation.
Getting to Vail Colorado and Parking Tips
If you are arriving by plane, there are two airports that access Vail. The Eagle County Regional Airport is just 30 minutes away, but you will find a greater variety of flights into and out of Denver, which is 100 miles east of Vail. Both airports have door-to-door airport shuttles through Colorado Mountain Express if you do not want to rent a car or do not feel comfortable driving in mountains or snow. They also offer private car service. Whether you choose to pick up a car rental at the airport and drive yourself or relax during the ride, Vail Colorado is located immediately off Highway 70. You can’t miss it. Even if you fly in to Denver and drive in a rental car you just take 70 the whole way. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
If you are day tripping it to the Vail ski resort, you’ll want to know where to park. No cars are allowed in the village areas. There are convenient parking structures at both Vail Village and Lionshead Village, and great signage will lead you right there. Parking at the villages will probably cost you, but the village shuttles are free. While short-term parking (under 1.5 hours) is free, parking for 4 to 15 hours will run you $30 and 15 hours up to 24 hours runs $50. Later arrivals can save money. If you arrive after 3 p.m. parking is free until 3 a.m. That’s good to know for dinner and après ski entertainment. Arrivals between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. pay $10. If the lots are full, the resort will open up overflow parking on the frontage road for free. There are some free outlying parking locations from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. that vary per day of the week. They are accessed by buses. You can learn more about them on the Town of Vail’s website if you are interested. With tadpoles and equipment to haul, we recommend accepting that you’ll have to pay for parking.
Where to stay at Vail Colorado
Should you stay in a village or in town? There are many factors that go into choosing a ski hotel at Vail. It will come down to your budget, how far in advance you are planning your trip (i.e., what’s available) and how close you wish to be to the lifts or lessons (note: that there are multiple ski lesson locations in Vail). Some village hotels offer enticing services such as ski valets and shuttles. Either way, all the Town of Vail buses are free and connect the villages and other areas of town no matter where you stay.
We have hoppily taken a lot of the guesswork out of where to stay in Vail Colorado with our Frog Family Favorite hotels in Vail Colorado. Even better: We can save you green by offering discounts on hotel rooms and lift tickets! Some of our favorites are the Lodge at Vail and The Arrabelle at Vail Square. Both are in prime locations in the villages and near the slopes!
The main Vail Villages include:
- Vail Village — a walking village with original buildings, luxury hotels, restaurants and boutiques
- Lionshead — a renovated “Austrian-inspired” village with an ice rink, restaurants, hotels, condos, the children’s ski school, and shopping. It is where you can hop on the Eagle Bahn Gondola to access more winter fun activities
- Golden Peak — a five-minute walk east of Vail Village, this peaceful village has lodging, the Vail Child Care and Nursery, a ski school, and is near a terrain park and ski racing.
You may also come across lodging in the Vail area such as:
- East Vail
- West Vail
- Cascade Village
- Avon (a nearby town closer to Beaver Creek ski resort)
- Beaver Creek
Good questions to ask yourself when researching where to say in Vail are:
- Where is the property located?
- Is the property ski in/ski out or how far is the walk or ride to a lift?
- Is it on a shuttle route?
- Does it have a pool/hot tub?
- Does it include wifi?
- Does it have a kitchen or is it near restaurants?
- Is parking included?
- Does it offer ski valet?
- Are there any perks such as kids ski free?
- Is the hotel family friendly?
You certainly do not need all these components to have a great ski vacation, but it does help you plan your journey if you know what to expect or what amenities you would like to take advantage of. You do not want to wake up and wonder how you are going to get your morning coffee or miss out on a perk that might make your trip easier on you (like ski valet) … and as ski parents we understand the need to make it as easy as possible. One thing is for certain, when booking a ski hotel, the best time to book a ski vacation is well in advance for the best price and selection.
Vail Colorado Lift Tickets
We frogs are always interested in saving money on a family ski trip. One of the best ways to save money on lift tickets is to buy multi-day passes and purchase in advance. Undercover Tourist is now selling discount lift tickets for Vail and other family ski resorts (when bundled with a hotel stay)! Whether you are skiing one day or seven, there are lift tickets deals that work for you. The good news is that the tickets are good at both Vail and Beaver Creek, another awesome family ski resort just 20 minutes away. You can explore two destinations in one journey.
Vail Colorado Child Care and Ski Lessons
If you or your tadpoles need to take ski or snowboard lessons, it’s good to know where you are staying, so you can choose a convenient lesson location. Or, if you are arriving by car or bus for the day, it’s good to know where you booked your lessons so you know where to park or hop off the bus. Child and adult group lessons are usually run out of Lionshead or Golden Peak. There are some private lessons (for any age) that meet at Vail Village, Golden Peak, Lionshead or even Mid Vail, so be careful when booking to note the location. Vail Colorado has full-day and half-day small group workshops for four skiers and fewer. They also offer family private lessons.
Book lessons at least 48 hours in advance to save money. Lunch is included in the price of child lessons. Lift tickets are included with some lessons and not others, but lift tickets are always are required to access a lift. Be sure to find out in advance if you need to purchase a separate lift ticket. You can add on a lift ticket for a discount when booking if you have not already purchased advance discounted Vail lift tickets. You can also add on equipment rentals and a helmet rental if you need it. Children 12 and under are required to have a helmet when participating in ski instruction, and helmet rentals are conveniently located at the children’s ski school if you need one. Multi-day lesson packages offer some savings, and that includes a First Time Series for people who have never tried skiing or snowboarding. And don’t forget to tip your instructor at the end to make him or her feel appreciated.
Vail offers adaptive lessons for skiers and riders of all abilities. If you or someone in your group has disabilities or special needs, call the Adaptive Office (970) 754-3264.
Vail Colorado Childcare
The Small World Nursery in Golden Peak is where you can leave your tadpoles while you ski. They take children ages 2 months to 6 years old. The kids are divided up by age group. Small World Nursery is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m each day through April 15. Children 20 months and up can participate in Micro Mice (for and additional fee), which offers ski instruction in the morning on a first-come, first served basis. Your tadpole is never too young to start working on those balance skills and beginning techniques! Future skiers and snowboarders are in training! Reserve online two days in advance.
Exploring Vail Colorado Ski Territory
For all the beginner skiers, The Front Side of Vail is where it’s at. The 18% of beginner terrain found at Vail is all located on The Front Side. You can access green runs from the very top to the bottom and all in between. The Sourdough Express lift in the middle of the left side of the mountain offers a fun selection of relatively short easy green runs with a gentle introduction to skiing in or near the trees, giving you a more secluded feel. You’ll find a Kids Adventure Zone with tunnels and banked turns designed for family fun skiing and helping kids gain skills and confidence there and at points across the whole mountain. The Front Side of Vail is also amazing for intermediate skiers who like to cruise the blues and it is dotted with black diamond runs for party member who are seeking more challenging terrain.
When you have explored all of The Front Side of Vail’s 1,627acres and think that you covered a huge amount of territory, flip over your trail map for a big surprise. In back of Vail you will find Blue Sky Basin for intermediate to advanced skiers with 665 acres of terrain and the legendary Back Bowls with another 3,017 acres for advanced and strong intermediate skiers (that’s almost twice as big as The Front Side). Vail’s terrain is 29% Intermediate and 53% Advanced/Expert. That mean’s there is something for everybody, and less experienced families can feel confident that the better skiers are likely to be in very different areas (Blue Sky Basin is a whole 5 miles away from Vail Village)! so beginners can find terrain that suits their skill level without experts zooming around them. Experts can be off playing in the Back Bowls, leaving people who are still learning room to work on their turns in the new 63 acres of Family Learning Zones. Vail is huge, but it does not feel overwhelming.
If you are looking for Freestyle Terrain areas, Vail has several. Golden Peak is the largest terrain park with jumps and half pipes. The Lower Golden Peak Park is an advanced rider and skier area. The Avanti Park is beginner friendly and can help riders and skiers progress in skill level.
Study a trail map before you start out and set up a plan for where you want to ski or ride each day. Some locations may require several lifts and runs to access them. If you are an intermediate or advanced skier looking to get to know Vail better, consider a complimentary guided tour. They offer Mountain Tours, Back Bowl/Blue Sky Basin Tours, and Women’s Tours (on Mondays). To learn about weather, grooming and mountain conditions, turn on channel TV8 in the morning before you hit the slopes. Hop tip: if you find yourself in a speed controlled zone, better pace yourself with the flow of “traffic,” or you just might get a speeding ticket warning or even lose your ticket. Ski in control.
Where to Eat in Vail Colorado
The bottom line at Vail is that it is so enormous that we suggest dining for lunch at a convenient location. It is not fun to ski across half the mountain to meet someone at a specific village for lunch. If you are skiing mid-mountain, eat at a mid-mountain lodge. Then have dinner in one of the villages, where you will find a variety of restaurants from upscale to super casual. There are all kinds of food from fancy to favorites with kids.
Up at Adventure Ridge at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola you can dine outside and take in the view at Bistro Fourteen. Eat before or after having some winter fun. What we like is that that kids 12 and under can enjoy a three-course meal for $10. There are $3 beers during après, and live music during the weekend. If you do not have a lift ticket from skiing that day, visit after 3:30 p.m. when the gondola becomes free.
You can also find fine dining and wine up on the mountain at Game Creek Restaurant in Game Creek Bowl. Reservations are required. Down in Lionshead Village the Vail Chophouse is open for lunch, après, and dinner if you are looking for a nicer meal where the slopes meet the village.
If we had to pick a casual family favorite, the Blue Moose Pizza in Lionshead really hits the spot and will even do particular New Yorkers proud. They also have a tasty spinach salad. After you eat you can hop on the ice rink to take a spin on the ice, or let the kids climb up to the playground just above the ice rink while you warm up at a fire pit. For more affordable dining, check out Moe’s Original BBQ or Garfinkel's at Lionshead Village.
In Vail Village, the Red Lion Inn offers tasty bites, including loaded nachos, and Vendetta's is the après hangout for pizza. To save even more money and our sanity on a family ski trip, we usually stop off at a grocery store and try to eat in as much as possible.
What Not to Miss in Vail Colorado
A trip to Vail is more than just a ski trip. Skiing and snowboarding are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to family fun at Vail Colorado. This year-round resort has a ton of winter fun.
Be sure to visit the Nature Discovery Center at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. It has nature exhibits and FREE naturalist guided snowshoe tours at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. (ages 10 and up). They provide the snowshoes. The Nature Discover Center is open at 11 a.m. daily. It closes at 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday to Monday. So be sure to note the day before you visit. They ask that you register in advance for the free snowshoe tours through Walking Mountains.
Your lift ticket will get you on the gondola. If you do not have a lift ticket that day, you can purchase one or wait until 3:30 p.m., when rides become free. Scenic gondola tickets are $42 per adult and $29 for children. So that afternoon free ride is looking pretty attractive.
Adventure Ridge is also located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. The attractions can vary based on snow level and weather. Attractions you may be able to experience include:
- Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster (Must be 54” to ride alone. Kids 3 and over who are 38” to 54” tall must ride with someone age 16 and over.)
- Kids Snowmobiling (For kids 6 to 12, at least 42” and under 100 pounds)
- Tubing (Kids must be 42” or taller. Kids under 5 must be accompanied by an adult in a separate tube)
- Ski Biking (ages 10 and up and intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders)
Back down in Lionshead Village you can rent ice skates for the skating rink or play on the playground. If the weather outside is frightful and you are looking for some indoor entertainment that’s delightful, take the tadpoles over to Imagination Station in the Lionshead Welcome Center. This hands-on children’s museum will delight children ages 2 to 12. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and only costs $5 per child. If your hotel has a pool, that one of our favorite free après ski activities with kids. For parents looking to relax or work out some tight muscles, a visit to the spa is never a bad idea when you are in need of some pampering. You have been working hard and you deserve it!
What About Altitude Sickness in Vail Colorado?
Vail’s base elevation is 8,120 feet. Peak elevation is 11,570 feet. That means you have to be smart about preventing altitude sickness if you live in a much lower area. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, coughing, loss of appetite or restless sleep. Symptoms that persist require medical attention. To prepare yourself for altitude, start out your journey well hydrated and keep the water and electrolytes flowing the whole trip. Eat frequent meals. Allow yourself time to acclimate by staying under 7,000 feet for the first day. You can fly into Denver and stay the night at a hotel near the Denver area, which is at 5,280 feet. Then take the drive out toward Vail. After a good night’s rest you will be in much better shape to face the mountain, and it is well worth taking the time to acclimate to altitude. Be sure to get plenty of rest during your journey. If you start to notice signs of altitude sickness, drink more water and try to get to a lower elevation if possible.
Still need help while in Vail Colorado?
If you need any assistance with booking activities or making restaurant reservations, contact the Vail Welcome Centers. Located on the top deck of the Vail Village parking garage and on the lower level of the Lionshead parking garage, the Welcome Center can be a one-stop shop if you need more information while in Vail. You can get maps or publications to help you continue to plan your journey.
With this family-friendly insider’s guide to Vail Colorado you can get a jump on your next ski vacation. There really is nothing quite like Vail when it comes to snow quality and meeting the needs of every skier. Have you visited Vail on a family ski trip? If you have any favorite eats or fun insider tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section below. Check out our other ski planning posts to help you in planning your ski trip.
Hoppy Skiing (and Riding)!