A Few Days In

All Aboard. A Family's Guide to Vail

by Malia McKinnon Frame

Photo: Steve Estvanik / Shutterstock.com

It's a trip for the whole family, with plenty of slopes, snacks, and shops for everyone. Malia Frame returns to Vail and falls in love all over again.

VAIL, Colorado – To say that my Connecticut family needed a getaway was an understatement. Since October, we had endured Hurricane Sandy, ten missed school days, and a round of the stomach flu. And then Superstorm Nemo hit and snuffed out a sun-soaked weekend trip to Florida. So the first time we found ourselves Out of the Woods with our kids (my husband's phrase, which means "I can watch something on my iPad without being bothered during a flight"), we headed west to Vail, Colorado. I had not been to this skiers' nirvana in about eight years, and I was once again shocked by the sheer majesty of the mountain and all its surrounding gorgeousness.

Our family of five — myself, husband, two daughters, aged 9 and 11, and a 7-year-old son — went with family friends who have two kids. It was, for all of us, the vacation of a lifetime, perfect for adults and children. When we landed, we discovered that this year is Vail's 50th anniversary — such a festive time to be there.

My only caveat: Take it easy the first day or two. We went too hard out of the gate, and altitude issues and sheer exhaustion (at least for our kids) slowed us down on days two and three.


Vail prides itself on being a family mountain, and there are a million ways to keep your kids happy and moving. I always say the best vacations mix make-them-tired activities with just-chill-out relaxation. 

Ski the Bowls
Obviously skiing is number one here. Visit Vail.com to book any ski schools or lessons for you or the kids. While you're shusshing the wide variety of trails and taking in spectacular views, visit the Back Bowls for the best trails. You can easily spend all day in the bowls, but our plan of attack was to begin there in the morning, stop for a late lunch, then slowly make our way back to base.

Ivan and Kids

The kids and their beloved instructor, Ivan Karachobanov. Photo by Malia Frame.

Hire a Guide
If you want a truly customized skiing experience, hire a guide, even if it's only for a few hours. I am not a big fan of having a tagalong on a family vacay, but our ski pro, Ivan Karachobanov, was truly the key to our experience on the slopes. Ivan, a guide and instructor, gave us tips on our form and directed us on where to ski, given our families' range of ages and abilities. His storyteller personality made the day extra fun. I had an epiphany with him: It's like when you don't want to take a "tour" of a famous city, but once you do, your experience is much richer than it would have been had you winged it. Ivan was fantastic, and I'm now a big fan of guided skiing. 

For the Girls
We mixed it up each day with our kids on the mountain. One day we all hit the slopes together, the next we put the younger boys in regular ski school and the older girls in the Ski Girls Rock by Lindsey Vonn, a "camp" consisting of no more than four students per group. Talk about girl power: The lessons are led by female instructors who help girls improve their skiing skills and encourage bonding and teamwork through confidence-building exercises. Our girls loved it.

Dave and Malia Frame

The author and her husband on the slopes. Photo: Malia Frame.

Relax in the Après-Ski
After a day on piste, you'll want some après ski action. Our pick was Garfinkel's in Lionshead, where we sat in the sun on Vail's largest outdoor deck and marveled at the scenery. There's nothing better than staring at those gorgeous peaks with a beer (or hot chocolate) in hand. Another après must-do is The Red Lion in Vail village. The afternoons are packed and live music at night keeps the hotspot rocking. 

Try More Winter Activities
If the kids need a break from skiing one day, Adventure Ridge is a mid-mountain snow park that offers tubing, kids’ snowmobiling, ski bikes, and more. Take the gondola from Lionshead to get there. Alpine skiing and snowboarding, Nordic skiing, sleigh rides, dog sledding, ice skating, and snow shoeing are just some of the other activities available on the mountain.

Soothe the Ache
We topped off a day of relaxation at RockResorts Spa at the Arrabelle Hotel. The Arrabelle customized massage was pure heaven. 


Photo: Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences


The Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences
We stayed in these luxury rental condos and loved them. Our tribe of nine had a two-floor pad with plenty of space, four bedrooms, and a sick view of the mountain. Although not a full-service hotel, room service was available through the neighboring Marriott. Even better was the hang-out bar area with fireplaces and cozy sofas. Our kids couldn't get enough of the outdoor heated pool and hot tub, which we used every day after skiing.

Before leaving home for our trip, we contacted Resort Delivery with our grocery list, and arrived to a fully stocked condo with food and drinks. What bliss.

Other good condos and hotels in Vail:

The Arrabelle at Vail Square
Opened around three years ago, beautiful and upscale. Vail Resorts' premier luxury hotel. 

Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa
A cost-effective option that captures that rare middle ground. 


The Landmark
Conveniently located, newly renovated condos. We met a woman on our trip who's been staying there for 15 years with her family. That says something. 

Four Seasons Resort Vail
A busier version of the Ritz, beloved for its high-end service and amenities.

The Lodge at Vail
Great location and a good old standby. It's been around since Vail's inception. 

Manor Vail Lodge
Located on the banks of Gore Creek, so it's not as centrally located, but still a great option with incredible views. 

The Vail Cascade
Accommodations include guest rooms, condos, and private residences. Known for its Aria Spa and Club, Vail's largest spa and fitness facility. 


Kids aren't the only ones who need a break from skiing. I took one day off to do my other favorite thing on vacation: shop. My girlfriend Kim and I spent a morning window-shopping Vail village, and loved so much of what we found.

A fantastic boutique owned by Laurie O'Oonnell. Stocked with Vince, 360 Cashmere, Rag & Bone, Milly, and Tory Burch.

For the latest and greatest ski attire and accessories for kids.

Golden Bear

The Golden Bear
A Vail institution. I bought my own Golden Bear necklace years ago and wanted a keepsake for my daughters. After pricing their signature cute little gold baby bear necklaces, I decided my girls would have to wait a few years for theirs, but the selection of jewelry and accessories is fantastic. Absolutely a favorite Vail souvenir.

Tommy Bowers Ski 
278 Hanson Ranch Rd.; +1-970-476-7566
Carries brands like Kjus, Montcler, and Authier. Their Elder Statesmen knit cashmere hats are amazing.

The Great Put-On 
A luxury boutique (their other outpost is in Martha's Vineyard) where I scored Coclico ankle boots. It's for fancy ski bunnies, with brands like of Helmut Lang, Haute Hippie DVF, Herno, Equipment, and lots of fur. 


Exploring the culinary landscape of a town is one of my favorite things to do on vacation.

Mid-mountain offers a few options: Two Elk was our favorite quick-stop during the ski day (I recommend the chocolate chip cookies), but if you need something more civilized than sweaty crowds, The 10th, a new mid-Vail restaurant, serves everything from soups and salads to sandwiches and entrees. Along with stunning views. 

We ate our way through this little ski town, starting with Sweet Basil, a modern American eatery with amazing roasted beet salad, seared ahi, and incredible sticky toffee pudding.


The ride to Beano's. Photo by Malia Frame.

One night, we drove 20 minutes to Beaver Creek for one of the most special dining experiences ever: Beano's Cabin. Hardly a newcomer, Beano's has been hosting ski families for 26 years. But every time I go, I fall more deelpy in love. The Beano's team loads you onto a huge open-air sleigh pulled by a snowcat, and up the mountain you go, freezing and huddling under blankets, while listening to someone recite a history of the former lettuce patch and how the restaurant got its name. As you enter Beano's Cabin, you swap your shoes for a pair of slippers and settle in for a five-course dinner that will satisfy diners of all ages. We had incredible wines, along with whiskey-glazed Berkshire porterhouse with creamy grits and maple acorn squash. The trip down was a little more pleasant after the wine, and we left knowing our other restaurant visits this trip would pale in comparison.

We had an incredible lunch at Mountain Standard, the sister restaurant of Sweet Basil. The relaxed atmosphere (the menu comes clipped to a piece of cardboard) mixed with sleek decor and insanely delicious food was a home run. It was a fun-loving, chilled mid-day feast. We drank Mama's Little Yella Pils beer just for the name and ate onion rings and rotisserie chicken salad.

Other spots to hit: Matsuhisa is the renown sushi restaurant with amazing house-made sake. Terra Bistro is known for its free-range meat selection and a wine list that earned Wine Spectator Magazines’s award of excellence. Bol is another favorite: You can bowl and eat the best burgers in town. Book way ahead. 

Vail bowls

Photo: RHIMAGE / Shutterstock.com


How to Get There

FLY: There are two main ways to get to Vail — fly into Denver (DEN) or Eagle County (EGE). For those with money to burn, head the Eagle route: Once you land, you’re only a 45-minute drive from Vail. If you land at Denver, it's a two-plus hour drive to Vail. What cushioned that blow was VailCoach: They picked us up curbside at Denver Airport in a comfy van with plenty of room, a DVD player for the kids, and bottled water for the ravaged travelers.

CAR: We didn’t need a car in Vail. Our condo had a complimentary shuttle, and it's easy to call cabs when you need them.


Ski season officially runs from mid November to mid April. November through January can be hit or miss depending on snowfall, and the week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest all year. Most of the mountain opens by mid January. The town is quieter in February, which makes for better family time, and the pace picks up in March with school spring breaks. 


If you need a sitter, most hotels require you book one yourself. These are local service providers:

Ryan was wonderful and hooked us up with a great sitter.

Mom’s Best Friend
+1-970-476-KIDS (5437)

Mountain Sitters

Small World Play School and Nursery

Activity Sitters
+1-970-376-6389; bookit@activitysitters.com


Park City: A Love Story
Mammoth, California: Ski Bunny Little Black Book
Rocking the Cradle of Alpine Skiing

Inset photos: Courtesy of The Landmark; courtesy of The Golden Bear.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.