Trading Snow for Sun: Why You Should Visit a Ski Town in Summer
There are hundreds of ski resorts scattered all over the United States and Canada – from sprawling and luxurious resorts set amongst the towering peaks of California, Colorado and Utah to small town settings on the east coast and in the Pacific Northwest. While places like Whistler, Heavenly, Aspen, Vail and Beaver Creek become hot destinations during peak ski season, they tend to be forgotten about by most travelers come summer. But here’s a little secret well-known by mountain-dwelling locals and residents of nearby cities – ski resorts don’t lose their luster when the snow melts. In fact, for non-skiers, they become even better during warmer months.
Vail and Beaver Creek, twin towns tucked into the Gore Range of the Rocky Mountains, are two prime examples of ski resorts that make for excellent summer destinations. The area receives over 300 days of sunshine per year, with an average summer temperature of 75 degrees. With just 32 highway miles between the two towns, you can pick one or visit both in a long weekend. Whether you choose Colorado or another destination for your summer trip, here are six reasons to visit a ski resort when the snow is gone.
Mountain climbing and biking
Those same mountains you found yourself gliding down on skis or a snowboard in winter turn to hiking and biking trails in summer. In both Vail and Beaver Creek, you’ll find miles upon miles (166 to me exact) of trails suitable for hikers of all levels. The Beaver Creek Hiking Center offers several daily guided hikes that go past immaculately groomed trails and through shady woodlands.
Hikers can choose from easy one-hour hikes that take in some of the beautiful mountain views while a guide points out the area’s flora and fauna, like the wildflowers that begin to bloom in April, or opt for strenuous all-day climbs to the top of the range; there are several 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet high) that can be hiked in a day trip from either town. Here the Beaver Creek resort really lives up to it’s slogan of “not exactly roughing it.” City-slicker guests don’t even have to bring their own gear as backpacks, boots, hiking poles, rain gear, water bottles, and granola bars are all included with the hikes.
Vail Mountain also offers several options for hikers of all levels, including 3-5 hour guided hikes that start at $45 per adult. And if you’d rather enjoy the scenery without the effort, you can simply ride a gondola from the base of the mountain to the top and then hike down. Mountain biking is also very popular in summer, with 343 miles of mountain biking trails, and you don’t have to huff and puff your way to the mountain top to do so; just put your bike on the chairlift and go. Bike rentals start at $25 for two hours and include helmets.
>> Check out the 10 best hiking trails in the world
Whitewater rafting and adventure tours
Large ski resorts, no matter the size or location, generally have one thing in common: they’re located near mountains. (obvious, right?). Well, when the snow melts off those mountains, the meltwater swell the local rivers, making for ideal whitewater rafting conditions nearby.
Departing from both Vail and Beaver Creek, several outfitters run whitewater rafting and kayaking trips to Class I to Class V river rapids on the Eagle, Colorado, and even the Arkansas rivers. Half day and full day trips are available for all skill levels. Check out Timberline Tours or Lakota Guides for trips ranging from $60 – $160 per person. Timberline also offers Jeep tours that are an adrenaline-filled way to take in some spectacular scenery. AVA offers ziplining and rock climbing in addition to its whitewater tours.
>> Read about crazy adventure sports and where you can do them
Other activities and adventures
When you visit a ski resort town in winter, you’ve generally got one thing on your mind: skiing (or snowboarding), with maybe a little apres-ski action or a massage thrown in for good measure. In summer, you can take advantage of dozens of other activities, including those you passed over for skiing in the winter – or simply do nothing at all.
With all the wide-open spaces of the Gore range, it’s no surprise that horseback riding is quite popular near Vail and Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek Stables offers rides that range from one hour to a full day with a lavish picnic lunch and cost from $65-$200 per person. For dedicated horse-lovers, there’s even an opportunity to to travel by horseback to dinner at Beano’s Cabin.
Fly fishing, golf, mini-golf and disc golf, hot air balloon rides, bowling, and tennis are also available at these, and many other, resorts. And when you finally get tired of all the activities, you can lounge by the pool, browse the upscale shops, relax in the spa, or simply wander along the cobblestoned streets or over the wooden covered bridges of the Alpine villages.
>> Check out the top travel experiences for horse lovers
Festivals and events
Many resort areas schedule summer events in order to bring in more visitors during what is traditionally off season. These could include art events, food festivals, concerts, and races or athletic competitions.
In Vail and Beaver Creek, the summer calendar is stocked with special events. Highlights in Vail include the International Dance Festival and the Soul Music Festival in August, along with Oktoberfest in September. In Beaver Creek, time your visit to coincide with the Rocky Mountain Antiques Festival in July, Blues, Brews and BBQ in May, or the family favorite Beaver Creek Rodeo, which is held Thursday nights from June 30th through August 18.
>> Read about great beer and wine festivals around the world
Any quality ski resort needs to have good food to keep its visitors happy apres-ski. During summer, it’s no different, and Vail and Beaver Creek do not disappoint in that regard.
Foodies should plan to visit during the Beaver Creek Wine and Spirits Festival, which takes place at the end of August and includes cooking demos, wine tastings, wine seminars, a “walk and wine” hike followed by wine-tasting lunch, and more, all set against the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Event tickets start at $25 per person. Or come over Labor Day weekend for the Gourmet on Gore festival, which offers wine, spirits, and culinary tastings along with live music in Vail.
Other food events include a summer-long culinary demonstration series in Beaver Creek and the Sunday Vail Farmer’s Market (mid-June to mid-September), a massive collection of vendors serving everything from sweet and savory crepes to chargrilled burgers to fresh-baked pastries to mini-versions of the haute cuisine served in local restaurants.
There’s an emphasis on fresh and local food in both Vail and Beaver Creek. From the impeccable and upscale Atwater on Gore Creek to the romantic Terra Bistro (where nearly everything on the menu is deliciously gluten free), there’s a clear drive to showcase the bounty of Colorado with creative yet accessible (and affordable) dishes. At the Vail restaurant of former Top Chef contestant Kelly Liken, the menu changes frequently to make use of local and seasonal ingredients. In the summer, she uses only ingredients found at the Vail Farmers Market for her 3-course Harvest Menu, which costs just $45 per person.
You can also eat well in Vail and Beaver Creek on a much smaller budget. Burgers at the Beaver Creek Chop House are around ten bucks, and places like Vin 48 in Avon (at the base of Beaver Creek) offer happy hour specials like $8 small plates, $5 glasses of wine and $3 draft beers.
>> Read our How I Travel interview with Kelly Liken
Perhaps one of the biggest draws of visiting a ski resort town in summer is that you can enjoy luxury for less. Everything from flights and hotels to car rental and activities may be much less expensive depending on the other draws of the destination.
With the exception of holiday weekends, flights to Denver (the closest major airport) tend to be cheaper in summer than during winter, when there is more demand for flights to ski areas. Resorts in Vail and Beaver Creek also offer great deals and discounts during summer months. For example, those who booked by May for summer stays could find rooms for as low as $99 per night. Other rates start at $160 per night in Beaver Creek and Vail, or as low as $110 per night in Avon and Edwards, either of which make a great alternative base during the summer (as you won’t be laden with ski equipment when trying to get around).
The biggest factor in saving money on a summer visit vs. winter is that the activities offered in summer are much cheaper – and often free – compared to the winter sports. At nearly $100 per day, lift tickets for Vail and Beaver Creek are among the most expensive in the US. Compare that to a day of hiking (free!) or a few hours of mountain biking ($25 and up), or even a day or horseback riding or whitewater rafting. The gondola up Vail mountain is free Fridays after 4pm in the summer, there’s a free summer concert series in Vail, and the Vail bus system is free all summer, so you don’t even need a rental car.
Of course, if you’re a die-hard skier, these activities simply won’t compare to hitting the slopes, but if you love the great outdoors at any time or just want to explore the mountains of Colorado, summer is a beautiful and affordable time to visit.
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This trip was sponsored by Vail and Beaver Creek, but my opinions are my own. In fact, I loved the area so much I’m planning to go back this summer, on my own dime.