Besides our love for new cultural experiences, pursuits of adventure line up just as many trips on our vacation agenda. For the past 13 years, A+L+M have selected a new location each year to quench our undying love of the snowy mountains. Luckily, with all those excursions, we’ve never had a bad one… some absolutely extreme circumstances (like summoning an Italian ski patrol complete with snowmobiles, snowcats and a staff of 20 to find your brother in the dark, in the Alps!), but never a trip that disappointed. In all those years, we’ve only repeated a location once… Vail and Breckenridge are certainly worth the return visit.
Located approximately 45 minutes away from each other, and a relatively short drive down the highway (Vail- 2 hours, Breckenridge- 1 hour) from a direct flight into Denver, the convenience of these destinations lends to easy decision making. Plus you also have the option of flying into Eagle Airport, a smaller hub, but only 15 minutes to the mountain. Many of the other resorts in Colorado are not so easily reached, most requiring very long drives through the mountains and/ or jumper flights into smaller airports (which often have delays because of snow). As a result, this region is perfect for short ‘sneak-away’ trips, or for those that don’t want getting-there to be half the adventure.
Vail and Breckenridge are both quaint mountain towns and world class ski resorts. As is standard for major ski mountains that dominate a town, the traditional base lodge is often skipped over, instead replaced with a fun shopping, dining and lodging village in the valley for visitors to explore, a la The Alps. They are cozy, yet lively and full of nightly après ski action, with drink specials galore and lots of live music and sing alongs (just in time for when you’ve thrown back a few cocktails).
While the towns appear similar, the vibes of each village are different and distinct. Both places offer a plethora of condo and hotel options, a variety of drink and dinner locations and the gamut of non-skiing outdoor activities (like snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoeing, dog sledding and tubing). The difference lies with the clientele…
If you are in your early 20’s and are ready to party, rent a condo at ‘Breck‘, pick up some BBQ for dinner, hit up the bars to the wee hours and then stumble to the lifts when the sun comes up (or when you can manage to get your head out of the toilet… it’s ok… we’ve all been there). The town is packed with casual dining spots, super festive bars and more t-shirts shops than any one person could every want… although you will go into them all. Peruse the offerings and then pick up a coffee cup for your mom and a beer-inspired-ski-t-shirt for your brother. Head to any one of the many snowboard shops and pick up some fresh new gear for yourself. Walking the town is a good time… feel free to make cocktail pit stops along the way.
For those of you considering Breck, but are afraid you will be overrun with puking co-eds, have no fear… it’s not that kind of place. Even with all of the great nightlife, the atmosphere is still relaxed and everyone stays in control (as far as we can remember… but our memory is a bit foggy…). What started as a gold mining town in the wild, wild west, has transformed into a dream Colorado vacation destination (read more about Breckenridge’s interesting history here.) It’s an absolutely dynamite town with plenty to do!
Vail on the other hand, is refined and upscale all the way. Please don’t confuse upscale with fancy though; Vail is far more laid back than its Aspen counterpart. The visitors primarily consist of 30 to 40 somethings (plus the occasional cougar). Although Vail is definitely family friendly, the vibe remains geared towards spending the night having a fabulous dinner and many cocktails (or cheap margaritas!), as opposed to pizza and soda.
Modeled after a European ski village, this is the closest you are going to get to a Swiss mountain town this side of the Atlantic. From the chalet inspired buildings with wood trim and flower boxes, to the (heated!!) winding cobblestone streets and gas-lamp-inspired light posts, wandering the streets of Vail transports you to Switzerland. While you will find the classic souvenir shop, they are few and far between. Instead select a painting from one of the galleries, some handmade jewelry or an extravagant full length mink. The offerings are far more original, and generally more expensive than Breck.
Further, your meal will surely please! Every other business is a restaurant or bar of some kind, with everything from high end Japanese (Chef Nobu Matsuhisa just opened his acclaimed Matsuhisa), to refined French. We sipped gluhwein (a hot mulled wine) outside at the German Alpenrose, before heading to Los Amigos for some margaritas, tacos and guacamole, finishing with fantastic fresh sushi at the tiny Osaki Sushi (I know… our poor stomachs!) The bar at the Red Lion is THE spot for après ski festivities with sing-along bands and some awesome BBQ! The options are nearly endless.
In terms of lodging, the town definitely leans more towards hotels than freestanding condo units which are always so popular in ski towns. We absolutely LOVED the Tivoli Lodge, a rustic, Colorado-inspired boutique hotel just off the lift. The owner, staff and even the house black Labrador ‘Speedy’ are there to welcome you with a smile (or a wagging tail). The hotel offers a lovely breakfast every morning (additional fee: $10 for continental, $15 includes hot food and omelet station) perfect for when you want to eat quickly before heading out for ‘first chair’.
In the afternoon enjoy the complimentary hot chocolate, cookies and free wi-fi, while cozying up in front of the massive fireplace flanked by oversized leather coaches. The only thing that is missing is ‘blanket service’ to complete your snuggly afternoon. In the evening, the bar opens and it’s time for some pre or post dinner cocktails in the romantic, candlelit lodge, chatting with other patrons. It is such a warm and fuzzy kind of place.
On the opposite side of town, the Four Seasons Vail is, as always, lovely. The subtle sophistication and contemporary touches will appeal to any taste. While we didn’t stay here, A spent an entire afternoon at the extravagant spa getting an 80 minute massage and relaxing! Besides the steam rooms and plunge pools, spend the afternoon in front of their indoor or outdoor fireplace reading a magazine and sipping green tea with fresh honey. Then enjoy some quiet time after your treatment in the Slumber Room on a luxurious chaise lounge. The amenities and services are truly top notch. For those that love the spa, you could literally stay for the entire day.
For a more exciting day, visit the newly built Solaris, hosting an outdoor ice skating rink, as well as a modern bowling alley (think lively Las Vegas styling!) and the very original CineBistro movie theater, where you can enjoy a movie while being served a gourmet meal and cocktails. In between hitting up Solaris’ flagship offerings, spend some time shopping at it’s mall-inspired boutiques for clothes, accessories and the like.
But in the end, we all go to Vail and Breckenridge for one thing… the monumental snow and staggering range of terrain. Both resorts are vast, offering endless options for the advance skier or snowboarder (with a sufficient number of trails for the beginner and intermediate riders too). While you could spend days riding the main mountain areas at either destination, we love the open bowls! It’s the reason why you come to Colorado!
Breckenridge doesn’t have a ‘back side’ of the mountain open for riding… but take the lift up to the tippy top of Peak 8 for above the tree line, black and double black terrain. Vail on the other hand, may very well have more back-bowl terrain than manicured trails. Make your way to the top of the ‘hill’ for a soaring 360 degree view of the Colorado White River National Forest. Then descend into the powdery, wide open slopes hearing nothing but the fine wisps of snow you are kicking up behind you. Ski for miles and miles and miles.
Our favorite is Blue Sky Basin, a glade (tree) filled mountain face perfect for exploring. It takes you nearly 45 minutes to get there AFTER making the 30 minute trip to the top of the bowls (from the base of the mountain), but it is so worth the journey. We could stay there all day. One of the bowl’s best features is the length of the runs as there is nothing more annoying than spending the whole day on the lift. In 9 runs we snowboarded over 23 miles! So pack a snack (or head to the lovely Two Elk Lodge for a midday breather and lunch) and get ready for some sore legs!
If you just can’t decide on one spot over the other, or you need to try them all, have no fear… purchase the Epic Pass for a multi day lift ticket that can be used at both Breckenridge and Vail, plus Beaver Creek, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin (A-Basin). This is the best way to go by far! If you don’t have a rental car, the towns both offer bus trips which can be purchased the day before for an additional fee. Hop on in the morning, ride the mountain, enjoy a little après and then jump back on for your return home. However, beware!! A has a notorious story that involves too many $5 margaritas, a mythical character named Dr. Vozknocker, a snow storm, a bus trip that lasted 90 minutes too long… and no bathroom. It sucked! That day still haunts me…
Now if you are absolutely awesome at snowboarding (or skiing), try your luck at some backcountry CAT riding. It requires an advanced to expert ability level and costs a pretty penny ($400 per person, per day), but there is NOTHING more exhilarating than riding real, untouched off piste powder. It’s like surfing on a cloud. For our most recent trip to Vail, we rode with Vail Powder Guides, an incredible group of guides that live and breathe untouched mountain terrain. Husband and wife owners Ben and Jenna, along with guides Amanda and Barrett, drove us all over the White River National Forest in search of some fresh!
We luckily experienced Vail’s best conditions of the season and had a killer time bombing open mountain faces and slaloming through trees. Not only were the views breathtaking, and the terrain the perfect mixture of serious and fun, our guides were inspiring, embodying the ‘Live the dream’ attitude. We were envious of their jobs…
If you’ve never ridden in the backcountry before, note that special powder skis or board are HIGHLY recommended, if not required. The motion of riding on powder is completely different as well, demanding that you distribute your weight differently and lean far-r-r-r back. It’s challenging at first, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you are golden. Sign away your life and suit up with an avalanche beacon and you are off on a whole new, addictive experience. When making your reservations, let the vendor know your TRUE ability level and whether you’ve ever conquered the backcountry before. This will help them to best pair you with the rest of your group (CAT outings usually host about 12 people). There is nothing worse than having that one person in the group that just can’t keep up, slowing down runs for everyone else. Everyone will be mad at you and you will be mad at yourself. Don’t be that guy.
While Colorado is most visited in the snow, the summer time holds just as many exciting outdoor activities for the true adventurer. Think mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, white water rafting, horseback riding, hot air balloon rides and plenty of golf! Nothing but you, fresh air and nature. Plus expect lots of art and food festivals, and tons of live music. The massive mountains of the Rockies are an ideal escape from reality no matter the season.
A: I can never get enough of these two mountains. They are a sure thing, and in our three separate visits, we’ve never experienced bad conditions. Besides the fact that the villages are picturesque, with both a country vibe and high end polish. The best of both worlds! Experience casual, tipsy apres in your gear, and then shower up for a refined meal and a bottle of vino. Cater to all of your personalities… including your adventurous one, with a backcountry CAT excursion! Exhilarating.
M: Some how the snow dropped down just in time for us to have a couple of days of powder. The day of CAT riding was amazing! I think it was the deepest snow that I have ever snowboarded. The trip would have been worth it just for that. As for Vail Resort itself, there is nothing like walking out of the hotel, right to a lift and on to the slopes. You need about four days to try to even get close to riding each trail that Vail has to offer. If you catch the weather at just the right time, first chair is like riding the backcountry with lifts. Great time, amazing hotel, fun bars, awesome food and just the right amount of snow. Definitely coming back here again!
L: Staying right in the heart of Vail was amazing. The Tivoli Lodge was a true ski town hotel. Warm, inviting, rustic and beautiful. It was nice to walk right on the lift and stumble home after a little to much Apres Ski partying (and Vail has plenty of it). Luckily for us the weather broke right and Vail was dumped on just before we got there and right after we arrived. This made CAT riding insane. Knee deep powder all day. The resort riding was almost equally as great. The back bowls of Vail are some of the most expansive lift accessed open bowls in the country.
- Tivoli Lodge (A rustically styled, boutique hotel with a mountain-lodge feel and luxury finishings. Fabulous staff and just a block to the lift and town. Absolutely perfect! 386 Hanson Ranch Road. www.TivoliLodge.com)
- Four Seasons Vail (Refined elegance with over the top amenities like the world class spa and vast outdoor pool complex. Enjoy a picture perfect view of the mountains from your room or the lovely Fireside Lounge while enjoying an apres cocktail. One Vail Road. www.FourSeasons.com/Vail)
- The Sebastian Vail (The hip ‘new kid on the block’ boasting resort views and luxurious rooms, the relaxing Bloom spa, Napa inspired dining at Block 16 and happening drinks at Frost. Your ticket to swank. 16 Vail Road. www.TheSebastianVail.com)
- Vail Mountain Resort (3450 feet of vertical drop, 1627 acres of manicured trails and 3662 acres of back bowls! Holy crap! With 53% of trails designated for the Advance and Expert ability level, this place is challenging! Enjoy the powder while basking in over 300 days of sunshine a year. Vail might be just another word for heaven… www.Vail.com. Pick up an Epic Pass for multi day access to Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone and A Basin with one convenient ticket. www.Snow.com.)
- Vail Powder Guides (3500 acres of backcountry powder in the White River National Forest with a team of energetic and experienced guides! Spend the day exploring the terrain in a 12 man snowcat, then hop out for a run through knee dip powder as you bomb open mountain faces and slalom through glades. Advanced to expert skiers and boarders only. $400 per person. www.VailSnowcat.com)
- The Spa at the Four Season’s Hotel (A tranquil escape from every day life. Be pampered at this full service relaxation mecca complete with plunge pools, steam room, fireplace clad lounges and a comfy slumber room. $185 for an 80 minute deep tissue massage. One Vail Road. www.FourSeasons.com/Vail/Spa. If the Four Season’s is a bit out of your price range, there is no shortage of other lovely spa options. Check out this list.)
- Bol Bowling Alley and Bar (A pumped up bowling alley and bar in the luxury Solaris complex. Perfect for late night. 141 East Meadow Drive. www.BolVail.com)
- CineBistro Movie Theater and Dinner (A new spin on dinner and a movie. Watch new releases while noshing on a full meal and a couple of drinks. 141 East Meadow Drive. www.CineBistro.com)
- The Solaris (A brand new complex in the center of Vail Village boasting luxury residences, the outdoor Cadillac Ice Skating Rink, a movie theater with dinner service, a hip bowling alley with a swanky vibe and fine dining like Chef Nobu’s latest restaurant Matsuhisa, and of course… shopping! 141 East Meadow Drive. www.SolarisVail.com)
- Special Events (Keep up to date with all of the events taking place at the resort here, like the Teva Mountain Games, the Seven Wonders of Vail, the Vail Film Festival and Taste of Vail.)
- Winter Activities (Adventure Ridge with skibikes, tubing and a kid’s snowmobile track. Open late! Also find snowmobile tours, ice skating, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and dog sledding. www.VisitVailValley.com)
- Summer Activities (Paragliding, rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, golf, hot air balloon rides, ziplines and scenic gondola rides. www.VisitVailValley.com)
Food and Drinks
- Terra Bistro (Refined American cuisine with rustic touches. Loved the duck! 352 East Meadow Drive. www.VailMountainLodge.com/Terra)
- Red Lion (THE apres ski destination in the village with a lively crowd, sing along bands and yummy BBQ. We went there three times in our short trip! The later you go, watch out for roaming cougars on the prowl exploding with collagen. 304 Bridge Street. www.TheRedLion.com)
- Los Amigos (Yummy Mexican food and cheap margaritas!!! The ultimate combination. 400 Bridge Street. www.LosAmigosVail.com)
- Ore House (Pick up apres snacks and happy hour drink specials in the middle of the bustling village. Sit outside for a view of the action. At dinner time, indulge in some red meat… steak is the specialty. 232 Bridge Street. www.OreHouseVail.com)
- Osaki Sushi (A tiny sushi bar with some incredible food. We absolutely loved it! Be prepared to be squished… there are only about 8 tables and it’s in high demand. Do not be late for your reservation. 100 East Meadow Drive. More info here.)
- Alpenrose (German cuisine and gluhwein, a hot mulled wine… perfect for warming up those insides. 100 East Meadow Drive. More info here.)
- Matsuhisa (Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s latest restaurant offering fine dining style sushi and Asian fusion cuisine. Get ready to drop the big bucks. 141 East Meadow Drive. www.MatsuhisaVail.com)
- Bully Ranch (Casual southwestern cuisine with a lively atmosphere. 20 Vail Road. www.Sonnenalp.com)
- Fireside Bar and Lounge at the Four Seasons Vail (A relax atmosphere overlooking Vail Mountain. Expertly created alcoholic concoctions. One Vail Road. www.FourSeasons.com/Vail)
- Samana Lounge (Late night bar and performance venue spinning a more underground music selection of dance beats. 228 Bridge Street. www.SamanaLounge.com)
- Nightlife and Parties (Check out VailPM.com for up to date late night happenings)
- Breckenridge Mountain Resort (3398 feet of vertical drop and 2358 acres of manicured trails. With 31 lifts servicing the terrain you will sessioning this mountain all day, including Four O’clock, the longest run at 3.5 miles long. For those with a love for adventure, take a trip up Peak 8 for some expert level, above the tree line skiing. www.Breckenridge.com. Pick up an Epic Pass for multi day access to Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone and A Basin with one convenient ticket. www.Snow.com)
- Spas (Indulge in a relaxing, zen experience to top off your vacation. More info here.)
- Special Events (Keep up to date with all of the events taking place at the resort here.)
- Winter Activities (Snowmobile tours, ice skating, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sleigh rides, mine tours, hut trips and dog sledding. www.GoBreck.com)
- Summer Activities (The Breckenridge Fun Park, Gold Runner Alpine Coaster, four-wheeling, paragliding, white water rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, golf, hot air balloon rides, tennis, mine tours, ziplines and scenic gondola rides and Peak 8 activities. www.GoBreck.com)
Food and Drinks
- Breckenridge Brewery (Local brews and pub fare. 600 South Main Street. www.BreckBrew.com)
- Crepes a la Cart (A European crepe stand with both sweet and savory creations perfect for late night when walking home from the bar. 307 South Main Street. www.CrepesalaCart.com)
- Hearthstone Restaurant (American fare served in an elegant 100 year old Victorian house. 130 South Ridge Street. www.HearthstoneRestaurant.biz)
- Kenosha Steak House (A casual stop for burgers and savory sandwiches, plus steak! BBQ! BBQ! 301 South Main Street. www.KenoshaSteakHouse.com)
- Rasta Pasta (A unique selection of Jamican inspired pasta dishes… weird but good. 411 South Main Street. www.RastaPasta.net)
- Salt Creek Steakhouse (Texas BBQ. Nuf’ said. 110 East Lincoln Avenue. www.SaltCreakBreck.com)
- Gold Pan Saloon (For some whiskey and beer in a wild west atmosphere. 103 North Main Street. www.TheGoldPanSaloon.com)
- For more dining and nightlife options, check here.