How to get there Fly to Eagle County Airport, 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70. There are nonstops from 13 cities and connecting service from hundreds more. Flying into Denver International Airport is a viable (and often less costly) option-count on a two-and-a-half hour drive west on I-70. You won't need a car-book roundtrip passage with Colorado Mountain Express (800-525-6363) from Eagle ($88 per person in a 10-person van) or DIA ($128 per person in a 10-person van).
Where to stay Get as close as you can to either the Vista Bahn high-speed quad in Vail Village or the Eagle Bahn gondola in Lionshead. In Vail Village, stay at the plush Lodge at Vail, right in front of the Vista Bahn. The condo suites have full kitchens, yet share all the amenities of the hotel, such as daily housekeeping and room service ($395-$1,799; 800-331-5634; lodgeatvail.com). In Lionshead, the Lion Square Lodge sits steps from the Eagle Bahn gondola and offers condos with kitchens, balconies and daily maid service ($240-$1,350; 800-525-1943; lionsquare.com). Another, often overlooked, option is to stay beside the Riva Bahn Express at Golden Peak for fast access to the east side of the mountain. Try a condo with a kitchen at Manor Vail, which also has a spa, restaurant and pool ($255-$935; 970-476-5000; manorvail.com).
How to ski the mountain
Day One Board the Eagle Bahn gondola in Lionshead or the Vista Bahn chair in Vail, depending on where you're staying, and hunker down for the journey to Blue Sky Basin. You'll get your warm-up en route: From the gondola, head to the Game Creek Express for a couple of cruisers in Game Creek Bowl; from the Vista Bahn, skate over to the Wildwood Express, where you can also access Game Creek Bowl via Dueces Wild, Faro or Ouzo, black-diamonds that are often groomed. Around midmorning, follow signs from the top of Wildwood to Sun Down, Sun Up and China bowls. Resist the urge to drop in, following the Blue Sky Basin signs instead. (There are no lunch options in the basin-buy a bag lunch at the base or stop at Two Elk Lodge.) Work your way from blues such as Cloud 9 and Big Rock Park in Pete's Bowl to the black-diamonds of Earl's Bowl. The picnic tables around Belle's Camp, elevation 11,480 feet, are a good spot to stop for lunch. Play in Blue Sky until just shy of 3 p.m., when the Tea Cup Express, your lift to the front, closes.
Day Two Start out the same way you did yesterday, but make your way over to the Mountaintop Express to warm up on blues and blacks such as Northwoods and Gandy Dancer. From the top of either Mountaintop Express or Northwoods Express, look for signs to Sun Up Bowl or China Bowl. Traverse the bowls from Sun Down to Siberia, stopping for lunch at Two Elk. The lifts in this area start closing at 3 p.m., so mind the time and head back via Tea Cup or Orient Express.
Day Three Time to explore Vail's front side. Take the shuttle to Golden Peak to board the Riva Bahn Express, which brings you to the east side of the mountain. Highline chair is a creaky double, but it accesses some excellent, and often empty, double-black-diamond terrain, such as the often bumped-up Roger's Run and Blue Ox. More moguls? Follow up with the double-blacks off Northwoods Express-Prima, Prima Cornice and Pronto. Ski down to Mid-Vail Lodge for lunch, then continue west to the expert runs off the Avanti Express.
Where to rent skis In Lionshead, the Double Diamond Ski Shop demos everything they sell (from $49; 970-476-5500; doublediamondvail.com). In Vail Village, the American Ski Exchange, next to the Vista Bahn Express, demos Salomon, Rossi, Völkl, Head and more ($32; 970-476-1477; vailskishop.com).
Where to eat, drink and relax Coming off the slopes, head to the Tap Room in Vail Village for a long list of martinis and cocktails, the Bully Ranch at the Sonnenalp for finger food and brews on tap, or Mickey's, the refined lounge at the Lodge at Vail, to escape the scene and enjoy an après glass of Shiraz. For dinner, make a reservation at either Sweet Basil (970-476-0125) or Sapphire (970-476-2828) for inventive American with an emphasis on seafood. For the best steaks in town, the Vail Cascade's Chap's Grill and Chophouse (970-479-7014) specializes in elk, buffalo and Angus beef. Hit the spa at the Sonnenalp, with its convenient Vail Village address and Euro-style treatments (970-476-5656).
Hassle-buster Avoid Vail's most-crowded lift, the Vista Bahn Express, by shuttling to the Riva Bahn Express at Golden Peak. Steer clear of lines on the Eagle Bahn gondola by taking the Born Free Express to the Avanti Express.
Contact Vail Resort: 800-404-3535; vail.com. Snow phone: 970-476-4888
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