The Ideal Vail Ski Vacation, As Curated by Three (Semi) Locals

The perfect time to visit is right around the corner — here's how to do it right

February 12, 2020 6:37 am
Red Gerard Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships Vail
Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard throws down at the 2019 Burton US Open in Vail, Colorado

Calling all snow bunnies and powder hounds: in two weeks, the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships will descend on Vail, Colorado. For anyone looking for an excuse to visit the Centennial State’s largest resort (other than the fact that they’ve just received an absolutely biblical amount of snow), you couldn’t pick a better time: in addition to the 5,000+ acres of skiable terrain, Burton’s annual shred shindig, now in its 38th year, brings with it a couple major benefits that your average ski weekend just ain’t gonna have. To wit:

The Competition. Burton builds a world-class halfpipe and slopestyle course for the event, drawing marquee talent from all over the globe. Last year’s contest featured Olympians Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson, Mark McMorris and Chloe Kim. We’re talking the best riders in the world, and the rare chance to watch them throw down some truly astonishing stuff in person.

Raibu Katayama Burton US Open
Japan’s Raibu Katayama going stratospheric in the halfpipe at last year’s event. (photo courtesy of Burton Snowboards)

The Parties. In addition to the on-slope action, Burton hosts a four-night free concert series, this year featuring acts from Arrested Development to Big Freedia to Theophilus London to Thundercat. Basically après ski with famous musicians at no extra charge. Bonus.

The Gear. The Burton Sponsor Village will feature all manner of free product demos and swag giveaways, giving you the opportunity to easily test (and possibly go home with) the latest equipment. Speaking from recent experience, we highly suggest giving the strapless Step On bindings a rip.

The Atmosphere. Unlike larger events like the X Games, the US Open comes with a generally chill vibe. In other words, you’ll notice the revelry, but in a way that feels convivial and inclusive rather than overwhelming and obnoxious. Think Jazz Fest vs. Mardi Gras.

And to prep you for your snowy sojourn (whether it’s for the US Open or not), your pals at InsideHook are here to help you do as the Romans do, so to speak. Our office happens to be blessed with three hardcore Vail aficionados: two native Coloradans (one of whom actually grew up in the town of Vail) and one CU Boulder Alum who visits so often she deserves honorary citizenship. 

We’ve banded together to weigh in on our favorite, well, everything in the area, from the plushest digs to the tastiest grub to the most low-key powder stashes. To wit …

Best Hotel

Danny Agnew, creative director and lifelong snowboard enthusiast: There are a few fancier hotels to be sure, but the Sonnenalp is among the best and IMO the most Vail-y hotel there is. Which basically means it’s the most Bavarian hotel outside of Bavaria itself (where, incidentally, the family has owned their original property for 100 years), and who the hell doesn’t like schnitzel and fondue after a day on the slopes?

Marilyn Jordan, branded entertainment manager and food snob: Four Seasons. That pool! That deck! And when you cram six of your closest friends into a room, it’s a great deal. 

Walker Loetscher, editor in chief and actual “local”: The correct answer to this question is The Lodge, because it is footsteps from Gondi One/the Vista Bahn (the lift every local grabs in the morning) and remains an icon despite the fact that the crass corporate overlords at Vail Resorts put legendary Vailer Mickey Poage and his piano bar out of business 11 years ago to replace them with an Elway’s Steakhouse. Bastards.

Sonnenalp is also pretty chill, though.

The Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail Village — posh, but cozy

Best Pizza

DA: Vail has a real Hatfields/McCoys thing going on with Vendetta’s vs. Pazzo’s, and I’m Team Vendetta’s — the (slightly) better slice and closer to the hill. 

MJ: After living in NYC for eight years, pizza in Colorado ain’t normally my go-to. But between those two, I’m definitely going with Pazzo’s

WL: Pazzo’s if you have a big party and want to sit around five crammed-together laminate tables and slam pitchers of beer until they kick you out. Vendetta’s if you want a proper bar scene with an ample smoking patio that also happens to serve pizza. Also Vendetta’s is tougher on IDs, or at least they were 15 years ago, for what it’s worth.

Best Sandwich

DA: The Shrimp Moe Boy at Moe’s Original might be the best sandwich in America, let alone Vail. 

MJ: Moe’s Original pulled pork sammy. Best BBQ west of … Kansas? 

WL: Who goes to an iconic BBQ spot in a landlocked state and orders shrimp?! It’s the pulled pork sammy, and always with a cup of banana pudding with the secret Nilla Wafer hiding in the bottom. And before you scoff at the provenance of Moe’s, know that it was started by two native Alabamans out of the back of a truck in Edwards (10 miles down the road from Vail) and has now grown into a smokehouse empire with 50+ locations from Georgia to California.

Best Sushi

DA: It’ll put a helluva dent in your wallet, but Matsuhisa is basically a Nobu in everything but name and has the fish to prove it.

MJ: I’m also going with Matsuhisa. Order the spicy tuna crispy rice and black cod with miso. If you know, you know. 

WL: I want to say something bad about Matsuhisa because it is a poster child for the creep of coastal elitism into my quaint mountain ski town, but my sister’s best friend’s husband is now the sommelier.

Best Steak

DA: It’s technically one town over, but The Minturn Country Club (Ed. Note: not a real country club) lets you pick your steak from a butcher case and grill it yourself at the table, and I’ve been loving it since I was a kid.

MJ: Elway’s (if someone else is paying). Go Broncos!

WL: The right answer is the Ore House, but oh, would ya look at that, it fucking closed in 2014 after 46 years in service because nothing is sacred and the slow creep of capitalism sucks everything into its slavering, insatiable maw. Go to Minturn Country Club.

Best Date Spot

MJ: I don’t go to the mountains to “date,” but if I did, I’d head over to Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek. Nothing says romance like a moonlit sleigh (snowcat) ride up the mountain. 

DA: So we were supposed to keep this to Vail proper, but I guess I was the first to break that rule with the Minturn thing. Can’t argue with Beano’s, but there’s also the Game Creek Club if you want a similar on-mountain dinner experience without schlepping over to the Beav.

Game creek club vail colorado
Game Creek Club — on-mountain dining for the fancy set
Dann Coffey/Vail Resorts

WL: I cannot argue with the two very venerable answers above. Those are the spots where parents always went for anniversaries and the like. Sweet Basil and Left Bank will also hunt.

Best Après

DA: If I’m not twerking to Big Freedia, you can find me in the Minturn Saloon — the barroom crowd is pretty much exclusively folks who’ve just finished The Minturn Mile (one of the most famous off-piste ski runs in the world), which is generally a pretty experienced lot who’ve really earned the margs they’re downing and thus are in a very jovial mood. 

MJ: If you’d prefer to stay in bounds and go somewhere in the village, you can can’t go wrong with catching some live music at The Red Lion. And if you continue the party into the night, my favorite dive bar destination with cover bands and dancing is Shakedown

WL: Red Lion, Los Amigos and Vendetta’s — all on Bridge Street, Vail Village’s version of Main — are good options. But there is only one Pepi’s, the German restaurant and tavern named for the recently deceased ski-racing eidolon who built it. Go pay your respects.

Best Cocktail

MJ: Anywhere that serves a Ketel dirty martini, but Sweet Basil does it best. Dry, splash of olive juice, served up and shaken real hard. (Altitude alert: 1 drink here = 2 drinks there.)

DA: 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company (named for the famed US Army alpine fighting force who trained near Vail prior to WWII) distills their stuff in nearby Gypsum, but they’ve got a tasting room on Bridge St. where you can get into some pretty killer rye.

WL: A Miller High Life at the George while you get hustled by some locals on the pool table. I would exercise caution w/r/t the mixology skills of your average Vail bartender. We are a beering people.

Best Spa

MJ: I’m a sucker for a hot stone massage, especially after a day on the slopes. The Spa at The Four Seasons is the best. Plus they’ve got a fireplace in the cozy waiting room. 

DA: Not for nothing, but anyone taking my hotel advice above would also be getting access to a pretty badass spa and collection of outdoor hot tubs.

WL: Wait until midnight, pack your car full of eight hooligans and a 30 rack of Keystone Light, and sneak into the hot tub of literally any condominium complex in the Valley. Because everyone staying there, like you, is a tourist, they will not know that you are a tourist who does not happen to be staying at the condominium complex in question. That said, if Vail’s finest show up with blue lights blazing, scatter.

Best On-Mountain Deck

DA: It doesn’t have a grill, but for my two pennies Windows Deck (at the top of Chair 3 behind Wildwood) has the best view — looking out over Sun Down Bowl.

Windows deck — best views on the mountain (photo: Creative Commons)

WL: Windows Deck. Bring beer and whiskey. Sit there swapping war stories until about 30 minutes after the lifts close and then ski down. You’ll have the entire mountain to yourself.

Best Powder Stash

DA: Per my earlier answer, the Minturn Mile can’t be beat if you’re an experienced skier/rider and don’t mind, you know, winding up in Minturn (which you shouldn’t, given the aforementioned saloon and steakhouse). If you want to keep it closer to town, West Vail Trees is consistently solid. 

MJ: I’m more of a groomer gal lately, but nothing beats Blue Sky Basin on a powder day.  

WL: You must be out of your goddamn mind if you think I’m answering this question. All I will say is it’s in Game Creek Bowl.

Best Dispensary

MJ: Roots Rx. It was my first dispensary experience so it holds a special place in my non-stoner heart. 

DA: I gotta go Native Roots, the budtenders are so friendly and forever helping me find some new weird strain to get toasted on.

WL: High Country Healing is the best, fairest-priced and most commendable dispensary in the Vail Valley, and it is definitely not owned by anyone I know.

Hero image courtesy of Burton Snowboards


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