What’s hot in the dead of a Vail winter? Plenty, it turns out. Here’s a by-no-means comprehensive list of what we’re talking about around town this season. Some items are upcoming events, others are local celebrities and some are just classic favorites and hot spots that don’t seem to get old.
Mikaela Shiffrin and the Burton US Open
While there’s always a reason to visit the Colorado mountains, the Vail Valley offers a variety of cultural highlights throughout the year. This winter, the worldwide spectacle of Sochi 2014 Olympics in mid-February will feature local skier Mikaela Shiffrin. At 18 years old, Shiffrin is the youngest American to win a World Cup title in any discipline and the youngest slalom champion in U.S. history. She took a silver medal at the giant slalom in November’s Raptor World Cup race in front of the home crowd. The Vail Valley and the world will be watching Shiffrin in hopes of her bringing home gold, especially since eyes will be off Lindsey Vonn after the recent announcement that her injured right knee will prevent her from defending her downhill title at the Sochi Games in Russia.
Following the hopeful U.S. gold rush is a premier snow show on local soil. The Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships is in town March 3-8. See the world’s best riders fly high in the halfpipe and tear it up on slopestyle. Mega-screens will be set up in Vail Village and Lionshead to broadcast constant on-snow footage, while spectators can also get in on the “apres all day” events, sponsor villages and nightly entertainment. Expect an even better show than its debut last winter. (www.vail.com/events/burton-us-open.aspx)
In its second year, WinterWonderGrass is moving to Nottingham Park in Avon from Feb. 21 to 23. The weekend-long bluegrass and brews fest will feature top bluegrass bands and craft beer from Crazy Mountain Brewing and Great Divide Brewing. Festival founder Scotty Stoughton said based on ticket sales so far, a sell-out crowd is anticipated.
“The fans are coming from all over Colorado, from over 30 states around the country, and so far from four countries internationally,” Stoughton said. “People want to come out and enjoy great music and great events in the mountains that fit their interests. What people should expect is an event that is completely about the experience — the venue will be beautiful, with an intimate layout, friendly staff, a variety of food and offering multiple recycling stations.”
Top-tier bluegrass acts will keep people moving and shaking all weekend long, with well-known bands such as Elephant Revival, The Infamous Stringdusters and Leftover Salmon. Three-day and VIP tickets are currently on sale online at www.winterwondergrass.com/.
Great and varied picks for live music
While Agave in Avon is known for its traditional Mexican food and wide selection of tequilas, the local hot spot is also a mid-valley destination for late night entertainment, and they have a number of very promising acts coming this winter. Upcoming shows include: Metalachi – a heavy metal mariachi band (yeah, right?) that plays tonight; Floodwood, Thursday; Michal Menert, Friday; Talking Heads Tribute: Native Melodies, Jan. 18; and Wood & Wire (free show), Jan. 21. Check online for full event listings and details. (www.agaveavon.com; 970-748-8666)
Shakedown Bar in Vail Village features an apres show with local legend Phil Long, who recently caused a stir when he left his longtime home-stage at The Red Lion and moved down the street. Catch him Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m. Many local bands play at Shakedown for late night entertainment on a regular basis, including Brothers Keeper, Tori Pater & Friends and Turntable Revue . Check online for full event listings and details.
Local seasonal brews
You don’t have to go far in Colorado to get great beer. This winter, check out two standouts from local breweries. Crazy Mountain’s Snowcat Coffee Stout is a winter brew that smooths out the season with a blend of artisanal roasted local coffee and roasted malts for a rich and full-bodied flavor. (www.crazymountainbrewery.com; 970-926-3009)
Also, the Cabernet Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale is one of the new crafts putting Gore Range Brewery back on the beer map. It’s deep in flavor as an aged ale, with rounded hops and a crisp finish to melt away any residues of malt. (www.gorerange brewery.com; 970-926-2739)
Tacos and cocktails
They do go together. Ask local foodie Pollyanna Forster, who has started her sixth delicious venture, Tacorico . The taco and tequila cantina just opened in December, and it’s a new spot where quality and craft come together for authentic Mexican flavor.
“Everything is made in-house and fresh,” Forster said. “We don’t even make our chips until you order.”
Cocktails like the Jalapeno Situation are balanced and beautiful. This bright pink dream is floral from the prickly pear, yet sultry with blanco tequila. Jalapeno simple syrup, muddled jalapeno and salt on the rim give this drink the perfect combinations of sugar, spice and everything nice.
Check out the restaurant’s Facebook page at “eatdrinktacolicious” or call 970-926-8226.
Speaking of popular cocktails, Restaurant Kelly Liken ’s list of crafted libations continues to keep mixology standards high, with the Alpenglow leading the way — every sip sinks deeply into a vodka-grapefruit dream, and we like to call it a pink sunrise on soft snow. (www.kellyliken.com; 970-479-0175)
Our favorite gear stops
Ptarmigan Sports has been at its current location — in The Riverwalk at Edwards — since 1998. Kelcey Everson, Ptarmigan sales associate, said the store is a stand out local retailer due to its high standards of customer service.
“Ptarmigan Sports is also the only mountain boutique where fashion meets function for men, women and children in the Vail area,” she said. “We have a great niche in the market because we carry such a wide variety of products — everything from snowshoes, ski apparel, footwear and camping gear to lifestyle clothing for the entire family.” (www.ptarmigan sports.com; 970-926-8144)
Other shops our staff listed as their newer favorites include Weston Snowboards in Minturn, featuring locally sourced “beetle kill” snowboards (www.westonsnowboards.com; 970-827-4060), and for those who might consider a purse “gear,” Cashmere & Coco is a women’s designer fashion boutique in Vail Village. (www.cashmereand coco.com; 970-476-4762)
High Altitude fashion
High fashion has always been available in the Vail Valley, but while couture fashion designers are often seen here, none have a storefront to call their own.
None, that is, except Dennis Basso.
Straight from the fashion week runways in New York to the Four Seasons Resort in Vail, Basso ’s designs have brought high fashion to the high country with a namesake shop right in Vail. Located on the Vail Road entrance to the Four Seasons, across from the Sebastian Hotel, just a peek through the window at Basso’s designs will make you want to get out of the cold and into a cozy fur. Basso’s pieces — handmade fur coats and accessories, elegant knitwear and couture dresses — are timeless pieces that can be passed down from generation to generation or enjoyed right now. But while bringing a runway designer’s name to a storefront in Vail was the company’s goal, finding a home in the local community is what’s keeping them here. Ask about local’s discounts on fur items for residents and second homeowners looking to stay warm this winter. (www.dennisbasso.com; 970-925-4499)
Our favorite groomers
OK, maybe the following runs aren’t the talk of the town, but you can bet it’s where the locals make a beeline for once they leave the chairlift.
Vail has more than 4,500 acres of skiable terrain open, and the snow conditions just seem to keep getting better and better. Pickeroon is often overlooked for its neighboring kingpin, Avanti, but Pickeroon is regularly groomed and offers skiers and snowboarders a wide, long and rolling trail on Vail’s front side.
“The beauty of Vail is its sheer expanse and the ability to experience different conditions from one area to the next,” said Liz Biebl, senior manager of communications for Vail Mountain. “It’s very easy to grab a grooming report at the base in the morning or check Vail.com or m.Vail.com from your phone to get the latest update.” (www.vail.com; 970-476-5601)
Beaver Creek Steeps
Beaver Creek has more than 90 percent of its terrain open, thanks to Mother Nature’s generosity this season, and we love it on a powder day. Jen Brown, director of public relations for Beaver Creek, said the mountain offers terrain variety for all ability levels, even in its most coveted areas.
“Cataract in Rose Bowl offers experts plenty of leg burning turns with a consistent punch,” Brown said. “Natural snow blankets the trail, and it’s a must-ski on powder days.”
Brown said families or groups with varying abilities who want to ski together can take advantage of Cataract’s close proximity to intermediate trails C-Prime and Stone Creek Meadows, all of which are accessed by the Rose Bowl Express Lift. (www.beavercreek.com; 970-754-4636)
Getting fit, the mountain way
Although Manic Training in Edwards is about to celebrate its second year anniversary, not everyone knows about this secret to mountain fitness. Trainer John Mark Seelig called Manic an endurance version of a lot of strength training gyms, such as CrossFit. Workouts are at least an hour (not just 20 to 30 minutes), and Seelig said Manic is like an “anti-gym,” even though it is a gym. Outdoor activity is encouraged, and for best results and safety practices, he said participants should not come to Manic more than three times a week.
“A lot of the movements are similar to popular workout programs like CrossFit, but I haven’t seen anything else that is programmed as well as Manic,” Seelig said. “The reasoning is because it definitely leans toward more of a mountain lifestyle type of workout. It helps with the active things that we like to do up here — like mountain bike for five hours or ski all day; nothing we do in the mountains lasts only 20 minutes.” (www.manic training.com; 970-471-9641)
Hottest place to take a bathroom break
If you’re staying hydrated while skiing, then you’ll probably have to take a bathroom break. But that shouldn’t mean you have to feel like a primitive homesteader in a frigid outhouse. At Mid-Vail, check out the luxury option at The 10th restaurant, which has received top honors for the nicest on-mountain restroom with lotion, sunscreen, handsoap and even mouthwash available to users.
The doors to the stalls are large and made of wood, extending all the way to the floor. There’s a full-length mirror to check yourself out in, the men’s room has a hair dryer, which isn’t restricted to use on hair (need to get those goggles unfogged?), and there’s free feminine products in the women’s room (they’re not hard to find on Vail Mountain, but it’s nice to know of a spot where you don’t have to ask). The only drawback to the bathrooms at The 10th is you may not get away with a totally hands-free experience after washing, as you still have to pull the door open to exit. (www.the10thvail.com; 970-754-1010)
Sushi, seasonal cuisine
Restaurants really speak for themselves, especially if they are the best of the best. This season (and likely for many others), Matsuhisa Vail and Splendido in Beaver Creek are at the top of our list for taste bud temptations.
International cuisine hits home at Matsuhisa, a place where you go for the fish and stay for the flare. Sushi and sashimi become “new-style” with blends of Japanese and Peruvian flavor, and house-made sake is served in live bamboo carafes … pretty cool, and definitely what’s hot. (www.matsuhisavail.com; 970-476-6628)
David Walford’s splendid cuisine is always seasonally inspired, yet timeless in its mastery. If the elite ambiance and perfect pairings aren’t enough to draw you in at Splendido, then the refined and comfortable service will keep you sinking into your plush seat. (www.splendidobeaver creek.com; 970-845-8808)
Local, good fast food
Whether you’re popping out of the office for a fast lunch, or an apres ski snack is calling from Bridge Street, Yellowbelly Chicken and Vendetta’s are delicious and fast options. Yellowbelly in West Vail offers gluten-free fried chicken and healthy sides (www.yellowbellychicken.com; 970-343-4340), and Vendetta’s in Vail Village is always a perfect post-ski stop for a slice and a beer. (www.vendettasvail.com; 970-476-5070)
The Minturn Tater
For more than a decade, the Minturn Tater has been a staple at Minturn Country Club. Owner Joe Honnessy attributes the dessert’s creation to his wife, Karen, but the tater’s local legacy is something it has upheld on its own.
The ice cream treat starts with a hefty portion of cookies and cream ice cream, rolled in cocoa powder to make it look like a baked potato (which it absolutely does). Your taste buds will tell you otherwise, however, indicating “sweet” with every bite topped with whipped cream (sour cream?) and nuts (chives?).