The start gate atop Golden Peak

Image: Zach Mahone

Vail Mountain’s third base area is so overlooked, it almost has a mom-and-pop ski resort vibe. Lacking the cachet (and more importantly, the crowds) of Lionshead and Vail Village, Golden Peak is home to Vail Mountain’s ski school and also serves as the home of a swank new clubhouse that’s being built for the athletes of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (alums include Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin), who train on an alpine race course on Golden Peak’s upper reaches, and in the massive half-pipe that’s the site of the Burton US Open snowboarding championships every March. Breakfast and lunch here mean grab-and-go from an upscale market run by the base lodge’s anchor restaurant, Larkspur, whose signature burger birthed Colorado’s regional Larkburger fast-ish food chain (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, 970-754-8050, larkspurvail.com). The biggest draw, however? Typically no lift lines (well, usually) compared to the gondolas of Vail and Lionshead villages.

Where to Park

Golden Peak lacks a dedicated parking structure like Vail or Lionshead Village, but Manor Vail Lodge (just across the street from Golden Peak Lodge) offers guest parking starting at $30 a day (based on availability) if you absolutely need to score first chair (970-476-5000, manorvail.com).

Your Lift to the Mountain

Although ski racers offload the lift at an intermediate station near the top of Golden Peak, Chair 6 (Riva Bahn Express) takes the skiing public all the way up to the bottom of Chair 11 (Northwoods Express Lift) and in striking distance from Chair 10 (Highline Express Lift), which makes this one of the quickest ways to get to the back of the mountain.

Your Frontside Strategy

On days when the backside is closed or just too crowded, bump lovers will find their nirvana ripping down then lapping “Highline” under Chair 10 (Highline Express Lift). Just remember it’s a double black (like other frontside extreme terrain classics like “Pronto,” “Prima Cornice,” “Prima,” “The Narrows,” “The Pumphouse,” “Mudslide,” and the “Frontside Chutes,” all located east of Gondola One). Tamer options from Chair 10 include the blacks “Blue Ox” and “Roger’s Run,” skier’s left from the top of Highline. Need a warm-up (or in the mood for a fun green run)? Veer right off the top of Chair 10 onto Flapjack, one of the finest groomers on the mountain. For a green day, veer left off of Flapjack to the bottom of Chair 14 (Sourdough Express Lift) and lap the lift as you practice linking your snowplow turns on beginner runs “Sourdough,” “Boomer,” and “Tin Pants.”

Après-Ski Scene

There may be only two options for après at Golden Peak, but you can’t go wrong with either. You can click out of your ski boots and step right onto the patio at Larkspur Events & Dining (après-ski 2:30 to 5 p.m. daily, 970-754-8050, larkspurvail.com), a pioneering dining room that put Vail on the culinary map and where pours of old-world reds and bites of black truffle fries, Pacific Coast oysters, and foodie treats like trout amandine gougeres await. Or, opt to snuggle around one of the firepits at Manor Vail’s signature eatery, The Fitz, which hosts a lively happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. each evening, complete with $6 drafts of Colorado ales, house red and white wines, 10 house cocktails, inspired shared plates (e.g., elk medallions with demiglace and parsnip purée), and live music daily (970-576-4959, manorvail.com).


Blue Sky Basin

Ever since Blue Sky Basin opened in 2000—and added an additional 525 acres to Vail Mountain’s already sprawling terrain—Blue Sky has been a siren for powder seekers, because its most-favored-by-Ullr aspect often lends itself to racking up inches more snow overnight than anywhere else on the mountain (a phenomenon you can witness every morning at dawn, thanks to the time-lapse replay of Blue Sky’s snow-stake camera video feed, vail.com). This is not terrain for novices: There are no beginner runs, just blues, blacks, and portals to backcountry powder stashes. As the resort’s most-distant point, getting here entails something of a journey. Once Blue Sky opens for the season (which can happen as early as December or as late as January depending on snowfall), the terrain typically opens daily at 10 a.m., although frequent closures for avalanche mitigation and weather can push back its opening by hours (or even days) during and after a storm. If you want to avoid the hordes that tend to descend on Blue Sky Basin—especially on powder days and weekends—you might want to tweak your on-mountain plan if you’re not fond of cooling your heels in Disney World-like lift lines. But if you do make the trek, the rewards can be paradisaical.

 

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