What’s the deal with Colorado? Why do so many people flock to this land-locked state not just to play in the winter snow but to soak up the summer fun in its high altitude?
I don’t look into these questions too deeply. I simply visit the Rocky Mountain state regularly – seemingly a few times each year – and thank God I’m a country boy. Last year the family visited Beaver Creek, minus my oldest son who was at summer camp. After seeing our photos and hearing our stories, the kid insisted he make the next trip with us. And thus the Garfield Colorado trip of summer 2014 included him and his two younger brothers.
The allure of the mountains west of Denver called us again. This time just a few miles down from Beaver Creek to Vail. This destination, like last year’s, makes for convenient travel thanks to non-stop flights from Texas into Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE). United Airlines has several weekly flights directly into this cozy airport from George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport while American Airlines operates service from D/FW.
The trip from EGE to Vail took about 30 minutes in a comfy SUV driven by Colorado Mountain Express. Our driver pulled into what we would call home base for the next few days, The Sebastian, a resort located near the foot of the Vail mountainside.
The Sebastian is a Trip Advisor Four Diamond property is a chic social hub for owners, hotel guests and the local community. The inviting lobby offers a roaring fireplace, plush couches and some of the friendliest staff I have met during my travels.
It is a wonderful place for families for many reasons including the variety of room choices and suites. And when traveling with kids one of my rules has been to put those boys in their own rooms. We checked into a three bedroom suite overlooking the 11,450 foot tall mountain complete with kitchen, dining area and washer/dryer. It was a big suite. I barely saw the kids when we were in there.
The next several days found us eating, hiking, climbing, fishing, eating, laughing, swimming and eating. Maybe it was the thin air but our appetites were big and the food did not disappoint. From small sandwich shops to the luxurious restaurants in The Sebastian, we added back the weight that we lost throughout our active days.
Leonora, an Alpine Bistro & Tapas Bar, offers fresh, local and organic ingredients with tapas, crudo and Alpine bistro fare The wine list is extensive but I was more impressed with their bourbon selection (you know me). Frost is the bar you can never pass up as it is just off the lobby. The warm atmosphere has an amazing adventure in microbrew and bartenders who take pride in the art of mixology. I can imagine how rocking this place is for après ski.
One of the more famous eateries in the village is the Vail Chophouse, situated a few yards away from the bottom of the mountain. I can imagine patrons visiting during the winter skiing directly onto the patio and partaking in a late-afternoon cocktail while still attached to their skis. Red meat is aplenty in the chic yet comfy restaurant. I’m more of a seafood guy and the menu did not disappoint. A three-tiered seafood smorgasbord of lobster tail, oysters, jumbo shrimp and crab legs could have sufficed for my dinner but I still had the perfectly grilled salmon a main course.
While the kids enjoyed the chophouse burger and, of course, chicken tenders they were eager to catch some food of their own out of the local rivers and creeks. The following morning found us knee-deep in Eagle River slowly casting fly rods into the cool running water. I tried to explain to the boys that fly fishing is vastly different from the fishing they have grown up with in the Texas lakes and Gulf of Mexico. This is an active sport that takes a different technique and some guidance, which Daddy could not provide.
So some expert anglers from Gore Creek Fly Fishing led us on a half-day experience that we won’t soon forget. After suiting up with waders and getting state fishing licenses we received hands-on lessons on the way to catch trout in the local waters using flies and a rod. I have been fly fishing before and was a bit concerned the boys would have a little difficulty getting the casting motion down and reaching the goal – catching fish. Guess who caught fish before the old man? All three kids.
Our guide told us that fly fishing can be a sport enjoyed throughout the year but the summertime is when the best fishing happens. Not to mention you could be standing in an ice pond come winter. We caught and released nearly a dozen rainbow and brown trout but not before taking photos with our booty and prepping our stories to tell of the whoppers we caught.
3,000 feet above that river sits the summit of Vail Mountain. There are a few ways of traversing the steep mountainside. While we saw hikers and bikers trek up and down the dirt trails we decided the 10 minute ascent in an enclosed gondola was more our speed. Atop the mountain are breathtaking views of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges. And more adventure.
Adventure Ridge provides daylong fun for all ages. A zip line allows you to soar a few hundred yards down the mountain and a ropes course provides a challenging way to prove to your kids that your parents still have a bit of athleticism. The three-level ropes course was one of the most memorable parts of our trip as it not only tasked us with problem-solving ways on maneuvering but also incredible views of the mountaintop and surrounding area.
Back down at the base of the mountain Vail provides its own exhilaration and views. The layout of the town allows for relaxing strolls down narrow streets populated with taverns, shops, boutique hotels and family gathering places. Vail Village encompasses the east end of town and has an old world Bavarian-style charm. Covered wooden bridges provide picturesque walkways over Gore Creek. A pint of ale (or hot cocoa for the kids) makes for a nice afternoon stop on flower-covered tavern patio.
A newer town center-style area in the Village seemed to be the hot spot during our stay. A large green space surrounded by shops and condos allowed the kids to run around, toss a football and kick a soccer ball. This is the same space an ice rink occupies during the winter months and I can only imagine how inviting that setting is.
A short walk or a quick, free bus ride away is Lionshead on the west side of Vail. I found this section of town to be a bit more modern with newer architecture yet still retaining a village-style feel. What could be described as a high-end outdoor mall includes a space for a wintertime ice rink, shops, ice cream and pizza joints, and more inviting taverns, restaurants and bars. Between meals we found time to stop off at Blue Moose Pizza in this area for design-your-own slices and soda.
Back in Vail Village we decided to spend one evening challenging our taste buds and bowling skills in the modish Bol. Gourmet food and 12 pound bowling balls just can’t be beat. We reserved a colorful lane flanked by large TV screens and ordered chef-prepared burgers, steaks, fries and seafood while participating in the Garfield Boys Bowlathon. Finally something I could win.
When planning a visit to Vail during the summer I would suggest scheduling a Sunday to experience the Farmer’s Market & Art Show. Colorado’s finest are showcased including locally grown produce, international dishes, fresh baked goods and even Colorado wine. The Art Show feeds travelers’ creativity offering everything from beautiful clothing and jewelry to handmade home items.
Sure we could have played golf on one the nearby courses. White water rafting trips also enticed us as did hiking and biking tours. But we couldn’t decide who was more tuckered out – dad or kids – from our adventures in eating, fishing, and well you know the rest. And there was no shortage of ways to relax especially back at The Sebastian. The swimming pool and hot tubs provided a nice respite. The spa and gym also make leaving the property tough.
The hardest part of our visit was packing up realizing we were about to leave a climate that averages 75 degrees during the day and 45 degrees at night would soon give way to the heat and humidity of home back in Texas. An easy ride back to Eagle County Regional Airport via Colorado Mountain Express was a final hurrah to end our boys’ getaway.
As I have written before, for those that imagine Colorado as a place to only enjoy the winter, my simple advice is to GO WEST, young man. Thanks to non-stop flights directly into the most beautiful parts of the state there is no reason to swelter and sweat in your hometown this summer.