Earlier this year when brainstorming summer travel, Clay suggested the four of us fly to Colorado over July 4th weekend because we could do so without him having to take leave. We quickly landed on Vail as our destination because it was a reasonable distance from the Denver airport and would give us the mountain experience we were craving. We haven’t been lucky enough for the Army to send us to the Centennial State yet but the times we’ve visited (we went to Colorado Springs in 2015) have solidified the mountains of Colorado is a strong contender of where we’ll end up someday.
It was our first time visiting Vail. Our skiing experience has been limited to the east coast and our travel budget isn’t quite robust enough for us to fly to Vail in the winter to ski so we were happy to visit the famed destination during the summer. While we do hope to ski the Rocky Mountains sooner rather than later, we will probably start with another Epic Pass resort in Colorado. Yes – Colorado is pretty in the winter, but have you seen it in the summer?
I mean – gorgeous, right?
While many Colorado ski towns have roots as mining towns during the 19th century, Vail is relatively new. In 1962, Pete Seibert, a 10th Mountain Division WWII veteran, and Earl Eaton, a local rancher, founded Vail in 1962 in the style of an Apline village. There is a statue and plaque in Vail Village that commemorates the 10th Mountain Division soldiers in WWII and plenty of 10th Mountain Division insignia throughout the town – even 10th Mountain Whiskey! Clay was with the 10th Mountain Division at the start of his career (it seems like so long ago but also feels like yesterday) and our time at Fort Drum shaped us into who we are today.
Vail has no shortage of Bavarian-inspired lodging and food like spaetzle, sauerkraut, and pretzels. When walking around it was impossible for us not to be reminded of our trip to Germany and Austria. We stayed at The Lodge at Vail and would stay there again in a heartbeat. It is in the center of Vail Village and we certainly were spoiled with views of Vail Mountain. It certainly wasn’t the most expensive hotel in Vail but it still felt luxurious. In addition, the staff were friendly and very knowledgable about everything Vail has to offer. There are two restaurants in the hotel – Elway’s and Cucina. We had breakfast one morning at Cucina and very much enjoyed our meal but all things food will be a separate post because the restaurant scene at Vail is on point.
Our room as spacious, clean, and had a private patio with access to the spa pool. While we came to Vail to hike and whitewater raft on the Colorado (more about that in a separate post), we also wanted to make sure we enjoyed everything our hotel had to offer. We took full advantage of having two pools and four hot tubs at our disposable and enjoyed coffee and cocktails on our private patio.
Sigh. We fell hard for Vail Village and Lionshead Village, which are the two villages at the base of Vail Mountain. I mean – look at it…how can you not? There is a robust free bus system that connects the two villages but it easily assessable by foot on cobblestone lined streets. We spent the majority of our time at Vail Village but did make it over to Lionshead Village for dinner one night.
We spent the morning of our first full day in Colorado hiking up Vail Mountain. We opted not to hike the full elevation so we took the Gondola to Mid-Vail, which was free due to us being Epic pass holders. We then hiked an addition 4+ miles up to the summit of Vail Mountain on the Kinninkinnick, Ptarmigan Loop, and Ridge Route trails. We got the biggest kick out of lost ski poles being offered as hiking sticks. When in Colorado…
The views we were treated to throughout the hike and at the top (10,981 feet) were nothing short of spectacular. I wish I could put into words the wave of the contentment that washed over us the minute we landed in Colorado. We’ve been feeling quite unsettled lately – unsure of where we’re meant to be and what the next 20 years of our lives should look like. We didn’t feel that way in Colorado.
We weaved through aspen groves, mountain forests, and meadows during our hike.
And soaked in the views while breathing the mountain air.
We were in Vail for the July 4th holiday and the village celebrated with Vail America Days. There was a farmer’s market with artisan vendors, live music throughout the village, patriotic exhibits and performers, and plenty of red, white, and blue to be seen. Fireworks were cancelled due to drought/wildfire conditions but we didn’t miss them in the slightest.
Gore Creek runs through Vail Village and Lionshead Village. It is a major tributary of the Eagle River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River and comprised of snowmelt from the Rockies. I swear it was like being in a painting – happy little trees everywhere!
So let’s talk cost because Vail doesn’t necessarily have the reputation of being an inexpensive destination. There are certainly people who spare no expense when visiting Vail – the family who shared our raft while whitewater rafting climbed into a Range Rover rental after our adventure together and drove back to their hotel – the Ritz Carlton. We climbed into a small Mazda SUV rental and drove our very nice hotel that was not the Ritz Carlton.
We paid a premium to stay in Vail Village because we wanted to be within walking distance of everything but there are some less-expensive lodging options in West Vail. Should you want to stay on the outskirts and drive-in for the day during the summer, you can park for free at one of the multiple public parking garages. While our lodging wasn’t cheap, it certainly wasn’t the most expensive option either. Restaurant prices were on par with what we’re used to in major cities and while there was ‘resort’ pricing for shops in town, nothing was too outrageous.
Our time in Vail is a weekend that we won’t forget. It was our first time flying post-COVID and while it wasn’t without headaches, the destination was 100% worth the effort. Spending money on family memories is something we never regret and its our mission to experience as much as we can during our brief time in this world.
The mountains called our name and we made it happen. Being stationed in the second-flattest state hasn’t been the best for our souls (or our calves!) so we’re thankful we were able to experience higher elevation and different terrain, if only for the weekend. In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep our toes and fingers crossed that the Army will give us orders to Colorado someday. Because boy – did it feel like home.