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Vail or Steamboat Jan. 21-27?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hi Skiers!

First off, I'm soooo glad I booked our first trip to ski in Colorado for this coming Thanksgiving week. We love Sunday River, but 3 weeks ago we decided we just couldn't risk the weather and booked the trip west. We'll be at the Keystone Lodge tomorrow, Friday night, through Thanksgiving Day.

Well, we're out-of-control and have booked flights to Denver for January 21st, returning Jan. 27th. I've researched and read lots of posts and am leaning towards Vail for that week. But I'm having trouble deciding because Steamboat is also appealing.

We are strong intermediates (my GF is a boarder). We loved Big Mountain 2 years ago even in the -23 F actual temps. We also loved The Canyons, PCMR, and Deer Valley (me); Snowbird for GF was a bit much since it was socked-in (one ride up in the tram was all, then the rest of the day on the mid-gad lift). Sunshine and Lake Louis 3 years ago, but GF had just learned how to get off the lift and I was picking it up again after having learned at Mammoth almost 20 years ago and then very little time on the slopes in between.

How to describe our skill level so you can help us pick a destination? Well, some folks will know these trails and perhaps can offer suggestions on were we would find terrain we are comfortable with and also challenge us. The blacks we are comfortable on are:
Sunday River: Obsession, Right Stuff, top of Tempest, Eureka, Airglow and we love the trees of Blind Ambition (hated Last Tango); went on Quantum Leap once, it was icy and I took some time making turns, GF cheated and skidded on her board some and made it down rather quickly.
Sugarloaf: Haul Back, widowmaker, hayburner, u. narrow gauge (only been to the Loaf twice)
PCMR: I think only black we went on was Double Jack a few times
The Canyons: I don't think we went on any black, but Sidewinder felt like one! (It was Dec. and our first trip of the season.) We're excited about how much our skills are improving and looking for more improvement this season.

So, what we like to do is ski/ride all day, find our way to the hot tub with a cocktail, enjoy a nice dinner and bottle of wine, then we crash while watching Warren Miller DVDs! The time zone changes when we're out West usually mean early to bed and first chair!

We loved Banff 3 years ago --- walking from the Fairmont hotel to the main street, have a relaxing dinner, and a pleasant walk back. Our skills have greatly improved since that trip and we'd love to return sometime to experience more of Sunshine and Lake Louise.

I'm really curious about the back bowls at Vail (only "bowl" we've done was Ptarmigan at Big Mtn.) If we can walk around the town in the evening would be good, too. Maybe next week we will make it to Vail for a day and check-it-out.

Steamboat - like the idea of the trees/glades. Is the moutain more manageable and less crowded than Vail? Would the town be interesting? We would have to drive/shuttle into town if we had slopeside lodging, right? We enjoy "gourmet" vegetarian and fish/seafood. Don't eat meat, so cowboy food all week might be too limiting. Are there many options for food in Steamboat?

Going to the Boston Snow Expo tonight and maybe we'll find more info to help us decide. Gotta pack up the Atomic metron B9s! Oooohhhh, my new Attiva Flame boots are so shinny in the dining room! GF has a Hinano beer sticker, from Tahiti, on her board (and many other stickers). Maybe we'll see you around Keystone, Breck or even Vail sometime during the weekend or next week.

Thanks all!
post #2 of 13
I don't think you'll be disappointed either way. I've been to Vail 2 years in a row and it's fantastic, IMO. You said your an advanced intermediate, so from that standpoint you'll find very little terrain that's way over your head.

The back bowls? There's nothing like them when the snow is good.
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks, Coach!

Maybe the decision will be made based on where we can get the best lodging deal. Does anyone know about construction around Vail and if that means there are areas to avoid lodging-wise?
post #4 of 13
There is a lot of construction going on in the LionsHead area. I don't see it as a hinderance to lodging choices though.
post #5 of 13

Vote for Vail

Late January is a great time to go. Crowds shouldn't be a problem at either resort. Of those two, I would vote for Vail.

The Back Bowls are indeed a neat experience. They're mostly rated black, but based on your skill level description you should find them quite managable. Vail is so large-- the front side, back bowls and Blue Sky Basin that's there's plenty of terrain for about every ability. As with mostly tame Steamboat, there's not much that's crazy scary in the Snowbird/Jackson Hole league at Vail, but for you, that's probably a good thing.

(Plus with Vail, you have the option of going over to Beaver Creek for a day or two. Beaver Creek has the reputation as a posh resort (a la Deer Valley) which it is shopping-wise at the base, but I think the skiing itself is actually quite good and can actually offer more challenge than Vail-- if you want to test yourself, go on the moguls on Grouse Mountain at Beaver Creek.)

As you suggested with Vail, the town is right at the base-- unlike Steamboat where you take a shuttle into town from the base area lodging. Vail as a town is a faux creation-- as opposed to the "authentic" nature of Steamboat-- which bothers some people about Vail, but you should be able to find plenty of dining options either place. Actually, I expected to like Steamboat-- the town-- a lot more than I did. I thought it would measure up to Breckenridge or Crested Butte-- but it really didn't.

As you guessed, the trees/glades at Steamboat are cool. Shadows and Closet are a couple of classic runs. They're both black-- could be a little intimidating at first-- depending on the snow conditions-- a tree run is not a good place to make a mistake! Even though Vail is larger, in some ways it's more managable than Steamboat. I found the layout of Steamboat to be a bit awkward. Hard to explain-- but the way the ridges and peaks cut through the layout-- I often found myself stuck in a low elevation and needing to take a lift UP to go ACROSS. Vail is pretty much one solid, very wide, north-facing front side, then the south-facing back side (back bowls), then facing the back bowls is the north-facing Blue Sky Basin. Just seemed easier to get my bearings there, even though it's bigger.

Overall, Vail would be my choice! (I did blow my ACL at Steamboat-- but I promise I'm not letting that color my opinion!)
post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks, Wags!

I really appreciate your perspective. We're leaning toward Vail now, especially after reading your thoughtful response.
post #7 of 13
I'd vote for Aspen. You won't be disappointed with their 4 mountains to choose from, and the town is great.
post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Yeah, we thought about Aspen. REALLY, thought about it. For a moment, it looked like we could get a great rate at the St. Regis, but that didn't work out. I'm concerned about it being difficult to get to Aspen. We get into Denver at midnight. Driving to Aspen would have to be the next day. That's ok. Driving to Vail might have to be the next day, too. But, I really didn't know if going past Vail to get to Aspen would be worth it. Don't really know much about the 4 mountains. AND, don't know how to compare the two towns.

Any more help will be nice!

Thanks, Harry Dunn, for chiming in!
post #9 of 13
You would enjoy either resort. There are plenty of blue- blueblack- black, vail most likley has more in the way of double blacks. A vegie would have an easier time finding food in Vail, but there are many places that serve good non meat meals here in Steamboat. Getting a lodging deal would be easier in Steamboat than Vail I would think, but in Steamboat you have to choose if you are going to be at the base area or in town, you can't get a place that you can easily walk to both, but most places have shuttles that will take you where you want to go, and we have a great bus system that runs in the winter. Sadly, Steamboat doesn't have anything to compare to the back bowls at Vail, but our tree skiing could beat up their tree skiing..... And no matter what day of the year, there will be less crowds at Steamboat.
post #10 of 13
Steamboat-$76 a day ticket

Vail-$78 a day ticket

Steamboat- no discounted lift tickets anywhere

Vail- discounted lift tickets at several locations or purchase online for big savings
post #11 of 13

things to do in both Vail and Steamboat

I love both Vail and Steamboat. Vail is classic and huge. It's also fairly easy to get to from Denver assuming the weather is ok. Steamboat is much more relaxed, less pretentious and less crowded. Others will tell you about the skiing - I'll tell you about the towns.

There are a number of excellent restaurants and some other fun things. Often on Wed evening, they have music on one of the streets. I'm not sure if this is all season or just the time of year when we go or not. Check the website. There are also about 4 places for fun entertainment. The Red Lion has a lively apres ski w/ reasonably priced food. It's sort of a yuppy college feel here. The crowd gets involved as they do at most of these I'll list.

The Club can be entertaining as well - look for when Steve ???? is playing. I can't remember his last name, but he is a fixture in Vail during ski season. Just ask around. Word of warning. He's not pure 'music'. He does sing and sing well, but he's also doing shots and having an 'interesting' dialog with the crowd. It's a bit edgy and may or may not be your thing. Personally, I think he is a huge riot and he usually gets some 'rich old bastard' to buy a round of drinks for the bar. Lot's of sing-a-long here as well. Probably only need to hit this once for your fill.

Mickey's in the Vail at Lodge can be a nice alternative if you are looking for a classy evening of piano music. It's a small spot - very cozy, but get's crowded. A bit of an older crowd. More a glass of scotch or wine vs the beer and shots crowd.

I also like Pepi's. It's a restaurant with a bar on the side. Again, classy sing-a-long. A bit more adult than the Red Lion. This has a bit more of a european ski resort feel. Great food if you like Austrian or wild game style food.

Other restaurants I enjoy... Cucina Rustica in the Lodge at Vail. This is one of my two fav italian restaurants in town. Before they changed chef's last year, they had a magnificant antipasta bar. I'm sure the new chef was getting major pressure to bring it back. I'll find out this Dec...

The Flying Burrito in Lionshead is a great spot for breakfast on your way to the gondola. Reasonable prices, good food. Small place and the service can be a bit slow, so give yourself a bit of time.

Campo di Fiori is a really nice spot. It's not as mainstream and a little awkward to find, but I think it's got a nice romantic and relaxing atmosphere. The food works as well. Have a nice port for dessert.

Sweet Basil's is a high-end, nice spot, reservations necessary.

Back on the economical end for breakfast, there is a local's spot in the west side of Lionshead past the gondola. If you like a major breakfast this is the place. Huge portions of eggs, pancakes, whatever breakfast you want. I can't remember the name and don't know if it was affected by the current construction in Lionshead - but what a great find.

Overall, I like to spend more time in Vail Village than Lionshead in the evening. We usually go up/down the mountain out of Lionshead (thus breakfast in Lionshead).

Now to Steamboat. I've only been here once, but absolutely loved it. We stayed a one of the hotels right at the base of the lift (ski in / out, but reasonably priced). I think it was the best western ptarmigan inn. They had an outdoor pool / hottub combination and would serve us pitchers of beer while we were in the hottub for apres ski. I really enjoyed the mountain as well and thought the snow quality was tops.

At the base of the mountain, we found a little Irish pub that had a GREAT irish music band. We didn't go looking for as much music elsewhere.

One of the really special NOT to be missed things in Steamboat is a trip at night to the hotsprings. Now there are 2 sets of hotsprings. One is in town in a building with limited atmosphere. Do not go here. The other requires buying a ticket at the base of the mountain w/ a reservation to take a shuttle up a canyon along the mountain. After a short ride (20 mins or so), you end up at the end of a dirt road and it's extremely dark. Your driver will escort the group down a set of steps by flashlight. You arrive at a set of 3 natural hot springs of different water temps. There are tee-pees to change into a bathing suit, or you may go 'au naturale'. No need to let this intimidate you. It's extremely dark so you shouldn't get embarrassed. You can take a beverage with you (I'd recommend no glass) if you like as well. The night I went was soooo incredible. Not a cloud in the sky and it was as if someone had attached a lightbulb to every star in the sky. Really an amazing night. If you really want to treat yourself, you can also have a massage in the woods where they integrate the water from the hotsprings into the experience. It's a sexy place for a couple and also fun for a group of friends!

Another thing I liked about Steamboat was the 'western' atmosphere. And walking around town you have some great furniture stores to pop into and look around. While the shopping in Vail seems to revolve more around cashmere, Bogner, jewelry and other high-end glamour shopping, I thought Steamboat had a lot more character. If only I had a log cabin to decorate .

You can't go wrong either way. Steamboat is a longer drive from Denver. Vail is a HUGE mountain. It could boil down to logistics for you or you could make a decision based on what type of atmosphere or attitude you prefer. Regardless - have a great time!!
post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 

Whoa! Cool info!

Oh my, himileski! What great info!! Thank you so much! We are about to walk out the door to the airport for our trip to Keystone, returning home Thanksgiving day. I really want to try to get to Vail while we are there. And find Mickey's! And check out the Lodge. Sounds like us (scotch and wine). I heard about the hot springs at Steamboat last night at the Snow Expo in Boston when talking with the Steamboat people. I had no idea and your description of the experience really makes it sound great. Thanks also for all the info about food. We love Italian since we can usually find a few veggie things on the menu.

We probably won't be on-line until we return Friday. So, I'll study your info in more detail then.

Thanks all and everyone have a happy Thanksgiving! Hope you get to SKI!
post #13 of 13
Either way you're gonna have a good time. The advantage to Vail is size, and that almost everything (restaurants, etc) are pretty much at the base of the mountain. Steamboat is about a 10 minute ride from the main part of town. Not a big deal if you have a car. Both get great snow. Vail has Steamboat beat in the amount of terrain and lifts department, but Steamboat has kickass tree skiing if thats your thing. Going the week you're going I'd imagine you can find decent deals at both, although you may have a slight advantage at Vail. If you're an intermediate who likes the groomers, hold off on Steamboat until they replace the painfully slow Sunshine lift (if they actually do it).
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