If you want a skiing trip in the U.S., Aspen and Vail are unarguably your best choices. These Rocky Mountain destinations offer some of the finest skiing in the world and are connected by regular shuttle buses during the winter. Choosing between the two cities may be a challenge, but there are some basic differences.
They are similar in size. However, Vail, which attracts over a million and a half visitors each season, is connected with a growing system of lifts and gondolas. Aspen, which has approximately the same number of visitors, consists of four unconnected mountains. It is also the higher of the two cities and has a larger vertical drop.
While Aspen and Vail are best known for their fabulous winter activities, there is much to do during the summer as well.
Aspen vs Vail: Ambiance
Aspen is a 19th-century mining town and still has a historical feel to it, especially Downtown, which has retained some old-fashioned elegance and style. Vail is a hip 1960s explosion onto the Rocky Mountain scene and is known for its European sophistication, luxury resorts, and party atmosphere.
Both locations offer sublime skiing with more than 300 inches of snow each year. Aspen is likely to attract more visitors interested in Colorado’s history, while Vail calls to those looking for a good, sophisticated party.
Aspen vs Vail: How Expensive
A stay in Aspen may cost a bit more than a visit to Vail, as it is less crowded and somewhat more exclusive. It is a more luxurious and high-end vacation. For $293 a day, Aspen provides accommodations (not uber-luxurious), meals, entertainment, and transportation. The average hotel room in Aspen will cost $170, while rooms in Vail are available for around $140.
Taxis and buses in Aspen will set visitors back over $50, while cabs in Vail cost only $16. Both cities have excellent food and restaurants, but it will cost visitors $85.00 a day in Aspen, while in Vail, they can dine for $60 each day.
Aspen vs Vail: Dining
Both towns have an excellent variety of delicious restaurants to delight visitors. However, for foodies, Aspen is a clear choice with the town’s plethora of top-end restaurants and award-winning chefs. The city also hosts the 40-year-old annual Food and Wine Festival in June. This is when master chefs demonstrate their recipes and hold wine tastings.
A Vail favorite restaurant is the Alpenrose with its Swiss menu bringing a bit of the Alps of the Rockies.
7908 is Aspen’s one and only supper club, where guests come to dine and dance in sophisticated surroundings. Here, the Hollywood elite mingle with the locals. There are 250 Master Sommeliers in the world, and 7908 has one of them, choosing the perfect wines and wine pairings. The evening here can end on the dance floor to the sound of the local DJ.
Aspen vs Vail: Accommodations
Aspen and Vail are high-end destinations with luxurious and first-rate accommodations to match. Aspen’s history is reflected in its lodgings, one of the favorites of which is the Hotel Jerome built over one hundred years ago. The Jerome has seen it all, from cowboys riding their horses through the lobby to soldiers bellying up at the bar. It has survived the silver crash and the Great Depression. The hotel is a capsulated version of Aspen’s history.
The luxurious suites offer a breathtaking view of the mountains. The Bad Harriet Restaurant celebrates multi-course meals with cocktail pairings.
Vail, which has less history and resembles an alpine village, also has great hotel options with a more modern touch. The Four Seasons Vail is at the bottom of Vail Mountain. Some of the rooms have a cozy fireplace and dining area. There are several restaurants, as well as a S’mores station with a fireplace, whiskey-tasting sessions, and some apres-ski haut chocolat.
During the winter months, guests can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding, riding through the snow in a snow coach, and ice skating.
Aspen vs Vail: Skiing
Having the choice to ski in either Aspen or Vail is a fairytale problem. Vail has a high elevation of 11,570 feet, while Aspen beats that with its 12,510 elevation.
Both cities have excellent skiing for every level, but Aspen, the more exclusive of the two towns, is usually less crowded, which might make it a better choice for skiers. Ajax Mountain is ideal for experienced skiers, and novices should be careful. Buttermilk Mountain is a very novice-friendly mountain, however. Snowmass offers an adventure to all skiers, including families.
What makes Vail unique is its seven “bowls,” or basins where the fresh powder stretches for six snow-covered miles. The Blue Sky Basin is everyone’s favorite, and many visitors rise at dawn to be at the head of the line for the lifts. Vail is also the home of the Ski and Snowboard School, which offers group and private lessons.
Aspen or Vail: Best Apres-Ski
Apres-ski is that precious time between lunch and dinner when skiers can rejuvenate over a drink. Both towns have a great choice of restaurants and apres-ski cocktails. Aspen, a bit more traditional, is more upscale and dressier. Most visitors change out of their ski clothes before apres-ski time. Beloved by visitors and locals alike, the J-Bar has been an Aspen fixture for more than a hundred years. Once the hangout for cowboys, this social hub is where to see and be seen while enjoying hand-crafted cocktails and the best burgers in Aspen.
Vail’s après ski bars welcome the crowds after skiers brush off the snow. Los Amigos invites visitors to indulge in some nachos and margaritas to hold them through dinner while watching skiers glide down Pepi’s Face slope. The outside deck allows for fun with a view. Vail has a more laid-back apres-ski vibe than Aspen. There is no need to change or dress up here. Just dress.
Things to Do in Vail and Aspen
Both towns have an abundance of activities besides skiing, including some enjoyable pastimes for the summer.
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
At 8,250 feet above sea level, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the highest botanical garden in the United States. This hidden gem offers countless ways to discover rare and exotic alpine wildflowers and plants. Wander through the rock gardens, and see plants from all over the world, perennial beds, and stunning waterfalls.
Vail’s Gondola Rides are open between the months of June and October. Ride the gondola to the top of Vail Mountain for spectacular views, dining, and hiking trails. It can get chilly on top of the mountain, so an adequate layering of clothes is recommended.
Piney River Ranch
Just 12 miles from Vail Village, Piney River Ranch offers perfect summer fun between June and September with its six lakefront cabins with outdoor decks, barbeque grills, and fire pits. For a more rustic stay, there are comfortable glamping tents. Surrounded by majestic mountains, Piney River Ranch is a favorite wedding destination.
The ranch has a restaurant and bar with outdoor and indoor tables featuring mouthwatering barbeque.
Guests can join an excursion that includes the mountain, Piney River, and the wildlife and flora along the paths. Pine Lake is also a favorite place for fishing, especially trout. Or guests can take a canoe across the lake and revel in the sights.
Downtown Aspen has plenty of high-end shopping, such as Gucci and Prada. It also has smaller shops and second-hand stores that might be hiding a luscious gem. It is a shopper’s paradise.
The Art Galleries have a large selection of contemporary artists, as well as Western art, prints, photos, and sculptures. Aspen is considered a true art town.
The City Market in Downtown Aspen not only has a wide selection of reasonably priced meat, fruits, and vegetables, visitors can also get a three-course meal for $10.00, which is a find in a town as expensive as Aspen. The market also has some wonderful sandwiches.
The Smuggler Mine Trail is almost three miles of moderately challenging trails with mines along the way to be explored. This hike is fun in the winter, as well. The view of Aspen is a treat for the eyes.
John Denver Sanctuary
John Denver Sanctuary by Rio Grande Field is a spot for a picnic or just to enjoy some solitude. It is named after the famous singer, and the lyrics to his songs are engraved on large rocks. The park has restrooms, benches, and tables.
Treehouse Kids Adventure Center The Treehouse Kids Adventure Center at Snowmass is a huge childcare center in Snowmass Village providing supervised outdoor activities for older children with a licensed staff and childcare for infants.
Group lessons are arranged by age. Children as young as three can receive skiing lessons. By the age of six, they can enjoy supervised snowboarding. Teens can compete with others in their age group.
The Center’s Camp Aspen allows young ones to explore nature, fish, hike, bike, and more.