Vail, Colorado: Hidden Gems Without the Price Tag

Even if you’re the type that prefers touring secluded glades and alpine objectives to designer ski suits and 40-minute lift lines, believe it or not, the Vail Valley has plenty to offer.

It’s easy to get distracted by the glitzy international resort. With over 5000 acres of terrain and a village chalk full of every creature comfort money can buy, Vail attracts luxury travelers from all over the globe.

But even after living in Vail for four years, I have yet to buy a ski pass and my only trips into town involve $2 beers and one of the best burritos that $7 can buy anywhere.

Hike two hours up one of East Vail’s prominent ridges and beautiful lines start to appear. I-70 is in the distance. Photo: Ben Markhart

Climbing right out of the east end of the valley, the Gore Range’s impressive craggy ridges reach just under 14,000 feet. With the mouths to four main drainages crammed into less than three miles and all within walking distance of the free in-town bus, there is more than enough touring terrain to keep you busy.

It’s an outlet mall of badass descents. Hop on any number of ridges that climb 3000-feet right from the road and after a couple hours, take your pick of dozens of lines on multiple aspects or continue into the alpine for dozens of remote technical objectives.

BM-Vail3High in the Gore Range overlooking the Vail Valley. Chock full of spectacular ski-mo objectives, the Gore is well under most people’s radar. Photo: Ben Markhart

Right across the valley from the Gore, you’ll find another clearinghouse of steep drainages that form over 15 unique ice-flows every winter. These range from short beginner steps to world-class formations – like the 30-meter free hanging pillar aptly named the Fang – and everything in between. You could argue this is the best natural single-pitch ice climbing destination in the country.

BM-Vail1Climbers on the 30-meter tall Fang, later in the winter.  Located in the aptly-named amphitheater, the Fang is one of four ice flows in addition to dozens of bolted mixed climbs. Photo: Ben Markhart

When you’re done with your day, head into the village to take advantage of free 2-hour parking and The Cantina, conveniently located right in the village parking structure. Order a burrito, smother it in seven kinds of salsa from their homemade salsa bar, and sip a refreshingly cheap and cold $2.50 beer while you discuss tomorrow’s plans and think about how you barely scratched the surface.

Ben Markhart is a mountain guide and writer/photographer based in Vail. For more information check out his website

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