Vail in the Fall: The Perfect Mother & Daughter Retreat

When my pre-teen, badass mountain-girl daughter asked me to do a girls’ trip this fall for the first time in her 9 years, I jumped at the chance. We spend a lot of time with our roguish boys, my husband and six-year-old son. We share their deep enthusiasm for all things outdoors. Bug collecting? Yes. Tree skiing? Double hell yes! But wouldn’t it be sweet, just the two of us, just one agenda?

I have to admit the usual “girls trip” stuff wasn’t exactly top of mind when we started planning. I thought, “Cool, let’s go hike some big miles and work off this fall, post-flood funk on the peaks!” You see, aside from my love of shopping the sales rack at Anthropologie, I have never been much of a girly girl myself. When I was nine a fat-tired Huffy was my prize possession.

But I quickly learned that my daughter had other ideas—ideas that involved staying in castles, eating sweets and butter-laden delicacies, and watching lots of PG-rated semi-romantic Disney fantasies. If I wanted to make the most of this precious time before she decides hanging with mom is not fun, I was going to have to compromise.

Destination Happy Medium: Vail

When the I-70 sign just outside of Idaho Springs read, “Vail: 1 hr 5 min,” I reached up to adjust my sunglasses. Really? Seriously? It was just us and this perfectly clear, gloriously sky-blue, white-peaked, and aspen-gold kind of Colorado day.

We arrived in record time. The first few snows had begun to fill in the upper 1,500 feet of runs on the face of Vail Mountain. The lifts were a month from opening (getting primed for Opening Day, November 22!), but October really is one of the best months in Vail. Lodging rates are seriously discounted, restaurants offer fabulous prix fix specials, and the spas have great packages and discounts. So take advantage of the shoulder season.

Our agenda was packed with as much passive pampering as physical activity, but there wasn’t a single minute of our 3-day trip I didn’t cherish. Yes, I thought, there comes a time in a Colorado girls’ life that she must embrace her feminine lattes-and-manicures side, too.

Choose Your Own (Girl) Adventure

IMG_4140Get a move on >> Vail’s hiking and biking trails can be perfect, or they may be snowy and muddy at this time of year. It’s good to go with plenty of flexibility in the itinerary. If you hit clear weather, choose from the trails on the opposite side of the highway from Vail Mountain, accessible from East and West Vail entrances. We hiked the spectacular Booth Creek drainage up to the falls, up 1,300 vertical in just over 2 miles, on a day when the aspen leaves were peaking.

If it’s snowing or raining, scale the impressive climbing wall or take a fitness class at the Vail Athletic Club, check out Bol bowling alley in Vail Village, head over to the lazy river and waterslide at the rec center pool in Avon, or just watch movies in your hotel room. (Yes, yes we did.)

Get spoiled >> Like fur and down-filled boutiques, there are too beautiful many spas in Vail to count. And you can very easily spend an entire afternoon basking in the afterglow of a massage in a sauna or relaxation room, complimentary with most services. We got our toes and fingernails done at Vail Rock Creek Resort Spa, where the nail tech showed so much patience when my daughter dinged her newly painted thumbnail for the third time I wanted to hug her.

We also enjoyed Bloom Spa in the Sebastian, a favorite of my daughter for its peach-and-cucumber flavored water. Big kudos to Bloom: When I asked for extra pressure (my mountain-biking, vinyasa-yoga-loving glutes can’t stand a wimpy touch), my masseuse was delighted. And my daughter’s salon ‘do lasted a whole afternoon before she dove into the hotel pool after dinner.

Stay >> There are countless resort hotels that offer discounted rates on rooms at this time of year. We stayed at the Sebastian, a small, elegant hotel right in the heart of Vail with impeccable service and beautiful South American-inspired décor. What I love about the Sebastian is what it lacks. It doesn’t have the stuffy, overdone interior of so many Colorado resorts. No antler chandeliers. We also loved what it has, like super friendly staff and a pantry open for breakfast, lunch, and all-day treats like fresh-baked pretzels and candied apples.

Replace burned calories, and then some >> Which brings us to the eating segment of our itinerary. (Yes, all fifty thousand of those calories were worth it!) Mid-September to Mid-October is Vail’s restaurant month and, like I said, there are incredible meals at extremely good prices. Lenora, the Sebastian’s onsite restaurant has an impressive menu of seasonally inspired tapas plates and mains. Our favorites: fried olives with orange ricotta and harissa; corn soup with vanilla bean; and mushroom and truffle oil risotto. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the food.

We also watched a post-season Red Sox game in the Four Season’s Fireside Lounge, where cook Dagan Stocks personally spoiled us with IMG_4094samplings off their Flame Restaurant menu. The artisan cheese plate was followed by a deconstructed Caesar salad; panzanela salad with whipped fresh mozzarella cheese; pumpkin-coconut soup infused with Indian spices and topped by homemade marshmallow; gnocchi with wild mushrooms; and a dessert plate featuring an outstanding tart-tangy cherry cheesecake and a decadent chocolate wafer, chocolate candy, and fresh-mint custard stack. For someone who is not by nature an indulger, it was pure decadence.

Plan it >> The great thing about fall in Vail? You can decide to head up late on a Friday afternoon and you’ll likely find accommodation and plenty to do in a matter of minutes. With Opening Day and Snow Daze just a few short weeks away, there’s no time to lose. My daughter and me? We’ll definitely do this again next year.

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