Granted this season has not provided the epic snow conditions we have all come to expect from our Vail experience. Mother Nature has been rather stingy with all of the ski areas this year. But instead of pouting, I have been exploring the vast number of winter adventures that are generally usurped by skiing. I’d like to share a few with you:
Cross-country Ski and Snowshoe
The Vail Nordic Center is located in the Vail Golf Course Clubhouse two miles east of Vail Village. The golf course provides a beautiful setting for a day away from the crowds and some peace among the aspen along the edge of the mountain. The Nordic Center grooms 17km of skate and classic terrain. There are also off-shoot trails for snowshoeing. Rental and lesson packages are available and the Center is open 9-5 daily.
The Beaver Creek Nordic Center is one of the best kept secrets in the valley. Located at the top of the Strawberry Park ski lift, the Nordic trail system is one of the most expansive and scenic in the country. It features 32 km of groomed and rustic cross country and snowshoe trails. Rentals are available at the base of the Strawberry Park lift and tickets are $28 for adults, $17 for seniors and children. McCoy Park is open 8:45am-4:00pm daily.
If you are more adventurous or have a dog (like I do) and are looking for a more “backcountry” experience, there are several trails in the valley that are ideal for snowshoeing or cross-country. You may have to work a little harder on the un-groomed and sloped trails, but the experience of truly getting away from the crowds is worth it. The Eagle-Vail golf course also offers some excellent cross-country skiing and it is free! Located 10 minutes west of Vail, the Eagle-Vail golf course does some grooming, but not to the extent of Vail. It also still offers flat terrain ideal for cross-country.
Three of my favorite snowshoe trails are 10-15 minutes west of Vail off I-70. The first is around Meadow Mountain at the Minturn exit. Meadow Mountain is an old ski area and there is evidence of old cabins and corrals from the ranching days. The trail gradually climbs through an open meadow on an old forest service road leading to a wonderful aspen and evergreen forest. Access to the trails is from the forest service station parking lot just off exit 171 of I-70.
Two other favorite snowshoe trails are out of Edwards – East Lake Creek and Squaw Creek Trails. East Lake Creek Trail begins off of West Lake Creek Road a mile west of Edwards. The first two miles is a moderate climb on a forest service access road. The trail continues for another 10 miles and ends at Upper Camp Lake but you can make as much of a day of it as you would like as it is an out and back trail.
The Squaw Creek Trail begins off Squaw Creek Road a few miles past the entrance to Cordillera. A bit steep to start, it becomes more gradual through the aspen and pine forest.
At the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, Adventure Ridge offers outdoor activities and spectacular views for the non-skiing crowd. The views of the Sawatch and Gore Ranges are worth the trip alone. Ice skating, tubing, kid’s snowmobiling, a bungee trampoline, and my favorite, ski biking. Ski biking is only offered after the lifts close as you descend the same slopes you did on skis. Ski bikes are shaped like bicycles but have skis instead of wheels. You are outfitted with a very powerful headlamp and two mini-skis on your feet. You sit on the bike as you would a cruiser bike, your guide will instruct you of the finer points of steering, and you are off! It is a real kick coming down in the dark on groomed runs after the crowds have left.
The gondola is free to foot traffic after 2 pm. It’s great fun after a day of skiing to ride up the gondola, play around at the top for a while and have dinner at the Bistro Fourteen.
Hanging Lake and Glenwood Springs
A great winter hike is up to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon. The drive alone through Glenwood Canyon is spectacular. The hike starts about half-way through from the Grizzly Creek Rest Area. This short and very steep trail is overly crowded in the summer but is virtually empty in the winter. It is only 1.2 miles up to the lake, but you gain 1065 feet. Quite a steep ascent. The lake has a basin of travertine and is fed by Bridal Veil Falls providing a spectacular setting. In the winter, icicles and crystals from around the lake and falls creating an ethereal scene.
After the vigorous hike, I recommend making a day of it and continuing on through the canyon to Glenwood Springs and the famous hot springs. Relaxing in the mineral pools is sure to cure what ails you. Glenwood is a cute town and worth taking the time to wander the main street, visit the small shops or grab something to eat. Glenwood is about an hour west of Vail on I-70.
Dobson Ice Arena offers indoor skating and rentals. The area also has several outdoor skating rinks in Vail Village, Lionshead, Beaver Creek and Avon. Rentals are available in all locations.
Silverthorne is another great day trip east of Vail. The Outlet stores are a big draw with three villages of stores. A new shuttle offers access to the outlets for only $20 round-trip. The Outlets certainly offer a full day shopping experience but there are a few other things that also look interesting in Silverthorne:
I have not yet experienced this exhibit, but the pictures look spectacular. They are definitely on my list for this winter.
The area offers many types of ice fishing to enjoy. Some of the best fly fishing with easy access is the Blue River in Silverthorne. As you cross the bridge in the Blue Village of the Outlet Stores you can look down on the avid fisherman and point out all the trout they are missing. Lake Dillon and nearby Green Mountain Reservoir also offer lake and ice fishing.
Enjoy the Arts and Education
Located in Beaver Creek presents a diverse calendar of events throughout the winter. From film festivals to Jazz, Contemporary music and comedians all flow through this spectacular venue.
Learn the history of the sport we love. The Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum boasts a rich collection of historical artifacts from Colorado’s ski and snowboard heritage. There are great exhibits showing the development of the industry in Colorado and the best part is, it’s free! Located on the third level of the Vail Transportation building and open daily from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. Don’t forget to visit the gift shop, one of the best places to buy that unique gift for the ski/snowboard enthusiast.
Atop Vail Mountain at Eagles Nest the Nature and Discovery Center offers daily guided snowshoe hikes at 3pm. You are accompanied by a Naturalist and learn about the ecology and wildlife in the area. Snowshoes are provided. The Center is open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday and 11am-4:30pm Sunday & Monday.
The Public Library offers a variety of children’s programs and story hours that are sure to keep you kids entertained. Located between Vail Village and Lionshead, the library is open 10am-8pmMonday-Thursday and 11am-6pm weekends.
What is better after a day on the slopes than to treat yourself to a spa day? Several spas in the area offer full or half-day services to relieve those aching muscles. Here are a few in the area:
Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa
State of the art fitness, a soul-cleansing solarium, and a wide menu of treatments that give rise to genuine holistic therapy.
Sonnenalp Resort & Spa
For some, it is an indulgence, for others, a necessity. For everyone, an exquisite resource to work out and refresh mind and body.
Full-service spa/salon and fitness club located in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. Massage, skin care, body treatments, hair styling & color and manicures/pedicures. Featuring natural products.
Aria Spa & Club
Vail’s most extensive facility is unprecedented for its professional approach to fitness and personal wellness.
Snowmobiling and Snowcat Tours
There are several outfitters in the area that offer access to thousands of acres high in the mountains for snowmobile adventures. Most outfitters offer guided tours or snowmobile rentals if you want to venture out on your own.
Snowcat tours are a great way to experience the winter backcountry in the comfort of a heated snowcat. Nova Guides offers a two hour tour that brings you up to some of the most scenic overlooks otherwise only accessible by snowmobile or foot. The majestic views are breathtaking.
Ski Cooper also offers Snowcat Skiing and sightseeing tours. Located half an hour south of Vail at the top of Tennessee Pass on the way to Leadville, Ski Cooper is one of those rustic ski mountains with a lot to offer. Snowcat skiing takes place up Chicago Ridge as high as 12,600 feet with 2,460 acres of terrain.
Located 25 minutes west of Vail, 4 Eagle Ranch provides guests with a true western experience at their high-mountain ranch. Winter activities include snowmobiling, horseback riding, dog sledding and sleigh ride dinners. I have yet to experience dog sledding, but have been told it is incredible to see and feel these animals in action.
There is so much the Vail Valley has to offer it is hard to squeeze it all in. Vail also have a full calendar of events scheduled with festivals and music. Check out the events calendar for the upcoming schedule. We are truly fortunate to have all of this and world-class skiing to boot. I hope you venture out this year and discover something new. Enjoy your stay!