We look at Vail's three base villages to find the top-value lodgings that will make you open your wallet for an elite vacation at this famous Colorado mountain resort.
What is most surprising to a first-time visitor to Colorado' s legendary mountain town of Vail is its long and narrow shape. Nestled into a narrow valley between I-70 and the steep slopes of Vail Mountain, the town stretches out for several miles but is barely half-a-mile wide at its most open points.
Orientation to Vail Valley and the Ski Resort
In this valley you'll find some very fine resort hotels, tony restaurants, upscale and not-so upscale shops, and the speedy lifts that will take you up, up, up onto one of the world's great mountains. It's a family ski, snowboard, hiking and biking vacation paradise.
There are three distinct areas of the mountain, each with its own base village and its own features, including some of the three terrain parks, seven bowls and 5,289 acres of freeride terrain. Vail simply offers something for everyone. Add in the diverse clientele hailing from all parts of the globe, from Olympians to toddlers, and you get a sense of how welcoming it is.
Since the Vail mountain is so wide, first-time families often are challenged to select which of the three base villages (Golden Peak, Vail, or Lionshead running east to west) will be their home. We present a snapshot of each base village's strengths and weaknesses so you can make the best choice for your family.
As at most mountain resorts, the farther away you get from the lifts, the faster the housing prices drop. The lowest priced condos are in East Vail and West Vail, not far from the slopes. Most offer free shuttle buses to the mountain as on-site parking is quite expensive. And while condos have a lot to offer families in terms of space, privacy and kitchen facilities, Vail is offering smart meal plans and discounts for on-mountain dining so that Mom won't have to bag lunches all morning.
Most of village hotels and condos offer private babysitting, selected from a list of screened locals, for a fee. These properties are within the base villages, none are ski-in/ski-out, though some have a ski valet at the gondola entrance.
Lionshead, with its childrens ski school, access to Adventure Ridge and great new pedestrian village is the preferred family choice if you don't need a nursery for baby. However, the makeover of Lionshead, arrival of The Arrabelle, the Ritz-Carlton Residences (a 71-unit luxury private residence complex) and the Four Seasons Vail (121 room resort plus some condominium units) put pressure on all the condos to upgrade their facilities, so prices are rising. For more information, lodging ideas and room/lift ticket packages, check out Vail Resort's website.
Lionshead Hotels & Condos
Lionshead Village radiates out from the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola leading to the Eagles Nest lodge. This is where the wonderful mid-mountain beginner terrain and Kids Fun Zone parks are located, and it's home to Adventure Ridge, an activity zone offering snowmobile tours, a mini-snowmobile track for kids, a terrific multi-lane tubing center and more. Watch out for big expansion here by 2013. The village has been rebuilt around an ice-skating rink, with a kids' ski school and dozens of stylish sportswear shops and cafes. The Blue Moon is a child-friendly eatery, one of the best in Lionshead for fresh pizza and healthy fare.
Arrabelle at Vail Square
675 Lionshead PlaceVail, Colorado 81657
$$$$-$$$$$+ depending on season
This recently built RockResort property is the most deluxe place in Lionshead Village, and is reviewed in more depth on FTF. There are 55 rental units ranging from guest rooms to four-bedroom condos; enormous two-bedroom condos run $2500/N in the high season.
Vail Mountain Marriott Resort
715 W. Lionshead Circle
Vail, CO 81657
$$-$$$$$+ depending on season
Tucked on the west side of Lionshead and just off the slopes is the pretty, Alpine-style Marriott, which has 344 guest rooms and suites, as well as 12 one- to three-bedroom condo units. The well furnished Lodge rooms –some with dark wood paneling– have balconies and will sleep a family in two queen beds, but we like the large Studio King suites with a separate shower stall and tub in the bathroom. There are 42 of these suites available, and many connect to a deluxe guestroom in case you want to spread out more. About 60% have stone fireplaces, and many have a kitchenette to help you relax at après-ski time with snacks and drinks for the family. This classy Marriott dates to 1971 so the rooms are extra spacious and include amenities such as a coffee maker, fridge, hair dryer, humidifier (great if any of you come down with altitude sickness), an ironing setup and robes to wear to the pool. There are not one but two pools, a larger one indoors and a 30-foot outdoor heated pool, the perfect place to do your laps in full view of the evergreens. Kids will enjoy the three Jacuzzis and being able to visit the fitness room with their folks in tow. An on-site shop rents bikes or skis. Great deals here early or late in the season.
Landmark Tower Condominiums
610 West Lionshead Circle
Vail, CO 81657
800/322-8245 or 970/476-1350
$$-$$$$$ depending on season
Although the Landmark has an East and a West wing full of condos, both share a nice pool deck with Jacuzzis, a small restaurant and a friendly and accommodating staff. Our very spacious two-story unit in the East Tower was well-outfitted to suit our family's needs. The two-story living area had a fireplace, well-stocked kitchen, dining table and balcony with barbecue grill. Two large bedrooms, two small bathrooms, and a mezzanine loft with a double bed were cozy and simple. An open window would bring the steady drone of I-70 into the front room, a minor irritation, but windows facing the mountain provided stunning views. The units each have internet access and below-ground parking, too.
Destination Resorts Vail manages the Landmark and several other properties right in Lionshead, most catering to families. We liked the nearby, moderately priced Enzian Condos (800/322-8245), larger three to four-bedroom, three-bath units that welcome reunion groups with even more spacious living and dining facilities than the Landmark's. The economy properties are at the east side of the village. The small, budget Vail 21 Tower (800/322-8245) contains one- and two-bedroom studio units, some with sofa beds, popular with young couples and students. All in all, the variety in style and price make these great family properties.
Vail Village Hotels
Vail Village is the epicenter of Colorado chic in shopping, accommodations, eateries, and people-watching, with two high-speed chair lifts that scale the mountain from the charming Bavarian-style base — but the ski school is only for adults. Vail is pretty, super convenient, almost painfully sophisticated, and it's also the most expensive with the most exclusive hotels. For our family, it was ideal for an evening of window-shopping and a meal at Los Amigos, a rowdy Mexican place with great enchiladas and modest prices. For that celebratory meal, try the duck at Sweet Basil's, a Vail favorite.
The Lodge at Vail
174 East Gore Creek Drive
Vail, CO 81657
877/528-7625 or 970/476-5011
$$$-$$$$$+ depending on season
It was built in 1962 to satisfy the National Forest Service's demand for an inn to house overnight visitors to the new ski resort at Vail. It has been expanded from 60 to 165 rooms, renovated, redone, refurbished and restored. In the five decades since its opening, families have returned for several generations, so there's a camaraderie among the staff and guests that is palpable. The Lodge at Vail remains the ski resort's best known hotel because of its prime placement at the VistaBahn gondola. Vail Village has grown around this hotel, whose front door is known as Checkpoint Charlie for its tiny guard shack limiting automobile access to the largely pedestrian village.
The large white structure has green shutters and copper and tile roofing, with pretty carved wood balconies typical of the Austrian Alpine style. The ground floor has sports and fashion boutiques, while above, intimate corridors and cozy public spaces with twig-like wrought-iron fixtures, floral carpets, and natural accents such as wood, tortoise, fur, hide and fossil trimmings combine to create a very rich and satisfying whole.
Rooms, recently redone, feature the RockResorts signature amenities such as flat-screen TVs and luxurious bedding. There's plenty of closet space with padded satin hangers, ceiling fans to stir up the crisp mountain air, pretty views over the front or back pool decks (each with their own Jacuzzis), and the incredible serenity of being wrapped in old pine trees and mountain slopes. The International Wing is more recently built and has a similar cozy feel, with more luxurious touches and furnishings, but the same remarkably attentive service.
Families will find it easy to book connecting double queen rooms but if you can splurge for one of the condo units, with fireplaces and stone terraces to spread out on, and loft like living spaces with full kitchens and all the amenities of the hotel, that would be our pick. Keep in mind that there are 10 different room types and 15 different "seasons" throughout the year, so that pricing varies greatly. Because of its location, The Lodge is popular with guests enrolling in the Adaptive Ski School, considered one of the best in the U.S. at teaching the handicapped to ski. Inquire about the winter specials with bed and breakfast and lift ticket; or the summertime family value packages where activities such as whitewater rafting, guided hikes, horseback riding and golf are included in the rates.
The RockResorts Spa opened in 2008 and has a soothing nature-themed décor with lots of natural woods, stone, crystal formations and candles; pine is used in some of the signature treatments as well. The spa’s couples treatment room is used for the popular mother-daughter massages or mani-pedi sprees, as children 12 and older are welcomed to enjoy spa treatments if accompanied by a parent. From the two dining rooms, there's a continental style Wildflower Inn with bright picture windows overlooking the slopes. This destination restaurant for Valley residents is where parents can enjoy a tasting menu of fresh Colorado specialties like lamb and beef, or imported seafood, with a flight of wine, while kids can enjoy the healthy children's menu. At the casual Cucina Rustica, breakfast and lighter Italian fare are served. At Mickey's Bar, catch famed piano player Micky Poag, who's graced the keyboards for more than 30 years. This Vail classic is welcoming to families but is best suited to those whose kids ski or ride on their own. Families with young children will have to use the resorts' complimentary shuttle to bring infants to the nursery in Golden Peak, or the children's ski schools in either Lionshead or Golden Peak base villages for their lessons.
Golden Peak Hotels
Many families with young children prefer Golden Peak, the base village surrounding the lift of that name, located about 12 minutes by shuttle bus from Lionshead. It has the only on-mountain nursery facility for kids under 3-years, the minimum age for the ski schools at Golden or Lionshead. Golden Peak has advanced grooming so that its steeps can open early season for training Olympians, and its beginner terrain is at the foot of the mountain. It has more condos than the other village bases and fewer retail establishments, but Larkspur is vey popular for its California style cuisine. If you have toddlers and teens, your teens may spend a lot of time on the free Vail Resort shuttle buses exploring on their own (not a bad thing).
Manor Vail Lodge
595 Vail Valley Drive
Vail, CO 81657
Among the many condo complexes at Golden Peak, this one stands out for its recent renovaton and its very convenient location. Manor Vail Lodge is another property managed by Destination Resorts, and it has a great location between Ford Park and Golden Peak directly across the street from the Golden Peak Base facilities. Housing ranges from attractive hotel rooms and studios with two double beds, to one- to three-bedroom condos, each with its own fully equipped kitchen, living room with gas fireplace and private balcony or patio. Guests have access to spa services, two heated swimming pools, four hot tubs, fitness facility and a 24-hour front desk service. There is also a bar-lounge and the Lord Gore Restaurant on property.
Check out the offerings of Destination Resorts Vail (970/476-1350, 888/881-0164) for other family welcoming condo options on and near the mountain.
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