On Monday morning, I caught myself giggling loudly while taking my first run through the powder at Vail Mountain. As I caught my breath, I looked around to see if anyone heard me or saw my giant grin. But alas, I had this part of the Sun Down Bowl to myself! I kept moving, and kept laughing!
I've been on a road trip to Vail this week and enjoyed skiing during a Colorado ski season that has featured a lot of snow — even for western standards. I couldn't get over how the snow was piling up on the houses, roadsides and trees, and it was more than evident on the ski slopes.
Monday was a powder day with seven inches of new snow falling overnight. Vail reports that 229 inches of snow has fallen thus far this winter, and the snow depth at mid-Vail is reported at 64 inches. That's nearly as tall as me, folks.
The Snowy Back Bowls
I headed up Gondola One and directly to the Back Bowls to soak in all their snowy glory. I have to admit that during this powdery week, I mainly consulted the back side of Vail's trail map — the part that covers the expansive Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. These places are special when the snow is light and fresh.
I started in Sun Down Bowl and took Straight Shot. After laughing my way through powdery turns, I road the High Noon Express Lift back up for more. This lift is a great replacement of a slow, fixed lift that used to get backed up with skiers. I zoomed to the top to take another run on Wow into Sun Down Bowl. All the recent fresh snow made for a rather consistent powder experience, despite being the day after a busy weekend.
Later in the morning I worked my way east to Sun Up Bowl. Here I enjoyed Campbell's run down to the Sun Up triple chair. Being a non-holiday midweek day, there were no lines. I've said it before: Midweek skiing rocks!
After I consulted with a friendly local skier on the chairlift, I made my way to ski Sweet 'n Sour down into the China Bowl, which is further east. I liked this run; I traversed as far right as possible and took in a view of snowy trees and the Blue Sky Basin beyond. I made powdery turns through some trees before being dropped onto the catwalk that would take me to the Tea Cup Express Lift and Tea Cup Bowl. (Are you keeping track of all these bowls? We're not done going through them yet!) Here, trails called Morning Thunder and Marmot Valley entertained me.
I love Vail's Back Bowls when there is new snow because you can take nearly any line you want to. You can ski out in the wide open snow bowls or you can ski in and out of evergreen trees or aspen trees. I enjoy variety and so I always do a little of both.
Nearly all of the trails in the Back Bowls are rated expert because they are 99 percent ungroomed and your runs here typically include some trees and sometimes even rocks to jump off if you look to do so. Typically only in China Bowl does Vail do some grooming for intermediate skiers on the Poppyfields trail. If you are an intermediate, I do recommend taking that trail so you can experience the expansive mountain views to the south and the feel of a wide-open bowl.
After a ride up the Orient Express Lift, I continued my Back Bowl tour and headed east to Siberia Bowl. Over here you feel far away from the rest of the world. You take a poma lift to nearly 11,455 feet and then point your skis in any direction down the hill to ski between sparsely sited evergreen trees. I danced my way down the Bolshoi Ballroom while the snow decided to start up again in a fierce way. I stopped now and then to be sure that I saw other skiers through the snow and followed their general direction to the Silk Road traverse that would bring me back to civilization.
When I needed a water break — which is essential at this altitude — I headed to the impressive Two Elk Lodge. It is perched above the China Bowl and affords views toward Mount Holy Cross to the south and the Gore Range to the north. Quite a place to have a snack.
Later, I skied Dragon's Teeth where young shredders were jumping off small cliffs. There was plenty of snow to allow me to ski between the few rocky sections of this trail that drops into China Bowl.
At the bottom of China Bowl, if you don't want to ride the Orient Express lift, you can keep up your speed and cat-track over to two other options: the Tea Cup Express lift or the Skyline Express Lift into Blue Sky Basin.
I zipped up the Tea Cup for another run in the Tea Cup Bowl before heading back—exhausted—to the front side of Vail Mountain. A mix of groomed and ungroomed intermediate runs and beginner cat-tracks brought me down from 11,200 feet to Vail Village at 8,200.
Blue Skies & Blue Sky Basin
On Wednesday, I enjoyed sunshine in the morning that made the views incredible. Blue skies, white mountains. It was all good and sunscreen was happily applied.
I jumped into the Back Bowls and took some still-powdery turns and took some photos. I enjoyed skiing in the trees and open meadows of Windows, Straight Shot and Wow in Sun Down Bowl before making my way over to Blue Sky Basin. In many places the snow had been skied through, but I always searched out untracked powder wherever possible.
The north-facing Blue Sky Basin is made up of two bowls: Pete's Bowl and Earl's Bowl. They are more wooded than the Back Bowls and there are a few nice intermediate options here. It's become a very popular part of the ski resort.
But it was a midweek day and it was quite mellow over in Blue Sky. I rode the Skyline Express lift and skied powdery bumps in the pretty Champagne Glade. As I approached Earl's Express lift, I was the only one there besides the lifties. I skied the intermediate trail called Cloud Nine, which has clumps of trees to ski around — very nice. I enjoyed cutting into the bottom of Resolution and Hornsilver on my way down to Pete's Express lift.
If you think you've seen the words “express lift” a lot in this post, you are right. Vail has 16 high-speed chairlifts. It also has two gondolas.
I enjoyed the trees and snow on the Resolution trail and popped into small pockets of trees on my way down from the top of Pete's Express, which is Vail's highest lift at 11,570 feet. Up here the trees were frosty white. It was lovely.
The sky started to cloud up on Wednesday midday, and soon some snowflakes and wind followed. I was glad I had tucked my balaclava in my pocket so I could keep my face protected from the wind.
It takes a while to get from the base areas of Vail Mountain to Blue Sky Basin, and vice versa. The Back Bowls are in between the two. I started my return to the front side of the resort via the Tea Cup Express. I also stopped to take in a snack and a view at Buffalo's cafe at Patrol Headquarters.
I wound down my afternoon on intermediate runs off of the Avanti Express lift and Pride Express lift on the front side of the resort. The front-side beginner and intermediate trails are very typically groomed, but some blue-square trails had been left ungroomed, and I sought these out.
Eventually, I dropped down into Vail Village via the black-diamond-rated Lindsey's trail, named after super-skier Lindsey Vonn who attended Vail's ski academy.
Again I was happily exhausted and I reviewed my day over a trail map and a hot cup of coffee in Vail Village. What a great, snowy week to be skiing at Vail!
Vail Resort, Colorado, At a Glance
Base elevation: 8,120 ft.
Mid-elevation: 10,250 ft.
Peak elevation: 11,570 ft.
Vertical drop: 3,450 ft.
Lifts: 31 – 2 gondolas; 1 high-speed six pack; 15 high-speed quads; 1 fixed quad; 2 triples; 1 double; 3 surface lifts; 6 conveyor lifts
Total uphill capacity: 60,681 people per hour
Total skiable terrain: 5,289 acres
Front Side: 1,627 acres
Back Bowls: 3,017 acres
Blue Sky Basin: 645 acres
"Conventional" trails: 193
Longest run: 4 miles - Riva Ridge
Snowmaking: 461 acres
Average snnual snowfall: 354 inches
Parks & pipes: Three parks (Golden Peak, Bwana and Pride) and two pipes (13-foot and 22-foot superpipes) and a slope-style course.
This graphic shows Vail's Front Side, Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. Vail Village, Lionshead and Golden Peak base areas, and Interstate 70, are located along the bottom of this graphic.