Every Vail powder day must come to an end. The lifts will start to shut down, and the crowds will funnel toward the base of the mountain. With thoughts of warmth and libation, skiers and snowboarders will celebrate the day’s best face shots with shot specials and happy hour appetizers in Vail Village, maybe soaking up the remaining rays of the day on the porch of Los Chingones.
While Vail offers a whole host of options for beers, food and live music, the real happy hour adventure comes in the form of one final backcountry run (but remember, don’t ever call it your “last run.”) On the far west side of Vail, just off the Game Creek bowl on Lost Boy trail, there is an out of bounds gate that gives you access to the best local après around: The Minturn Mile. While taking into consideration that this terrain is not patrolled and that you are no longer within the Vail Mountain resort, the trail itself can be managed as an upper intermediate skier or boarder. Before dipping into the upper bowl area past the out of bounds gate, be sure to snag a picture with the large warning sign. I sent it to my mom just before taking the plunge (the sign boldly outlines a “You can die” warning). Soak up the wide powder turns of this open upper segment before you weave into a valley of trees. While there will likely be trails from après seekers before you, there are always patches of puffy, untouched powder just waiting to be edged into.
After earning your turns through the bowl, take a break and relish in the beautiful views and soundless trees in the gully of Game Creek. The gentle silence of snow and solitude will provide a refreshing break from the so often crowded slopes on Vail Mountain (solitude definition in this case: a few ski buddies you’re doing the mile with who also respect a moment of serenity. Don’t ski alone!). With delicious brews and a classic street taco in mind, hop back into gear as the trail narrows and continues to follow alongside Game Creek, traversing through some bumps and burms until reaching a beaver dam crossing. The trees disperse a little and you may find some fellow “milers” taking a break here before heading into the final portion of the trek, often dubbed “the luge” for its narrow and choppy terrain. The last time I did the Minturn Mile there were even some people sledding along this portion – options for any snow lover! The “luge” is often the segment with the least coverage, so be careful and prepared for rocks or roots when getting toward the end of the trail.
Once you’ve reached that final turn in the mile, behold the little ski town of Minturn! Pop off your skis (unless the road is still snow covered, then ski right on down into town!) and enjoy a short walk into town, turning the corner directly into the Minturn Saloon – the finish line for your après adventure. The Saloon opens every day at 3:30 p.m., quickly filling with snow covered milers and red faced explorers. The homemade salsa and corn chips are best washed down with a local Colorado draft or a cold Moscow Mule from the bar. Enjoy the eclectic indoor decor, complete with old school skis, whimsical posters and, of course, some mounted antlers. The Vail bus system and schedule is also posted inside the saloon to make it an easy ride back to Vail Village.
So, raise your glass and salute your fellow Minturn Mile comrades over the best – and most deserved – après ski in Colorado. Go ahead and have that extra bowl of chips, treat yourself to one more beer, you’ve earned it!