Welcome to Vail (and the 2013 GoPro Mountain Games)

Vail

I almost would have overlooked this destination had it not been for the 2013 GoPro Mountain Games. My brother and I love rock climbing, so as soon as I saw that there would be a Bouldering World Cup in Vail, we went crazy. The Games were the weekend after our stay in Denver, so my parents booked a hotel in Vail.

Known primarily for its ski slopes, Vail is a very small, Austrian-looking town. In the center of Vail are two shopping villages, plenty of restaurants, and beautiful hotels. Surrounding the center are ski lifts, snowy mountains, a gold mine, a bike trail, and a river. That’s skiing, snowboarding, rafting, tubing, shopping, dining, a gold mine and the great GoPro Mountain Games all in place.
Just keep in mind that this was in summer, and winter in Vail is completely different. With that being said, I probably would not return to Vail other than for the Games, since I’d rather learn to ski in a place I haven’t been to, like Lake Tahoe, CA.

Hotel: Vail Marriott Mountain Resort

We stayed at the Vail Marriott because of its discounted nights for GoPro Games athletes and spectators. It was around $120/night and it was worth every penny. From the minute we arrived, the staff was friendly and the service was top-notch. The valet men parked our car off site and then took our luggage inside. The woman who checked us in welcomed us and answered all of our questions about the games. She gave us a typed page of all the restaurants in Vail that offer discounts (50% off a meal, for example) during summer and we definitely took advantage of those discounts. Not that regular menu items were expensive, but there were great deals.

Getting Around

In addition to the restaurant deals, we took advantage of Vail’s free, intown bus. It was clean, safe, and convenient (there’s a stop right in front of the hotel entrance!). The bus picks up every 10 minutes and stops at both of Vail’s shopping villages: Vail Village and Lionshead Village. In Vail Village, we ate at Pepi’s Restaurant and Bar. The menu had a selection of Austrian dishes, but the four of us had the veggie burgers. That burger bursts with flavor. After lunch, we walked through the Lionshead Village. I loved the selection of stores; the North Face, Lululemon, Roxy/Quicksilver, Oakley, and Marmot were my favorites.

If the Mountain Games are in Vail again next year, I would go back to the Marriott and also make time to bike Gore Valley Trail or watch a movie at the CinéBistro, a fancy dinner theater that plays box office movies (Despicable Me 2, Fast and Furious 6, etc).

2013 GoPro Mountain Games

The GoPro games this year were from June 6-9, 2013. My brother and I began this perfect weekend by taking the intown bus to Golden Peak East for the Bouldering World Cup qualifiers. We were there for about four hours, while our parents fell asleep at the hotel. The next few days we did as much as possible at the GoPro Games.

Gear Town: An area full of tents offering demos, expos, and free swag from companies like GoPro, Thule, Vibram, Subaru, Eukanuba, Eddie Bauer, GoalZero, PrincetonTec, Garmin, Gerber, and Bear Naked granola).

Mountains of Music: Free concerts sponsored by Bud Light

Adventure Village: DockDogs competition, portable climbing wall for kids, mountain biking, mud run

Gibbon Slackline World Championships: We had a great time watching pro slackliners flip forwards and backwards, side to side. I recently bought a slackline and I love it, but man, it’s difficult.

FOMO Sonar App: This app updated you any time there was a chance to win a free kayak, a free SUP, or a free GoPro camera.

Other: Great non-profit organizations (my favorites were Mountain Child Adventure Travel and peopleforbikes.org), Mount Click photo competitions, citizen climbing, paraclimbing, an Eddie Bauer zip line, kayak pool, and a stand up paddleboard pool

Tips:

• I recommend the intown bus for transportation around Vail for anyone 8 or older. It’s a great way for kids to go do their own thing.

• As I said, the GoPro Mountain Games are free, but it looks like it would be TONS of fun registering (usually $20) to participate in the mud run or citizen climbing.

• The only thing I don’t recommend you do in Vail (at least in summer) is ride Gondola One. $20 for one day ticket per person for the four of us meant $80 wasted, I hate to say. During the ride, you get an overhead view of Vail, but there is nothing open at the top.

Detour: Denver to Vail

Start location: Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, Denver, Colorado

Destination: Vail Village, Vail, Colorado

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Detour: Mount Evans Road

It takes a little under two hours to drive from Denver to Vail, Colorado. However, there’s a stop along the way to Vail that is worth the detour.

I liked Mount Evans Road in Idaho Springs better than Colorado’s most recognized attraction, Pikes Peak Road. At Mount Evans there are fewer people/cars present, two lakes, and more wildlife. In my opinion, the end of Mount Evans Road was nicer than the summit at Pikes Peak, too.

On the drive up Mount Evans, there are great views of trees, huge rocks, lots of snow, and marmots. You will pass Echo Lake and reach Summit Lake. From the parking lot, we saw a man snowshoeing and a couple of snowboarders getting out of their car. We got out of the car to walk around and take pictures in the snowy scenery. If you have time, you can take the trail from the parking lot to wherever it is that it leads to.

At the summit, a staff member welcomed us and continued shoveling ice so that visitors would not slip. On the top of Mount Evans lies the “Castle in the Sky,” the ruins of a castle-like house. Walk in, read the history, and have fun taking cool photos. Stick around for a couple of minutes and you are bound to see a mountain goat :).
Then, get back on the highway to Vail.
Once there, eat at a restaurant in Vail Village or, if you booked a hotel, take a nap.

Summary: Mount Evans was a great stop, you may want to switch drivers halfway through the road trip, and the small town of Vail was a nice change from Denver city

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Travel Tip #2: Sometimes, it’s worth stopping along the way.

Fitness, Food, and Fun: Boulder, Colorado

Just a 50 minute drive from Denver, Boulder is a nice town with two sides to it: the university and the nature. CU Boulder takes up several blocks in the center of the town, and parks and canyons fill the rest of Boulder. We drove through the university for about ten minutes, then visited Chautauqua Park and the Flatirons, followed by Pearl Street, Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder Canyon, and Eldorado Canyon.

Chautauqua Park is the place in Boulder where locals go to exercise. You can walk around, hike to the top of the Flatirons (huge sandstone formations), or climb the rocks. Boulder residents are super fit. One woman was running up the mountain, an old couple and their dog were hiking, and several young couples spent the day rock climbing. The park is a nice place to slow down, take a deep breath, and take in a scenic view. The grass is bright green and there are dandelions and flowers everywhere (no wonder people love to exercise there!). On the way up to the top, there are many places to stop and catch your breath or take photos. Be sure to bring a good pair of shoes, water, a granola bar, and high-altitude sunscreen.

For lunch, we ate on Pearl Street in Downtown Boulder. Pearl Street has its fair share of stores (Billabong, Patagonia, Steve Madden, Volcom) and restaurants, as well as a few hippies and homeless folk. In the mood for sandwiches, we sat down at Riffs Urban Fare. I had a delicious Cuban sandwich full of flavorful cubes of pork, while the guys had salmon sandwiches (which they enjoyed). I’ll never forget The Flourless Chocolate Nutella Cake. To digest, we walked up and down Pearl Street. Not surprisingly, my brother spotted a professional rock climber hanging out with friends. Before leaving, we chatted with a cashier at Patagonia and he told us about the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, which he described as “another bike-friendly city with a downtown like Boulder’s.” I looked it up on Google Images and added it to my list of future travels.

Next, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. As a Floridian, my national parks consist of beaches and the Everglades, so I was excited to go to a different type of national park. I had planned to visit Lower Chaos Canyon, Upper Chaos Canyon, Lake Haiyaha, and Emerald Lake, but we didn’t reach any of those. RMNP is huge. Instead, we saw a big waterfall (Alluvial Falls) and lots of bighorn sheep walking through fields. The park was nice, but we didn’t have time to return. Maybe I’ll stay at the Rocky Mountains on a future trip to Colorado.

Finally, we headed towards Boulder’s canyons for some climbing. Boulder Canyon makes for a nice drive and anywhere you pull off is a great place to walk through nature. During the drive, we saw a deer and walked from boulder to boulder for about an hour. Boulder Canyon was a fun place to boulder due to the various shaded areas and the lack of crowds. Close by is Eldorado Canyon, a park I really liked. It was a sort of retreat for locals (a few families were there for picnics and fishing). A creek runs throughout the park and there is a walking bridge to access a small cave, walking trails, and plenty of rock walls. For $8 plus a nice park ranger, Eldorado was a great end to our stay in Boulder.