If you could step foot inside a Lemax Village at 1:1 scale you’d have an idea of Vail. Everything is just so. Not a hair appears out of place. The Magic Kingdom in the mountains.
Neither Kristi nor I had visited Vail previously and my expectations were low. We spent an afternoon in Aspen earlier in our trip to Colorado and I figured Vail would similarly unapproachable. When I think “Aspen” and “Vail,” images of high-end boutiques, over-surgeried women with toy dogs, and trust-fund ski bums come to mind.
The reality of Aspen fit that image. The reality of Vail, thankfully, did not.
We only spent a couple hours in each town and it’s incredibly likely your experience may be different.
Aside from the shock of paying $25 for less than three hours of parking – and I think we simply botched this not seeing or being aware of less expensive options – Vail was perfectly welcoming.
Sure, we saw a $145,000 painting in an art gallery. How high end was this gallery? It was serving Glenlivet 18 year scotch to browsers. Speaking of scotch, one of the liquor stores in town proudly displayed a bottle of Macallan “M” for sale – retail price $5,000. I counted at least three furriers. I didn’t pick up a single pair of cowboy boots at the Western Wear store that were listed for less than $1,000 and that included the discount rack.
We weren’t shopping in Vail, nor were we skiing or staying and were enjoyed the day with lunch and a whiskey tasting without having to take out a home equity line of credit. You don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy Vail. It helps, but it’s not required.
Vail Village possesses incredible charm. The ski hill crowds the shops and restaurants and access to town is limited creating an oyster-in-a-shell feeling. The hanging flower baskets alone make the trip worthwhile. (Hanging baskets are quite fashionable in Breckenridge as well adding stunning pops of color to both places.) Between the evergreen trees, the Swiss-style ornamentation of the buildings, the cobblestone streets, the creek gurgling through town and those hanging baskets – oh yeah, and the mountains – an image suitable for framing can be found following each new step.
Vail represents a window shopper’s paradise.
Our favorite galleries were Art on a Whim, featuring local artists interpreting local subjects, and Alpen Art and Antiks, which featured dozens of high-end, museum-quality pieces. Kemo Sabe offered a magnificent collection of Western wear, primarily cowboy boots, many of them bearing the Lucchese brand – Lucchese being the Rolls Royce of boots. A massive stuffed Texas Longhorn, a stuffed badger, mounted bull horns and other various taxidermy (all for sale, none of it cheap), and Western memorabilia gives the store appeal beyond those looking for a Dwight Yoakam starter kit.
Our favorite shop was the 10th Mountain Division Whiskey and Spirits tasting room. The 10th Mountain Division was a combat unit in WWII which often fought and travelled on skis. A giant statue honoring the division sits in the Village. The 10th Mountain Division Distillery is one of many craft distilleries which have popped up in Colorado. 10th Mountain Division offers a bourbon, a rye whiskey, a vodka, a clear whiskey – moonshine – and a cordial.
I sampled the bourbon and enjoyed it.
Kristi sampled the Alpenglow sage-infused peach-vanilla cordial and bought a bottle.
The rainstorm which ended our visit to Vail couldn’t dampen our spirits following the stay. With easy access off I-70 and possessing a charm not often found in super-high-end destinations, Vail welcomes those of us wanting a peek at how the other half lives.