Americas largest ski state has dozens of good, though expensive, resorts. Read any tour operator brochure or any of our rival magazines and you will see fawning features haling Vail as the biggest and best in the USA. It was once but since Vail Resorts went on a spending spree and started buying up all its competitors it has, in our opinion, failed. For this is a resort dedicated to making a profit.
For sure Vail, two hours from Denver, is a fine ski area, but the company’s greed and George Bush Might is Right mentality has made it very unpopular with locals in Colorado – and discriminating European visitors too. Why? Firstly it is billed as a plus resort with a huge powder ski paradise and great skiing and great places to stay. However when you arrive on the congested, fume-clogged I-70 freeway from Denver you find that there are two Vails – on either side of the motorway, with roaring juggernaut traffic all day.
And the spread of hotels, condos and bars and restaurants sprawl for 7km along the valley. If you are skiing for a day get ready to fork out $25 for parking, then $97 for a day ski pass. If on a vacation hopefully you have booked accommodation near the main lifts – or you are in for a bus ride (free) to the lifts – or a car crawl to the base station – a good half hour wasted! Then there’s the much-vaunted ski area – biggest on the West. Well it isn’t. It may be the biggest ski town, but it does not have the biggest ski area (that’s Big Sky). The truth of the matter is that Vail is small by European standards – with about as much skiing as your average large French or Austrian resort. Better comparison still – it is ONE SIXTH the size of France’s 600km 3 Valleys.
Vail claims to have a lot of ski-out, ski back accommodation. Well it doesn’t and what it does have over Europe is some pretty amazing back bowls, which are the best lift-served off-piste in the world. But they are often closed a short notice because of “adverse conditions”, which probably means the snow has thawed in the springtime sun. Vail has runs for all, but do not expect European efficiency or quality with ski lifts or on-mountain dining. For Vail’s need to keep stock-holders happy means there are not enough lifts, so expect queues of up to half an hour at peak times. And the food? Huge on-mountain self-serve cafeterias slop up the worst of American junk food – burgers, wraps and chili con carne – certainly a con all right with inflated prices!