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Any Time is Vail Time

Not Just a Ski Town

"Let me take you on an adventure," Pamela Davis said as she beckoned us to a short path along the side of a covered bridge, over the babbling creek. There it was, under the branches of an enormous spruce tree. 

We cried out with delight at the small table set at the creekside, replete with a bottle of Cabernet, a lavish and beautifully presented charcuterie tray, alluring goblets and place settings adjoined by fluffy white sheepskin covered stools. "Here is everything you need," our host said with a smile, gesturing to a bag full of accoutrements. "Text me if I've forgotten anything, otherwise, relax and enjoy. I'll be back to clean up in two hours."

Picnic Vail, launched by Davis, owner of the Vail catering business The Grazing Fox, is one of the newest, and elegant, additions to the Vail Valley. 

This oh-so-manicured, pedestrian-geared European-style village, a rather faux, yet perfectly so, hodgepodge of Austrian/Swiss/French/German alpine architecture, came to fruition in 1966.  Maybe you have visited to ski its 5,000+ acres of world-class trails. Of course, winter is the season that put Vail on the map. But nowadays, just as many folks go to Vail in the other seasons, which all have their glories.

In its 55 years, Vail’s population stands at close to 6,000, but when one views the many high-rise condo and hotel buildings, it can seem much bigger. Indeed, that perception is misleading. “Oh yes,” a local hotel worker told me, with a raised eyebrow, “some folks here own 6 or 7 homes. These places can stay empty for months, even years, sometimes.” 

To be sure, Vail, with an altitude of 8,200 feet, is known as a luxury village, where ski lift tickets were $229 last season and a pastry and coffee easily top $10 at many spots. You might run into some famous faces or be unaware that those amongst you are billionaires, but all are welcome here in this delightful destination. Some of the biggest delights are free of charge, or very inexpensive. 

We had driven up to Vail for a quick two-day getaway and to enjoy the opening night of Bravo! Vail’s annual summer music festival, back in operation after last season’s COVID 19 cancellation. We stayed in one of the sumptuously furnished rental condominiums at the well run Manor Vail, which is conveniently less than a five-minute walk away from the festival’s main venue, The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, famed for its excellent acoustics, as well as the exquisite Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

We love the gardens so much that when in Vail, we typically visit them several times each day to enjoy the flowers at different times. Founded by former First Lady Betty Ford, the non-profit gardens are home to mountain plants from all over the world, many of them rare, and fosters conservation and education. The ADA-accessible gardens are laid out by regions, with superb signage and a worthy visitor center and gift shop. Spectacular displays of columbines, poppies, Indian paintbrush, lupines, and dozens more are dizzying in their beauty. Suggested donation is $5 per person, while annual memberships are encouraged. The Gardens are open from dawn to dusk.

The night of our visit, the performance of All Mozart, featuring violinist Joshua Bell, was sold out to an adoring crowd. While covered seats can be upwards of $100, lawn seating can be as low as $5. Many free performances are also often given, as noted on the Bravo! website. 

After a leisurely, and extremely delectable Picnic Vail repast, we strolled in the cool early evening air through the Alpine Gardens, once again, to arrive at the Amphitheater. Savoring the bottle of fine Cabernet which we had just downed, along with the hearty meal, what could be a more perfect evening than to be topped off by hearing Bell and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra? 

In 1987, Bravo! Vail was founded as a public 501 (c) 3 Colorado non-profit corporation. Since then, it has evolved from a small chamber music series to an international music festival with dozens of performances throughout the Vail Valley. It is the summer home of some of the world’s greatest musicians and orchestras. 

For those of a more adventurous spirit, Vail Resorts’s Epic Discovery summer program started up in 2016. Mountaintop activities such as ziplines, alpine slides, a ropes course, etc. are reached by a gondola ride, along with educational components. And of course, one can simply take the gondola ride up and hike down the wildflower-bedecked trails.

Another option is to drive the scenic route for 12 miles on Red Sandstone Road, past enormous aspen groves and mindblowing views of the Gore Range, to Piney River Ranch, owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service, which is only open each year from June 21 to the last weekend in September. The road is rough and very curvy, but well worth the effort. A bushy fox passed us, brushing up against a clump of purple and white columbines, while many deer grazed in the meadows beyond. Various activities are offered in this divine spot with its sparkling 6-acre lake offering canoeing and standup paddleboard. 

Piney River’s six mile hike to the Upper Piney River Ranch and Piney Waterfalls is a leisurely, moderate hike with a gorgeous reward of towering falls at the end. Horseback riding and fishing are also available at the ranch, as well as overnight stays in cozy cabins or two rustic, yet elegant, “glamping” tents. Note: No showers, but modern bathrooms, and a superb event space hosts dozens of weddings and other special occasion gatherings each summer. 

Back in Vail, it is a must-do to stroll, bike ride or run along the Vail Recreation Path, which runs through the center of town, winding from East to West Vail following the meandering Gore Creek with 1,100 acres of open space, stretching for 15 miles. Impossible flowers, both wild and planted, are everywhere and you will be astounded by some of the very posh, and enormous homes you will see along the way. You will also pass by a wealth of excellent restaurants and shops, several of which have been around since Vail’s inception with loyal clientele. 

Art lovers can, until September 1, take in Art in Public Places (AIPP) featuring new murals by artists Olive Moya and the collective duo Pedro Barrios and Jaime Molina, as well as Ben Roth’s large-scale interactive installation at Stephens Park Playground. Enjoy a free one-hour public art tour of Vail each Wednesday of the month through September 1st at 11 a.m. leaving from the Vail Village Welcome Center on the top level of the Vail Village parking structure. The tour winds its way through the Village with discussions of the history of the Vail Valley, the founding of Vail mountain, the master planning of the Village, and the importance of site-specific art. The Town of Vail’s public art collection includes over 60 works of art, and we enjoyed spotting the many wildlife sculptures alongside the pedestrian paths in town. While some may prefer perusing the many high-end boutiques, others might spend the time waiting for those shoppers by enjoying the public art installations. Or both! 

Vail has it all - recreation, culture, cuisine, wildlife, and yes, some outstanding people-watching.