Over the Mountains and Through the Woods
By Rebecca Treon
Insider’s tip: the best time of year to visit Vail isn’t necessarily during the winter. It’s in early summer, a virtual shoulder season the locals jockingly refer to as ‘mud season’. Vail’s appeal is really year round, but take away the crowds that flock to the alpine-style mountain village in the winter and summer months and you’re left with a family friendly high-country getaway without the traffic and the hassle. Even better – many places in town offer special pricing during the off-season on everything from lodging to happy hour and activities; just ask around for the details. Below, our suggestions for an unforgettable mountain family weekend.
The Solaris residences are located right in the heart of it all, and the complex has created its own mini-epicenter of activity. The luxe, spacious suites are welcoming and include a kitchen for those evenings you want to stay in for dinner, (you can even bring in a chef to make your meal, or teach a cooking class), making it the ideal hub for the family’s activity. In winter, an ice-skating rink is right out the door, while in summer it becomes a green for kids to run around (or free morning yoga!). The Solaris complex is also home to CineBistro, where you can catch a movie and a meal, and Bol, a restaurant with a bowling alley in the back. Best of all, each residence comes with its own personal concierge, who will stock the fridge before your arrival, arrange everything from children’s day camps to spa visits, and even schedule family excursions for mountain biking or rafting trips!
Sometimes a big diner breakfast is just the thing to stave off the ailments of altitude sickness, and The Little Diner does just that. With epic portion sizes, classics from pancakes to omelets to huevos rancheros, and fast service, the made-from-scratch breakfasts are totally satisfying. It’s tiny and tucked away, but nevertheless, it’s a popular spot and there’s usually a wait. Ther specialty is the Dutch Baby, a giant pancake-like soufflé.
Root & Flower is a little wine bar tucked away on a side street in the center of town near the creek. The ideal place for a pre-dinner aperitif – their carefully crafted cocktails (made with one of the locally distilled spirits like 10th Mountain vodka from up the valley) will hit the spot before you have your evening meal. Owner Jeremy, a friendly sommelier, also offers weekly wine classes on Wednesdays and Sundays. The wine list is simple but carefully selected, and the menu is small but full of noshable bites like charcuterie and cheese plates.
Southern food is having a revival, and Mountain Standard rises to the occasion. (Beloved Vail staple Sweet Basil is a sister restaurant). The no-frills menu focuses on wood-fired options, like the hangar steak and the rotisserie chicken. Pair it with the “Standard” wedge salad, topped with crisp prosciutto and crunchy puffed rice with garlicky dressing. The must-order menu item though? Mountain Standard’s addictive southern pimento cheese appetizer, served with bacon jam and pickled celery on toast.
The Four Season’s resident restaurant, Flame, offers groups of six or less a totally mind-blowing burger experience. The Back of the House Burger Bar is a square table located right in the center of the bustling kitchen. While the chefs run around, you’re treated to an intimate view of the inner workings of a restaurant from behind the scenes. First build your own ultimate burger (with everything from fried jalepeño coins to avocado and sriracha aioli), then be treated to DIY milkshakes with all the add-ins from marshmallows to oreos, including boozy add-ins for mom and dad.
Just down the valley in Wolcott lies 4 Eagle Ranch, offering a slew of activities for everyone in the family. If a western experience is your thing, they host a monthly western dance, weekly family nights (think steak dinner, wagon rides, lawn games, and s’mores) and rodeo (bull riding, bronc busting, barrel racing, and mutton bustin’); but they also have horseback riding and are home to a zipline adventure. With six ziplines that whisk you through forests, canyons, and over creeks, it’s an adrenaline-pumping ride of a lifetime. Insider tip: 4 Eagle Ranch is also a boutique winery that sources grapes from California for their Vines at Vail label, and offers tastings to their guests – the perfect way to end a long day of western adventure with the kids!
There are great science programs in the high country at Walking Mountains Science Center. They offer nature walks for all ages focusing on learning about the local flora and fauna, and they even have free evening program night hikes to explore the area when wildlife becomes more active; some culminate with s’mores around a campfire. Bonus: Their kids’ science day camps are full of adventures and ecology, and keep the kids busy learning about mother nature for hours.
The family that’s fit together stays together, and nowhere in the Valley makes it easier and more fun than the Vail Vitality Center. They have a full schedule of fitness classes from weights to indoor cycling and even outdoor options (join a group trail run). They offer pilates, yoga, and meditations for grownups seeking Zen, and they have Vail’s only indoor climbing wall. People of all ages can hop on the wall to climb for a couple hours, or take a climbing course. Best of all – the full-service spa offering everything from facials to massage. For a truly decadent afternoon, get the Nature, Body & Spirit treatment – 100 minutes of bliss. It includes a foot bath, dry brushing, a massage with pure essential oils and a scalp treatment for a head-to-toe glow.