Daycations: Biking, ski history, art and spa deals in Vail
The whole town doesn’t shut down after the slopes close. Find out what you can do for the day in Vail.
Editor’s Note: “Daycations” is a series we are doing through the month of May showcasing what our local towns have to offer in the shoulder season.
If you haven’t been to Vail since the mountain closed for the winter season, you are missing out on some gems you may not know about. Although many businesses and activities close for the shoulder season, there’s something about going to Vail when it’s less busy that locals enjoy. Follow me as I take you on my Daycation journey to Vail.
First thing to note is parking is free during the day right now, unlike the paid parking you find in the winter. So, I packed a bag and a bike and headed to Vail for the day. I decided to start at Unravel Coffee which is inside The Slope Room at Gravity Haus Vail. To jog your memory, this space is the former Terra Bistro restaurant in Vail. Unravel Coffee is proud to serve a sustainable cup o’ joe and co-produces and imports products straight from Ethiopia. They roast the coffee in-house with its zero emission, zero waste Bellwether Roaster.
I’m not a coffee drinker so I ordered a chai latte. If you are taking your beverage to go, Unravel Coffee serves it up in one of its reusable glass jars. Bring it back for your next cup and get a discount for using the same jar or place it in the receptacle on site if you won’t be back for a while.
I order the grab and go overnight oats since I’m trying to not eat a big meal before my bike ride, but if you have the time and the appetite, enjoy items like avocado toast, smoked salmon toast or the Haus breakfast. I check a few emails and then gaze out the window at the melting snow on Golden Peak.
The morning ride
The activity for the day is a 20-mile round trip bike ride on the Vail Pass Time Trial course, otherwise known as the Vail Pass cul-du-sac ride, which takes you halfway up Vail Pass. This course was used in the Coors Classic in the 1980s and the USA Pro Challenge in 2011, 2013 and 2014. You can still see the messages painted on the surface of the road saying “TEJAY” for American cyclist Tejay van Garderen and “Shut up legs,” a phrase coined by German bike racer Jens Voight, who both competed in the USA Pro Challenge.
Depending on where you start, the distance is just under 10 miles from Vail Village to the cul-du-sac. My bike is in my car in the Vail Village parking structure, so I headed out on the frontage road going east. From here you can enjoy the views of the Gore Range and the golf course on your right while you warm up to the idea of going uphill soon. The frontage road will weave under Interstate 70 and will take you to the “gate” where you will start the climb. This area is the steepest part and then it “flattens out” (but really, it’s still uphill) and you can even put it in the big ring when the grade backs off.
When you see a sign for the recreation path, continue straight. That recreation path continues for about another five miles to the top of Vail Pass but save that ride for another day once you’ve got more miles underneath you. It’s only May. The cul-du-sac marks the finish. From there, you’ll turn round and enjoy the views on the way down as the Vail Valley is stretched out in front of you.
Watch the weather and plan your ride accordingly. Typically, there is more wind in the afternoon, but going earlier will usually be a bit colder. I went earlier in order to do the ride first and then head back into Vail for the rest of my Daycation.
A lesson in local history
After the ride, I put my bike back in my car and changed out of my bike clothes and headed to the Colorado Snowsports Museum. There is so much history about the ski industry in Colorado, including the story of the 10th Mountain Division, the famed winter warfare unit that trained south of Vail at Camp Hale. There’s a short documentary that runs continuously that will get you up to speed about the accomplishments of the 10th.
Stick around to check out the different displays that will show you how ski equipment has evolved and some of the primitive snowboards that were used when the sport began. Learn about Colorado’s 26 active ski areas and the 30 “lost resorts” that used to operate near and far. There’s also an interactive display of Olympic history and you can view the uniforms for the U.S. Alpine, Aerials, Freestyle and Freeski competition on display. This will be the last time Spyder supplies the uniforms for those teams. Italian company Kappa will outfit the athletes at the next Winter Olympic Games in Italy in 2026.
The Colorado Snowsports Museum has an awesome gift shop as well, so if you need a birthday present, hostess gift, wedding present or want something for yourself, shop locally and support the nonprofit Colorado Snowsports Museum.
After my bike ride and all that learning and discovering at the museum, it was time to have lunch. I am right next door to La Cantina, a little San Diego-style Mexican food joint right in the Vail Village parking structure that is priced affordably. I love chips and salsa and I get to pick out a few flavors at La Cantina’s salsa bar while I wait for my grilled mahi mahi soft taco with spicy sauce on a corn tortilla. I only order one taco because I know I am going to eat a whole basket of chips and all my salsas all by myself!
Art walk tour
Time to walk off lunch, so I head toward Bridge Street after grabbing a map for the self-guided art walk tour of Vail from the Visitors Center just one floor up from La Cantina and the Snowsports Museum. You can also go to ArtInVail.com on your phone and get some information there. The first piece of art is pretty obvious, it’s the 10th Mountain Division Memorial statue next to Gore Creek and the Covered Bridge.
The Children’s Fountain is another iconic piece of art that pretty much comes to life as an actual children’s fountain with real water and children jumping around and enjoying splashing around the boulders during the summer.
A public art display that is less obvious are the riddles created by artist Carolyn Braaksma on Wall Street. Study the images and words engraved on the stones and see if you can solve the riddles designed specifically for Vail’s landmarks, gardens, ski slopes and more.
Relaxation and rejuvenation
Time to head to Lionshead for one of my favorite shoulder season activities – spa deals! This time of year, many of the local spas will offer discounts on treatments. I booked my treatment at Well & Being at the newly remodeled hotel, The Hythe, formerly the Vail Mountain Marriot. They are running a special: A 50-minute custom massage or facial for $139 through the month of May.
I got there early so I could enjoy some of the amenities that are included in the spa treatment. The Recovery Room had ways to revive my body after my bike ride with a leg compression machine, the Hypervolt massage tool, a heated jade stone mat and I warmed my muscles before the massage with heated Himalayan salt stones.
Then it was time to meet massage therapist, Leo, for my 50-minute custom massage. Leo was so awesome and asked what areas needed the most work and I told him my neck, shoulders and upper back always need the most kneading. Then I blissed out for 50 minutes.
Back to reality, but not before checking out the Halo salt inhalation therapy room. Salt therapy helps with respiratory conditions. Consider the salt as a “bronchial brush” for the airways. I brought a swimsuit, so I headed out to the whirlpool which is right next to the gym, but I already had my work out on the bike, so no need to pump any iron or do more cardio today, but you can use the gym before or after your treatment. Last stop, the steam room before hopping into the shower.
Dining and drinks
My next stop wasn’t far. The Hythe has a super fun bar just up the stairs from the lobby called Revel Lounge and they were previewing some of the items on the summer menu, so I enlisted the help of a friend to join me in trying some of these delicious dishes brought out by chef Israel Delgado. These dishes were fresh and spelled S-U-M-M-E-R with a beet salad, burrata with rhubarb, a carrot “tower” and a mountain salad, which can be topped off with salmon or chicken if you want to add a protein.
Chef Israel would have kept the food coming, but we told him it’s almost swimsuit season, so we had to reel it in. We did try some of the drinks off of the cocktail menu with the help of our server, Phillip, who suggested the Into the Wild drink with vodka and raspberries for my friend and the Far From the Tree for me, a bourbon-based drink with apple cider, lemon, bitters and ginger beer.
After that, it was time to say goodbye to the hotel; after all, it’s a Daycation and not a staycation, but there’s one more stop and that’s the Altitude Sports Bar at the Evergreen Lodge. Shoulder season means playoff season and whether you are watching the puck drop or slam dunks, look to those big screens to keep up with all the action. Many of my off seasons would be spent watching the Avs play when I wasn’t out in Moab or in some other warm locale while the snow melted in Vail.
These are just a few suggestions on how you can pass the time before a busy summer ahead. Remember, shop local, eat and drink local and thank these local folks who are working hard for you this spring.