A vast, mainly traffic-free resort based on Bavarian villages, Vail is Colorado’s big name in skiing, with plenty to offer when it comes to family holidays, not least Adventure Ridge, a mountain-top centre with skating, hire of contraptions such as snowbikes, and a restaurant for warming up after a snowmobile adventure. Meanwhile, down the valley, Vail’s posh sister resort Beaver Creek boasts The Ranch, a children’s ski and snowboard school set amid easy slopes.
In summer, Vail is popular with mountain-bikers and white-water rafters, with specialist family trips available.
Ski and snowboard in the USA’s biggest single-mountain ski resort, covering more than 5,000 acres (20 km2) and boasting 7 bowls and the Blue Sky Basin with its intermediate wooded terrain. Most is wide-open terrain with 193 trails, much than half advanced/ expert, about a third intermediate, and the rest beginner. A Colorado Pass gives 10 days' access to the lifts at Vail plus unlimited slope access at nearby Breckenridge, Keystone and A-Basin.
Head for Adventure Ridge, with plenty of activities for younger visitors including ski-biking, a junior snowmobile track and tubing.
Book ahead (a month if possible) for the childcare centre or the ski school (from age 3).
With young kids and non-skiers, ride the gondola after 2pm, when it’s free.
Take to the river – with families it’s best on the stretch above and through Glenwood Springs. Rock Gardens Rafting is a specialist in gentler family float trips, as well as offering zipline adventures in the Glenwood Canyon. Or try Dvorak Expeditions, with whitewater-rafting from age 4. See our white-water rafting tips page.
In summer, make for Vail’s imaginative Pirateship Park at the base of the slopes.
There’s a good range of eateries in Vail for all budgets, including locals’ favourite the Westside Café and the renowned Paozo’s Pizza.
The ski season in Vail generally lasts mid-Nov to mid-April. The white-water rafting season lasts mid-April to mid- to late-Sept, but the best time is mid-June to August.
Vail is in the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Colorado. British Airways runs one non-stop flight per day from London into Denver International Airport, taking 10hrs; at the time of writing the fare was about £750 return. From there it’s a 1hr flight on United Express to Eagle County Airport, which is about 60km from Vail.
You could hire a car to cover the 158km between Denver and Vail, but beware that when it snows, the I-70 is best left to those with good experience of winter-driving conditions. Parking is expensive in Vail, too. Shared shuttles and private charters are both available from the airports.
Vail isn’t a destination for low-budget family ski holidays, given the expense involved in getting there. Accommodation tends to be upper-end, too.By Rhonda Carrier
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