The Essential First-Time Guide to Skiing Vail

Not for the first-time skier, but for maximizing your first visit to Colorado’s largest ski resort.

Jesse Weber




Vail is, without a doubt, one of the best ski resorts in America. Its expansive and varied terrain, frequent powder days, and on-mountain conveniences are hard to beat. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the most expensive resorts in America. When you’re spending upwards of $200 on a lift ticket, you definitely want to get the most out of your day, but looking at the huge trail map can be overwhelming. Forget about trying to ski it all in one trip. Instead, use this guide to identify the areas you’ll enjoy best, and spend your day lapping just a handful of lifts. Otherwise, you’ll waste time traversing and waiting in line when you could be skiing or riding to your heart’s content.

For Beginners

If you’re happy skiing green and blue groomers, you really can’t go wrong anywhere on Vail’s Frontside. Every lift has at least one easy route down, so don’t hesitate to explore if you get the urge. If you want a lot of laps in one place, though, head to Sourdough Express. It has a good concentration of greens and tends to stay uncrowded because a minimum of two other lift rides is required to reach it. You’ll be glad you made the journey, however, once you’re carving wide groomers near the top of the mountain.

For Intermediates

Vail is an intermediate skiers paradise, with enough blue terrain to keep you satisfied for an entire season. That, of course, means there’s far more than you can cover in one trip. If you have just one day, spend it on Northwoods Express and Mountaintop Express, where there’s plenty of great blues, both groomed and ungroomed, and a variety of terrain to sharpen your skills. Don’t expect short lift lines in these areas, though.

To step it up a notch in difficulty and contend with fewer people, head over to Game Creek Express. There you’ll find harder blues and easier blacks in a classic high-mountain bowl. If you just can’t resist getting to the famous Back Bowls, start on the blues in the ever-popular China Bowl. If you want to feel like you’re really “out there” in the mountains, make your way to Blue Sky Basin, which takes some time to reach but pays off with shorter lines and long runs.

For Advanced and Experts

Advanced skiers should make a bee-line for the Back Bowls. Game Creek Express and Wildwood Express will each get you to the top of Sun Down and Sun Up Bowls, which are full of excellently-varied black diamonds. You could lap these two bowls all day, but you should definitely check out China Bowl as well, and if you manage to ski everything there, make the trip to Blue Sky Basin. If you catch a fresh storm and want the best chance at untouched powder, head to Siberia and Mongolia Bowls. Fewer people go because it takes some work to get there, and the terrain is big. The Frontside has some classic black diamonds that you won’t want to miss either, but you can save them for the afternoon when cruising back to the base.



This starts off very flat and goes for a long time.


A super wide open green run.


Sourdough is a great beginner trail high up the mountain that has a nice and easy pitch to it.


Ramshorn is a fun middle of the road green that is usually groomed and quite fun for intermediates and below.


Northwoods is one of Vail's all time greats.

Whistle Pig

Whistle Pig is a bumper's paradise off of the Mountain Top Express Lift (Chair 4) that will shorten your day if you're not ready to do battle with the moguls.

Lost Boy

Wide open and has a pretty consistent pitch with great views towards Beaver Creek and beyond.


Showboat is the main run in the Game Creek Bowl and goes right under the chairlift.

Deuces Wild

Deuces Wild is a fun steeper mogul run in the Game Creek Bowl area.

Poppyfields East

Poppyfields West is the harder of the three Poppyfields but is still a middle of the road blue in China Bowl.

Grand Review

One of our favourites as it's one of the least travelled of the Vail trails.

In The Wuides

This has a pretty consistent blue pitch to it and has lots of personality.

Ricky's Ridge

Off from the Ptarmigan Ridge in to the Sun Down Bowl. Ricky's Ridge is an open, steep and usually moguled area that is great on a powder day and is usually nicer than many other areas in this bowl.


We only have a small paragraph to describe one of the best pitches or areas of Vail.

Milt's Face

Milt's Face is a short and steep run in the Sun Up Bowl that is fun and challenging for many.


Yonder Gully is a very large open area of skiing and riding that is off the Sleepytime Road in the Sun Up Bowl.

Genghis Khan

A wide open run starting with a massive cornice drop.

Jade Glade

Offers a consistently steeper pitch with lots of moguls and a few tree islands.

Inner Mongolia Bowl

Worth it on a powder day or even on the days after as few make the effort to get here.

Steep & Deep

Steep & Deep should be called Steep & Short as after 15 turns at the most you are down at the flat part.

Lover's Leap

The terrain itself is some of the steepest at Vail and if you make a mistake you may slide all the way down to the bottom.


One of the best groomed runs in the resort.

Look Ma

A great bump run with a consistent pitch and usually nice rhythmic moguls.

Riva Ridge

Riva Ridge is one of the most famous runs in Vail and is also one of the longest.


This is one of the places to come if you are a mogul specialist.