Bringing your family to Vail is a one-of-a-kind Rocky Mountain experience. From its world-class skiing to its events and activities, you’ll surely have a vacation packed full of good mountain fun. There’s always something going on in Vail.
Vail prides itself on being a family resort, so there are quite a few activities for the whole family. You’ll be able to find things to do and places to go for kids of all ages, as well as things that are enjoyable for everyone. So, what are the best family activities in Vail during winter?
- Taking a Scenic Gondola Ride
- Exploring Vail’s Beautiful Villages
- Ice Skating
- Snow Daze and Holidaze
- Free Snowshoeing Tours
- Catching Dinner and a Movie at CineBistro
- Cookie Time at Beaver Creek
- A Night at the Bowling Alley
Keep reading, and you’ll get some ideas for what to do during your family vacation to Vail – besides just skiing (but we’ll start with that to give you a few family-oriented tips)…
1. Skiing (Without Breaking the Bank)
If you’re taking a trip to Vail in the winter, you probably have some skiing planned. Family ski trips aren’t exactly cheap, and lift ticket prices are consistently rising. Working in the ski industry, one of the biggest concerns I have heard from families is the cost of these vacations. Prices are going up each year and the inflation doesn’t show any signs of stopping.
There are a couple ways to make your mountain vacation a little more affordable, though. One of the biggest factors is the lift ticket purchase process. Many families have experienced sticker shock at the ticket window. Better prices are possible: it depends on how, where and when you purchase your lift tickets. Most of these options involve avoiding the ticket window altogether.
Vail offers an advanced purchase discount through their website as long as you book 7 or more days in advance. The discount comes out to roughly 20% off of the window-rate prices. Keep in mind that like many resorts, Vail’s prices fluctuate based on your selected dates. Holiday periods will have raised pricing, and will still be more expensive even with the advanced purchase discount.
The cheapest Vail lift tickets will be found through wholesale websites. You can book lodging and lift ticket packages together this way and receive a discounted price. Don’t book through a regular travel agency, as they will usually significantly upcharge you for booking your vacation. Search for websites specifically focusing on ski trips. Compare prices between a few before you book.
Whichever option you choose, never plan to buy daily lift tickets at Vail’s ticket window. The lines are often long and the walk-up price hits over $200 per day. Tickets that are purchased as a multi-day package also receive a discount that day-by-day tickets don’t. Always plan ahead and book in advance.
The exception for that rule is with beginner tickets. Vail sells a much cheaper beginner lift ticket option for its two “bunny hill” beginner lifts. These lifts are just steep enough to practice on for new or out-of-practice skiers. For a resort that recently made history in the industry for breaking the $200 per day threshold for the first time, this is a great option to make a family trip hurt your wallet a little less. Prices vary, but in past years it has been well below the $100 mark for adults. Beginner tickets must be purchased at a ticket office and can’t be booked before your trip.
Once you’ve got your lift tickets taken care of, it’s time to get out on the hill! Vail Mountain has over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, including plenty of great blues and top-to-bottom green runs from the mountain’s summit. If you have members of your family who are just starting out skiing, Vail has plenty of options for them as they progress.
Vail is a wonderful family resort with plenty of trails for everyone. For a top-to-bottom green run, beginners and kids can take Gondola One and Chair 4 to ski down Swingsville to any of the three catwalks that it meets up with. More advanced skiers can enjoy Vail’s expansive back bowls and Blue Sky Basin. There’s something for everywhere in between, too.
Learn More: Vail Ski Resort
2. Taking a Scenic Gondola Ride
If not everyone in your family is interested in skiing, Vail also offers scenic gondola rides. You can still experience the mountain and get to see the views from the top, no skiing equipment required.
There are two different gondolas on Vail Mountain. Gondola One is located in central Vail Village, and Gondola #19, the Eagle Bahn Gondola, is in Lionshead Village to the west. The scenic lift ticket works for both gondolas as many times as you want to use it that day, so you don’t have to pick just one.
If you do only have time to visit one, the Eagle Bahn Gondola has better views. I generally recommend it over Gondola One to non-skiers. It offers sweeping views of Vail’s back bowls surrounded by Rocky Mountain peaks. There is a viewing deck overlooking Game Creek Bowl that is only a quick walk once you exit the gondola. You can also see Mount of the Holy Cross, one of Colorado’s 14,000 feet summits, towering above.
Both gondolas have a few restaurants at the top of the lift. Gondola One has Mid-Vail, a cafeteria style restaurant serving pizza, burgers, pasta, salads and more. It also has the 10th, a sit-down fine dining option. Reservations are recommended for the 10th, as it gets very busy during the peak season. The Eagle Bahn Gondola has the Eagle’s Nest cafeteria, similar to Mid-Vail with a few different food options. Their fine dining option is Bistro Fourteen, which has a full bar and an après style menu.
Prices for scenic ride tickets vary each year, but you can probably still expect to pay around $40 for passengers over the age of 13 and $25 for children 12 and under. Children 4 and under are free. Vail also offers a “lift and lunch” package that includes a $20 voucher to use towards food at the on-mountain restaurants. All current prices can be found at any ticket office or by calling Vail’s call center.
Gondola One closes when skiing ends for the day, which tends to be around 4-4:30 PM. The Eagle Bahn Gondola stays open until 9 PM when Adventure Ridge is open (usually Tuesday-Saturday starting in December). During its later hours, it is free to ride after 3:30 PM.
The scenic gondola ride is probably the most popular non-skiing family activity at Vail. If some of you are skiing and some are not, the whole family can ride up together in the gondola in the morning. Those who are going skiing can hit the slopes at the top, and those who aren’t can enjoy the views, the on-mountain restaurants, and the other activities.
Learn More: Vail Mountain Gondolas
If you decide to visit the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, you can check out Adventure Ridge, Vail’s on-mountain snow park. Adventure Ridge has several activities, but one of the most family-friendly is the tubing. It’s enjoyable for all age groups, and the whole family can ride together. There are some height and age restrictions: participants need to be at least 42” tall to ride, and kids under 5 must be accompanied by an adult.
Vail’s tubing hill is 900 feet long and has enough incline to get you up to speed (but nothing dangerous or too scary). It’s seriously a lot of fun. Not quite as much of an adrenaline rush as a rollercoaster, but your heart will be pumping and you’ll be laughing. The kids always seem to love it. Once you reach the bottom, you can take the magic carpet lift back up to the top for another ride.
There are two ticket options for the tubing hill: single ride tickets and all-day tickets. The latter is probably the better option, as it allows unlimited rides. You’ll probably want to ride again once you get down to the bottom, and the unlimited ticket pays for itself after a couple of rides.
Adventure Ridge is open late and the tubing hill is lighted after dark. This is a great after-skiing activity, maybe after grabbing a meal at Bistro Fourteen when they are open for dinner.
Learn More: Eagle’s Nest Winter Tubing
4. Exploring Vail’s Beautiful Villages
An essential part of any visit to Vail is exploring the village area. The mountain is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and a quaint little alpine vibe. The base areas are rather large, so there’s quite a bit to see. Don’t just stay inside your hotel when you’re not skiing – go check out everything that Vail has to offer. Even just a little walk out in the snow is special.
Vail Village is an iconic Alps-inspired North American ski village. Its architecture borrows from traditional Austrian villages, featuring clock towers and chalets reminiscent of alpine skiing’s origins. Its downtown area sits at the base of its two gondolas and runs along a creek fed by snowmelt from the Gore Range.
The Town of Vail was constructed in 1962, and its success popularized the trend of the “village at the base of the gondola” resort concept. Vail was rather unique in that its town was built around the idea of incorporating a ski resort at the base of the mountain. Many other resorts in Colorado and in the west grew out of historic mining towns, such as Aspen, Breckenridge and Telluride. The Vail Valley, in contrast, was remote and largely undeveloped before the resort was built.
Vail has an excellent public transportation system and getting around the villages is easy and free. The In-Town Bus runs every few minutes from Golden Peak to Lionshead Village and vice versa. There are multiple bus stops in between, at every major attraction. The hub for Vail’s public transit is at the Vail Transportation Center in Vail Village. Buses to East Vail and West Vail, as well as to Beaver Creek and Denver pick up there.
Vail Village is the central downtown area. To the west is Lionshead Village, at the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. To the east is Golden Peak, which is more of an extension of Vail Village than it is its own village area. It does, however, have a few restaurants and is the kid’s ski school hub.
The iconic Covered Bridge is in Vail Village. This roofed wooden bridge across Gore Creek as you enter into town has been the subject of many a family photo. In the winter, it’s decorated with wreaths, trim and bows. As you cross the Covered Bridge, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Vail.
Don’t miss out on a little time running around Vail. A lot of these activity suggestions will be out and about in the villages, so you’ll be spending at least a little time exploring. Add in some extra time just for wandering, too. Maybe go searching for the perfect spot to build a snowman.
Learn More: Welcome to Vail
5. Ice Skating
There are two ice skating rinks in the town of Vail. One is located in the Solaris area of Vail Village, and the other is located by the Arrabelle hotel in Lionshead Village. Ice skate rentals are available at both locations, or you can bring your own skates if you have them. The rentals are relatively inexpensive.
The Solaris skating rink is in a central location and is very close to many restaurants and shops, but I’d still recommend the Lionshead skating rink. Once the holiday season rolls around, the Christmas lights go on in town. The Lionshead skating rink sits in the Arrabelle terrace, and is surrounded by lights. It’s an absolutely beautiful little spot, and it’s a classic winter vacation experience.
Learn More: Vail Square Ice Rink
6. Snow Daze and Holidaze
December is when things really start happening in Vail. By then, the snow has been falling and the holidays are just around the corner. If you’re visiting Vail in December, you’ll be able to check out some of the first events of the season. Spending the holidays in Vail, you’ll make memories that you’ll cherish for years to come.
Vail’s Holidaze celebration kicks off in mid-December and continues through New Year’s Eve. Throughout the event you’ll be able to see figure skating shows, a parade, and a tree-lighting. Holidaze also marks the annual debut of the ice sculptures down by Gore Creek.
Snow Daze is the first part of Vail’s winter concert series. It usually takes place a few days before Christmas and occurs during the Holidaze celebrations. An outdoor stage is set up in the Solaris plaza, and a few nights of concerts bring the town to life at night. The music is always pretty good, too.
You can’t guarantee the weather, but it always seems to be snowing just lightly during the Snow Daze concerts. Little snowflakes lit up by stage lights as they fall from the sky are pretty special. You can be sure you’ll have a magical night listening to some music in the snow. Be aware, however, that this is a crowded and loud event and may not be for some younger kids.
To end the Holidaze celebration on New Year’s Eve, watch the Torchlight Parade from Golden Peak, followed by fireworks on the mountain. The parade features ski and snowboard instructors riding down the slopes of Golden Peak holding red glow sticks after the sun has gone down. They set the stage for the impressive firework show that comes immediately after their ride. Kids who enjoy fireworks will be especially impressed with this on-mountain show.
Learn More: Vail Holidaze
7. Free Snowshoeing Tours
The Walking Mountains Science Center gives free guided snowshoeing tours on Vail Mountain. The tours are led by a naturalist guide who will teach you about the mountain’s wildlife and ecology. Snowshoes are provided. Make sure you come prepared with gloves, a hat and your ski pants.
The Family Snowshoe Exploration they offer is directed towards families with children from ages 4 to 9. It’s an easy adventure for younger kids. The regular Daytime or Evening Snowshoe Tour programs are for kids and adults 10 and up. All tours are an hour long.
The tours leave out of the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle’s Nest, the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. The Nature Discovery center has science and natural history exhibits focused on local wildlife. It’s an educational and interesting stop for kids and adults. Allow a little extra time to check it out before your tour. Even if snowshoeing isn’t your thing, it’s worth stopping by.
Learn More: Vail Guided Snowshoe Tours
8. Catching Dinner and a Movie at CineBistro
Located in the Solaris plaza, CineBistro is a restaurant and a movie theater all in one package. When you check out a film at CineBistro, you can order lunch or dinner and enjoy a meal while you watch the show. Their rather extensive menu has burgers, sandwiches and salads along with the traditional theater snacks.
CineBistro has reserved seating, a pre-show lounge and a full bar. It’s a small theater, so they usually only have a few of the most popular current movies showing. If there’s a movie the family has been dying to see, spending a night in CineBistro is a fun little place to go.
While it’s not a unique-to-Vail activity (CineBistro has several locations around the United States), it is still a much different vibe than your average movie theater. Film tickets are also more expensive than your average movie theater, plus you’re paying for the food on top of it. It’s a lot of fun, but just keep in mind that this is a bit of a pricey spot to check out.
Learn More: CineBistro Solaris
9. Cookie Time at Beaver Creek
If you have time to pop over to Vail’s neighbor resort, Beaver Creek, it’s a nice little change of scenery. Beaver Creek also has a lot of good beginner and intermediate runs, even more so than Vail. The front side of Beaver Creek has some easy blue runs that are perfect for skiers who are just graduating from greens. One of the biggest attractions to Beaver Creek, however, is the cookies.
Every day at 3:00 PM, crowds gather at the base of The Centennial Express Lift (Chair #6). They’re waiting for the Beaver Creek chefs to bring out a few trays of warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. They’re great cookies, too – soft with melting chocolate chips. They’re everyone’s favorite end of the ski day tradition. The cookies are a super popular little daily event, so make sure you’re there on time because they do run out.
Beaver Creek is only a 20-minute drive from Vail, down I-70 and up into the mountains. There are also several convenient buses that run from the Vail Transportation Center to Beaver Creek. You could even spend your day skiing at Vail and run over just for cookie time. I’ve definitely done it.
Learn More: Beaver Creek Cookie Time
10. A Night at the Bowling Alley
Vail has its own bowling alley in the village, right in Solaris plaza. Its vibe is a mix between modern and vintage with a healthy dose of family fun. Bol has ten lanes and a full lunch and dinner menu that will be brought right to you at your lane while you play.
The menu has entrees as well as quite a few apps. You could do dinner here if you’d like, but their setting is a little better suited for smaller dishes and snacks to pass around and share. They also have a large kid’s menu, including kid’s drinks mixed out of fruit juices and sodas.
Like CineBistro in the same plaza, Bol is also pretty expensive. Don’t expect average bowling alley prices. With that said, Bol is a fun way to spend a night in Vail inside and out of the snow. A great storm night activity, you can play inside while Mother Nature gets some fresh powder ready for your ski day in the morning.
Learn more: Bol Vail
Love ski towns? Don’t miss our other article on summer fun in Mammoth Lakes, California: Top 10 Mammoth Lakes Family Activities For Summertime