Vail is a long, linear resort spread along the Gore Creek valley, which is never more than five blocks wide. It has two separate satellite villages – West Vail and East Vail. It shares this narrow site with the I-70 freeway. The road is well away from the ski lifts and trails, but several hotels and condominiums are close to it.
Near the lifts is best
In other words, if you get your choice of accommodation wrong you could find yourself next to a busy road, and a long bus ride from the lifts. The only reason you’d want to do this is if you get a significant discount on the price of your holiday. If you don’t, you’re being ripped off.
Far better, if the budget allows, to stay in a hotel or condominium (aka a self-catering apartment) near one of the two main hubs of lifts and pistes – Vail Village or Lionshead.
Stay in Vail Village for nightlife and shopping
Vail Village is the original heart of the resort, and feels a bit old-fashioned now, given what’s going on elsewhere in the resort: the really state-of-the-art accommodation is elsewhere. Still, it’s a great location – with the best bars and restaurants on your doorstep, as well as the key Vista Bahn lift. Staying here, you’d never know I-70 is nearby. Accommodation is not cheap though.
Our favourite hotel here is the Lodge at Vail: the (refurbished) rooms are on the small side, but the bathrooms are huge, and it does a cracking breakfast. It’s convenient for just about everything: and you’ll probably spend all your non-skiing time within 200m of the back door. Nearby, The Tivoli Lodge is family run, and less expensive. It also has fewer facilities and is just a little further from the shops and bars. By way of compensation, it’s close to the Riva Bahn lift, so you’ve got a choice of two chairs up the mountain in the morning. Tripadvisor reviewers love it.
Stay at the Arabelle for quick access to the slopes
It’s about 15 minutes’ walk from the Vista Bahn lift to the gondola and chair at Lionshead – or a five minute ride on the free shuttle bus. Lionshead used to be Vail’s afterthought, but a multi-million dollar redevelopment means it’s now a hub in its own right.
The pick of the properties here is the Arrabelle: a two-minute walk to the slopes and shops, and has cavernous bedrooms. But it’s not cheap. The Marriott is about five minutes’ walk from the slopes and is also good, as well as being a little cheaper. The Marriott also has an indoor pool.
The poshest pads aren’t always the most convenient
Vail’s choice of luxury ski accommodation has widened considerably in recent years – thanks to the addition of three posh condominium complexes. None is particularly handy for the lifts, so make sure free shuttle-bus transfers are part of the package. Two are close to highway I-70 too, so make sure your apartment is facing the mountains, not the road – unless, of course, you don’t mind the sight of passing trucks.
The most striking of the new-builds is Solaris. The apartments are all enormous, and facilities impressive. As well as a high-end spa and pool complex, the building also houses CineBistro – a cinema with its own restaurant – and Bol – a bowling alley which serves oysters and champagne. Prices for a week’s rental are eye-watering – and there’s a free shuttle bus to the lifts at Vail Village.
Meanwhile, over in Lionshead, the Ritz-Carlton Residences also offer high-end luxury apartments, and are a 5-10 minute walk from the ski lifts (there’s also a free shuttle bus). There’s also a high-end Four Seasons in the resort too (it’s a 10-15 minute walk from the lifts – so you’ll be using the free shuttle a lot if you stay here).
Cheap digs close to the lifts are hard to find
A lot of cheap Vail hotels and condominiums are a long way from the lifts. But not all. The Westwind at Vail, for example is an ageing development of privately-owned apartments which is a five-minute walk from the lifts at Lionshead. You need to be careful which one you book, though: avoid at all costs apartments on the north side of the development, next to I-70. Aim for one which is rated gold on the website, which is set on the south side of the development (nearest the lifts), and which has been refurbished, and you’ll probably be delighted. End up in something old and cranky next to the highway and you’ll be very grumpy indeed.
Near Lionshead is Vail Cascade Resort & Spa. It’s a little dated in style, and is a short shuttle-bus ride from the resort. But it’s also connected to the main Lionshead slopes by both a chair-lift and a flattish cat-track trail, and is well-kept. The resort is also home to a big spa and fitness area. Other cheap-ish places to consider in town are the Evergreen Lodge (about 15 minutes’ walk from the lifts – best to get one of the local buses) and the Gasthof Gramshammer (five minutes from the lifts). Both have rather dated interiors.
If you don’t mind riding buses each day into the resort, there are cheaper options. Tour operator Ski Independence runs a good chalet on the far side of I-70 – called Chalet Ptarmigan: rooms here are often offered at a discount in January. In East Vail – a separate village – the Racquet Club also offers good value. Always look out for low-season lift-pass-and-lodging offers from the Vail Resorts, too.