One after another, the Vail, Colo., travel marketing people got up to deliver their remarks and started by saying: "People come for the winter, but they stay for the summer."
The marketers denied they had coordinated their remarks (indeed, as one noted, if they had, they would have come up with something different to say). But it takes only one summertime visit to this incredible mountain resort to understand why someone who first visited in search of snow might choose to stay and soak in the summer sun.
Summer in Vail is an outdoor delight. From hiking to biking, fishing to rafting, horseback riding to Hummer touring, picnicking to year-round ice skating at the outdoor rink, rodeos to outdoor concerts, it’s tough to run out of things to do.
My family and I spent a wonderful five days there last August, three as guests of the nouveau riche Beaver Creek Resort and two as guests of the older, homier Vail Cascade Resort & Spa. Both offer beautiful condo options at a much more affordable price—the $310 summer nightly rate at the Villa Montane condos in Beaver Creek is a fraction of the $1,375 travelers pay during holiday weeks in ski season.
And condos are, by far, the easiest way to travel with kids. Everyone gets his or her own room, there’s a full kitchen for quick, affordable meals and plenty of room for relaxing (the kids camped in front of the television while my husband and I sat on the balcony drinking in the beauty of the mountains).
Where you stay doesn’t really matter since the reason to visit Vail in the summer is to be outside. In Beaver Creek, we took the ski lift ride (kids under 12 ride for free) to the top of the mountain, joined a free, guided nature hike and had lunch on top of the world at Spruce Saddle Lodge.
In Vail, we used the Adventure Ridge Action Passes for gondola rides up the mountain, a turn on the bungee trampoline for the kids (they both hated it) and a round of family laser tag—fun, but a real waste to be inside a darkened building when the sunny mountains waited outside.
Everything in Vail, including the off-road Lakota Guides Hummer ride, is physically demanding.
"For a vacation, this is really hard work," my son Evan, 11 at the time, said as he panted after a hike that wouldn’t have left him winded at home.
But with elevations rising well past 10,000 feet, altitude sickness can be a real problem, especially for us flatlanders. The tourist literature had warned that it could affect kids more than adults, but we found just the opposite. The best antidote: Drink lots of water.
Communing with nature
We didn’t let a little breathlessness keep us down, though. My husband and son went with a guide from the Gore Creek Fly Fisherman Shop (who arrived with everything they needed from hip waders to sunglasses) to learn to fly fish.
Although both said they liked it, they returned exhausted. Fly fishing is an endeavor that requires focus and concentration and isn’t for every kid—in fact, some guides won’t even take kids. Evan found it tough to stay upright amid the rushing waters and slippery stones and said he prefers to fish off a pier.
While they fished, my daughter and I took one of the best horseback rides we’ve ever had. Riding through the Aspen trees, starting at 8,000 feet altitude and climbing to 9,000 feet for a breathtaking view over the mountain, is one of those experiences you just don’t get in the Midwest.
Our favorite activity, however, was getting wet—soaked, actually—on a white water rafting trip on the Colorado River. This trip was billed as a "Class III," which made us all feel ready to take on a Class IV or even the ultimate Class V rapids, until our guide admitted that the hot summer had dried up the water and left the rapids a meager Class II. (Check the Timberline Tours Web site and call ahead—many trips are too rough for younger children, especially early in the season when the snow melt means a Class III rapid is a challenging run.) Wear fast-drying clothes or bathing suits. You will get soaked and if the sun goes in, as it did on the day we rafted, the temperature in the shady canyons can drop quickly.
A word of caution: Don’t believe the weatherman. We did and packed for a sunny 80 degrees. We arrived to find a rainy 60—or chillier. Even if the weatherman had been right about the weather in the valley, he was wrong about the weather at the top of the mountain. Fortunately, all of the fleece jackets were on sale for half-price in Vail Village.
Cindy Richards is the mom of Evan and Tess and senior editor and travel editor of Chicago Parent.