Let it ride, baby ride: The Gondola may carry you up, but the singletrack is human-powered. Photo cred: Jeff Cricco
Back Bowled Over, When the leaves start turning, it’s time to get up and taste the best of what Vail’s singletrack has to offer. But don’t just bring the bike. There’s enough up here to keep the whole family entertained.
Want to do Vail on a budget? Come in the summer or fall. You won’t face the crowds or high rates that make the place a scene in winter. You will find an escape from the Front Range heat and a lot that may surprise you.The passage last November of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Act, which gives resorts more leeway for non-snow activities on public lands, is a big reason why Vail has been able to pump up its summer activities. The city and resort have been working hard to court off-season adventures. The centerpiece is the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lion’s Head, which will whisk you up to an impressive menu of singletrack and downhill mountain biking as well as Adventure Ridge, a mélange of activities that make it an ideal spot for families looking to trade off parenting for rides.
Of course, you can walk or bike if you want, but it’s hard to pass up $25 ($30- with a bike, $5/$10 for kids under 12) for a day of 15-minute rides to the top. The gondola runs Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from September 7 through 23.
Technical, Red-Bull-ish trails are the heart and soul of any lift-served mountain bike operation and Vail has the goods to keep the full-face crowd engaged. Magic Forest is a technical rocket-ride to the bottom, with big drop-offs that require big-travel bikes and a meat-hucking mentality.
The real shining stars of the bike system here are the “flow trails,” Big Mamba, which debuted last summer, and Radio Flyer, which just opened this spring. These are rides that anyone would enjoy—fast and twisty, they beg to be gunned, but even a slower pace offers some adrenaline. Big Mamba switches back and forth under the gondola, while Radio Flyer sneaks off into the deep woods.
Of course, the real singletrack highlights are the trails that flow away form the gondola, off into the back bowls. They will, however, require some climbing. The 5-mile Grand Traverse heads out of Adventure Ridge into the open meadows of Game Creek Bowl for a perfect out-and-back where parents can switch off while splitting kid duty. And the burly Two Elk rockets down to Minturn (take the bike path back to the gondola, count on several hours), chock-full of technical surprises.
Pavement geeks are in luck here, too. You won’t need the gondola, but the 8.7-mile, 1,831-vert ride up the paved path to the top of Vail Pass (and blood-curdling descent) rivals mountain bike rides for adrenaline.
It’s not often that you find a “family” destination that really works, but Adventure Ridge offers enough to keep everyone happy. There’s a frisbee golf course and stables with horseback rides across the mountain. There’s a nature center and slacklines. But expect to wait in line for the big bungee trampolines—they offer the chance to give four-year olds a taste of big air. The best thing is that uber-active parents can switch off here and still feel as if everyone in the family is truly enjoying themselves. vail.com/summer/activities/adventure-ridge
There are too many food options in Vail, and you can just stay at the top of the gondola and eat at the respectable Talons, but Terra Bistro (terrabistrovail.com) is one of the best dining experiences in the state. It manages to mix foodie trendiness (think kale chips) with classy service. Blue Moose Pizza (bluemoosepizza.com) right near the bottom of the gondola is simply the top crowd-pleaser in Vail, worth a stop even when you are passing through on a longer road trip.
STAY AND SPA
Again there are numerous options up here and all of them offer better rates than in the winter, but the Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa (vailmountainlodge.com) is a unique experience. Terra Bistro is here, and breakfast is included, but even tastier is the guests get free access to the spa, including its indoor climbing wall and yoga classes as well as access to special seminars. •