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Discovering the hidden side of Vail

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily
Take in the views and get your heartrate up cross-country skiing. Check out both the Beaver Creek and Vail Nordic centers.
Special to the Daily | Digital Vision

Bridge Street. Solaris Plaza. Vail Square. These locations are some of the most iconic in the Vail Valley, attracting visitors year-round with their promise of gourmet meals, upscale shopping and glamorous nightlife. But while it may seem like the permanent residents of the Vail Valley enjoy a charmed life that seems like a perpetual vacation, it’s not all five-star meals and shopping sprees.

So, how do the locals do it? How do folks live — and play — in Vail, avoiding the crowds while paying the bills and still living the high life? It takes some experience and insider knowledge, but it can be done. Here’s a rundown on some of the best kept secrets for exploring the hidden side of Vail.

Note: no special stashes or on-mountain secrets will be shared in this story due to the author’s fear of losing friends and/or incurring the wrath of secretive locals.



Eat and drink



In order to conquer the mountain, be sure that you have enough energy to last you throughout the day. Ludwig’s restaurant, located at the Sonnenalp hotel in Vail, has one of the biggest and most expansive breakfast buffets in the valley. Loaded with European favorites like cold cuts, cheeses and breads as well as American favorites such as pancakes, eggs and bacon (not to mention fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, pastries and more), this breakfast will keep you fueled up until dinner.

For a more laid-back vibe and one of the best bloody Marys in Vail, Westside Cafe is the locals’ choice for hearty favorites like Cap’n Crunch waffles, breakfast burritos and a variety of “benes.” The portions are humongous, the prices are reasonable and the servers are friendly.

There is a plethora of options for lunch, both on and off the mountain, but perhaps one of the best-kept secrets is the “bus stop” at La Bottega. Perfect for a quick bite on the go, the “bus stop” is a sandwich, chips and a drink for $6.50. The type of sandwich changes daily and you must take it to go, but it’s a fast and affordable option in the village. If you’re looking for something more substantial, then the Little Diner in Lionshead is a hidden gem. Tucked into West Lionshead Circle near Moe’s, the Little Diner serves up comfort food from scratch with breakfast all day and lunch starting at around 11:30 a.m.



The apres ski scene is legendary in Vail — but the lines to get a drink can be, too. To bypass the bustle, consider one of the locals’ favorites, such as The Fitz at Manor Vail Lodge or Sarah’s Lounge at the Christiana, complete with Vail icon Helmut Fricker giving yodeling lessons.

If you’re dying to dine in Vail, then don’t be thwarted by long reservation lists or wait times. Belly up to the bar and enjoy the same tasty fare with half of the wait time. Plus, chatting up the bartender means that you can get the inside scoop on other Vail secrets. Another option is to explore the outer boundaries of Vail. At the east end, Blu’s offers tasty fare at the Vail Racquet Club; Atwater on Gore Creek, located at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa, satisfies on the west end (go for one of the two “hoppy hours” and get a $2 craft beer draft with the purchase of a small plate).

For late night options, head to Vendetta’s or Pazzo’s for a slice if pizza is your preference. Or, for a taste of downvalley excellence without the trip to Eagle, Colorado Cheesesteak Company is selling their tasty breakfast burritos at the West Vail Shell Station. Don’t forget that Loaded Joe’s in Avon also serves up a finger-licking late night menu until 2 a.m. that includes midnight staples such as house-made chicken fingers and the Man Candy (bacon served with sweet and spicy sauce.)

Getting Around

If you’re hitting the slopes in Vail, then forgo the crazy parking situation and take the free bus, as it stops frequently and will drop you at whatever base area your heart desires. Staying outside of Vail? The Eco Transit bus picks up all around the valley — a one-way ride from Edwards to Vail is only $4. Want to ski or ride at Beaver Creek? Parking at the Elk or Bear lot is fast and easy and the shuttle arrives frequently to take you up to the slopes. However, one of easiest ways to access the mountain is through Arrowhead. Arrive early to take advantage of the free parking, and it’s a short walk to the lift. Added bonus: at the end of your ski day, Broken Arrow, located at the base of Arrowhead, has a fantastic deck and is home to the famous Blinky Burger.

What To Do

First chair not early enough for you? Consider an early morning “skin” up the mountain. Utilizing skins that slip over your skis (snowboarders can use snowshoes or a split board), you can hike up the mountain before the lifts even open. Rent equipment at Alpine Quest Sports, located in Vail and Edwards, or Paragon Guides, located in Edwards.

While this practice is a great workout and guarantees first tracks, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Snowcats, snowmobiles and groomers can be encountered on the mountain at any time; use caution when accessing the mountain outside of normal operating hours.

While there’s definitely enough terrain to explore on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains to last for several days, there’s more than one way to enjoy the snowy goodness in Vail. Click into a pair of cross-country skis and experience the snow in a whole new way. The Vail Nordic Center has 27 kilometers of trails and amazing views of the Gore Range; Beaver Creek Nordic Center has 32 kilometers of trails and is located on the mountain at Beaver Creek, giving an entirely different view. Or, if you’re here for a touristy, head to Minturn and follow the railroad tracks for a classic experience.

These are just a few of the tips and tricks to enjoying the secret side of Vail. Of course, one of the best ways to gain the inside track is by chatting up a local. Not only can he or she be an invaluable resource when it comes to where to go and what to do, but it could also be the start of a beautiful friendship.


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