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Best Things To Do in Vail

AOL PICK from our Editors
Vail is a resort town, replete with activities to entertain just about anyone, restaurants that rival a city twice its size, and a vibe that is confident on the verge of cocky. In this town, you can belly up to the bar with a woman who has summited Everest (twice) or the bro that you saw throwing the backside 720 in the pipe that morning. While most of the attractions include some sort of outdoor sport, there are options that appeal to the intellectual side, too—and many of the areas and activities are free. Of course, one of our favorite things to do is just pick a sunny deck, order up a Crazy Mountain beer (brewed in nearby Edwards) and watch the world go by. Here are the activities and attractions that you can’t leave Vail without trying.

Snow Daze

Neighborhood: Vail
A great time to visit Vail is during these two massive weekend celebrations: Snow Daze takes place in December and Spring Back to Vail takes place in April. Events include concerts, parties and interactive competitions, such as the Dummy Gelende race (create a dummy and send it down the mountain) and the World Pond Skimming Championships (you’re the dummy, racing down the mountain over a pond of icy water). Watching these events is more fun than participating (unless you like falling into the pond). Many of the events and concerts are free, and lodging properties often have great deals on rooms. Make sure that you check out the free concerts—the headliners last year included Robert Earl Keen, Wyclef Jean, and Shakedown Street. There’s usually a DJ spinning in mid-Vail, which is cool if you happen to be there, but we wouldn’t suggest cutting a sweet run short to make it. 

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Cross-Country Skiing/Snowshoeing: McCoy Park

Neighborhood: Beaver Creek
If alpine skiing isn’t your thing, take the time to try out snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. While snowshoeing is the easiest to pick up (if you can walk, you can snowshoe), cross-country skiing is a cardiovascular-ly thrilling way to schuss across the snow. McCoy Park at Beaver Creek Ski Resort is our favorite Nordic Centers because it’s located higher up on the mountain at 9,840 feet above sea level (at the top of the Strawberry Park lift), affording more views than typical (many Nordic centers are located on snow-covered golf courses). Pick up a few tips for classic cross-country skiing (skate skiing is for the next trip) and enjoy the more than 32 kilometers of trails. We love taking beginners up Discovery Loop to Discovery Overlook, which has amazing views (which normally you could only get on alpine skis).

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Cross-Country Skiing/Snowshoeing: McCoy Park  
Gore Valley Trail Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Gore Valley Trail

Neighborhood: Vail
The Gore Vail Trail, a paved bike path that runs along Gore Creek from East Vail through Lionshead and past Minturn, is a great way to enjoy the scenes of town on a bicycle. It’s a relatively easy ride—a few hills, but nothing that can’t be handled. We recommend taking the path from Lionshead or Vail Village and heading east. You’ll pass by the Vail Golf Course which can be a good excuse to stop for an afternoon drink on the patio at the Happy Valley Grill with its spectacular views. If it’s necessary to take a breather, there are benches scattered along the path; we love to pack a lunch and relax at one of the picnic tables near Gore Creek in East Vail for lunch.  

Teva Mountain Games

Neighborhood: Vail Village
Taking place the first weekend in June, the Teva Mountain Games have grown from a couple of events with a few competitors to one of the largest adventure sports competitions in the country, with 40,000 people attending in 2010. Competitions include kayaking, bouldering, mountain biking, a half-marathon up Vail Pass, stand up padding, and more. The best part is that you don’t have to compete to enjoy the games. Parties, a photo competition, a film festival, the parade of nations (competitors come from around the world including France, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and the Czech Republic), the dock dog diving contest and the tents full of samples are reason enough to visit during the Teva Mountain Games. If you can only make it to a few competitions, make sure to check out the World Cup Bouldering competition at Golden Peak (you’ll see some of the best climbers in the world hanging by their fingertips) and the freestyle kayaking at the Vail Whitewater Park under the International Bridge (the flips and tricks that these guys and gals can throw with a paddle and their own body weight is spectacular).

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Teva Mountain Games  

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Neighborhood: Golden Peak
The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens are the highest botanical gardens in the country, sitting at 8,250 feet above sea-level. Founded in 1985 by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation, the gardens were named in honor of first lady Betty Ford, an avid gardener, in 1988 for her many contributions to the Vail area. Showcasing high-altitude plants from around the world, the Gardens also have special programming during the summer, including special free musical performances from Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, culinary demonstrations and yoga. We love starting the week (and ending it) off right in the summer by going to Yoga in the Gardens on Monday and Friday mornings at 9AM  Be sure to look for the International Alpine Crevice Garden, one of our favorite nooks. If you want to enjoy the gardens without a crowd, go earlier in the morning and avoid the pre-concert crowds.

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Betty Ford Alpine Gardens  

Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

Neighborhood: Golden Peak
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is an open-air performance venue that has covered stadium seating in addition to lawn seating, all with an expansive view of the Gore Range. In addition to Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival performances (classical music), the Vail International Dance Festival performs here and Bud Light Hot Summer Nights  holds free Tuesday night concerts. One of the best ways to enjoy a performance here is to buy one of the (cheaper) lawn seats and pack a picnic to take in with you. While you can’t bring in alcohol, it is available for purchase. Then, sit back and enjoy the show.

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Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater  

White Water Rafting: Lakota Guides

Neighborhood: Pickups in Vail Village and Lionshead
Colorado is known for having some of the best white-water rafting in the country: The snowmelt from the mountains makes for some raging Class II-V rapids. Of all the outfitters in Vail that can take you down the river, we like Lakota Guides for a couple of reasons: Their rates are competitive with the other outfitters, the guides are friendly without being pretentious, and they have a fantastic night-time rafting trip that allows you to see river and its denizens with night vision monoculars. Plus, two of their guides are on the U.S. Whitewater Raft team. In early season, ask for the Dowd Chutes trip, a high-adrenaline Class IV section that runs from Avon into Minturn.

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White Water Rafting: Lakota Guides  

Fly Fishing on Gore Creek: Gore Creek Fly Fisherman

Neighborhood: Vail Village/Beaver Creek
If you’ve always wanted to channel your inner Brad Pitt a la "A River Runs Through It," here’s your chance. Vail has a large selection of gold medal waters for fly fishing, available year-round. We think that standing up to your waist in the river is preferable in the warmer summer months, but it’s up to you. Check out Gore Creek Fly Fisherman on the banks of Gore Creek in the heart of Vail (near the International Bridge). Not only can these guys teach you to tie flies, but they also offer free casting clinics daily at 10:30AM during the summer. After you’ve mastered the waters of Gore Creek near the International Bridge, the gold medal section starts at where Red Sandstone Creek enters the Gore (just west of Vail proper) and continues west to the Eagle River (at the Leadville exit off  I-70).

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Fly Fishing on Gore Creek: Gore Creek Fly Fisherman  

Colorado Ski Museum - Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

Neighborhood: Vail Village
The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame, located in the Vail Transport Center, is a free museum, established in 1976 to preserve the legacy of skiing and snowboarding in Colorado. While a trip to the museum will not be the pinnacle of your Vail vacation, it’s worth taking the time to stop by just to see the 10th Mountain Division display.

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Vail Mountain

Neighborhood: Vail Village, Lionshead
It’s a no-brainer. You’re visiting one of the most popular (and largest) ski resorts in North America—you have to check out the mountain. During the winter, if you’ve never skied or snowboarded before, your best bet is to sign up for a lesson. The instructors at the Vail Snowsports School are patient and professional and can get you up and riding before you know it. Check to see if there are deals on lift tickets with lessons for beginners. If you’re confident with your mountain prowess, consider purchasing an Epic Pass at the beginning of the season. One of the most screamin’ deals for snowsports enthusiasts, the Epic Pass is an unlimited pass to all five Vail Resorts mountains with no blackout dates. If you’re worried about lines at the main base areas (which can happen at peak times), use Golden Peak as your mountain access point. Try to catch first chair and, from there, make your way to Vail’s legendary Back Bowls. While Blue Sky Basin is friendly to intermediate skiers and riders (snowboarders, be prepared for cat-tracks to Blue Sky), Sun Down Bowl is the place to be on a powder day. After conquering the Back Bowls, you’re free to explore the front side including Blue Ox is a must try. Chair 5 (High Noon) is being replaced and will become a high speed lift to the top of the front side of Vail. If you’re wiped after a full day of shredding, ride down to Golden Peak and take the bus back into the Village or Lionshead for a less strenuous return to your lodging.  If you’d prefer to just take in the views, a foot pass is available to ride the gondola, no equipment required. During the summer, the mountain is just as lively with hiking, mountain biking, horseback rides and a Friday Afternoon Club with live music and entertainment.

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Bōl

Neighborhood: Vail Village (located in Solaris)
For years, Vail residents have had to drive to Eagle (a 45-minute commute) to satisfy their desire to bowl a few frames. With the completion of Solaris, a mixed-use development project that includes whole-ownership residents as well as retail space four years in the making, Bōl is now open. A “boutique” bowling alley (we think this classification makes a nod to the contemporary fixtures and well-stocked bar), the 10 lanes at Bōl are now available to the pin-crashing public. Reservations are recommended for a lane, but if spectating is more your style, there’s plenty of room in the front lounge area to see and be seen. The front area feels more like a club with an upscale menu (the Maine lobster personal pizza is worth the splurge) but old standbys like PBR on hand. Be prepared to drop some cash, though: it’s $45 per hour per lane for bowling, with up to six people on a lane.   

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Bōl  
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