Nuts and Bolts: Not only is Vail (tel. 970/754-8245; www.vail.com) the largest single-mountain resort in North America, it's also undoubtedly one of the best. The 5,289 skiable acres include the deservedly legendary Back Bowls, the site of some of the best powder skiing on the planet. But the vast tracts of wide-open terrain here are nicely matched by plenty of groomers, top-notch tree skiing, and a nice selection of green runs for beginners. The flip side: Vail's incredible terrain has many aficionados, and the sometimes serpentine lift lines are proof of its popularity, especially on weekends.
Below these superlative slopes, Vail Village looks like something out of a ski-themed storybook. If you haven't been here since the turn of the century, you'll hardly recognize the place. It has boomed in recent years, with more to come: a $1.5 billion mixed-use project, Ever Vail, is in the works on the west end of the village.
A dozen miles west on I-70, Vail's sister resort of Beaver Creek (tel. 970/754-4636; www.beavercreek.com) is smaller and typically less crowded. Yet, this resort has its own legendary runs -- namely the Birds of Prey, a World Cup downhill course -- and similar swanky style. Celebrating its 30-season anniversary in 2010-2011, the resort remains the youngest major ski hill in Colorado, although it has progressed light years from its relatively spartan beginnings. Today not only is it ultra-posh, but it's also a customer service standout renowned for its friendliness to families, with lift-served tubing and lauded kid's programs.
What's New: In the last five years, Vail has remade itself with a billion-dollar redevelopment dubbed "Vail's New Dawn," including a wide range of new hotels, residence clubs, and village amenities. Of the new hotels opening this season, the Four Seasons Resort Vail is the splashiest. Also new is The Sebastian, a slick ski-in, ski-out boutique hotel at the Vista Bahn chairlift. On mountain, Vail replaced the High Noon chairlift with a high-speed quad, cutting the ride time from 11 minutes to 6, as well as revamping the Kids Adventure Zones.
At both resorts, Vail Resorts introduced a new mobile and online application dubbed EpicMix that allow users to share their experiences with the help of wireless RFID technology that tracks users' days on the mountain, vertical feet skied, and other relevant metrics.
Ski Deals & Affordable Places to Stay: These are two of the priciest resorts in the industry, with walk-up single-day lift tickets for adults topping $100 on peak days this season. The best way to save on lift tickets is to buy multi-day packages online from the resort more than a week in advance. As for lodging, savings can be had by staying down valley in Edwards (15 miles from Vail) or Eagle (35 miles from Vail). In the former town (home to Beaver Creek's Arrowhead lift and village), I like the Inn and Suites at Riverwalk, with ski-season rates under $200 per night for a double room. In Eagle, rooms can be had for under $100.
If you are in the market for more convenience, Avon is a solid (albeit pricier) pick: Tethered to the Beaver Creek lifts by a gondola, the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa is a terrific place to base yourself for both resorts, with some spring deals: a four-night ski-and-stay package starts at $599 per night for a studio suite, lift tickets, rentals, and parking.
Quotable: "Vail Village is unreal -- it's like Candy Land!" -- a skier marveling at the resort's base village
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