Fall is underway, and it's not too early to begin planning your winter ski vacation. As one of the biggest and most popular ski resorts in the United States, Vail, Colo., has naturally been about the powder and the slopes. Upscale resorts and restaurants were an afterthought—but that has dramatically changed in the past decade. Today in Vail, single-minded skiers coexist with those who demand fine hospitality after a long day on the slopes.
A flurry of hotel developments is also shaping the new Vail. Three luxury hotels, each with a distinct style, have opened in the past few years: Arrabelle at Vail Square, Four Seasons Resort Vail, and the Sebastian Vail. These upstarts still have worthy competition from the more established hotels, however, such as the impeccably maintained and classic Bavarian-style Sonnenalp Resort. Its restaurant, Swiss Chalet, features a Best of Award of Excellence wine list that's strong on Burgundy and Germany.
For avid skiers, it's important to note that not all the hotels are created equal when it comes to easy access to the slopes; be sure to do your research if that's a crucial factor in your decision. But public transportation is free within the village, and many hotels have shuttle services.
What follow are suggestions for the best new hotels in the area. Good luck on the slopes!
ARRABELLE AT VAIL SQUARE
675 Lionshead Place, Vail
Telephone: (888) 333-0690
From the outside, this resort looks like an old-fashioned Bavarian town square embellished with a flourish of Disney-esque showmanship. When the snow is falling and the ice-skating rink is busy, this hotel's storybook appeal is hard to resist, as skiers fresh off the slopes roam from shop to shop in the plaza. The adjacent Eagle Bahn gondola offers easy access to the top of the mountain. Even guests who don't ski can lounge on the large patio of the resort's only restaurant, the three-meal-a-day Tavern on the Square, and watch the action on the nearby trails.
Inside, Arrabelle retains the same degree of panache. The lobby retains the intimacy of a private luxury club, and the main room features a dramatic two-story stone fireplace. The guest rooms exude a trendy rusticity, offering rich colors and fabrics, fireplaces and large bathrooms outfitted in stone and wood.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT VAIL
1 Vail Road, Vail
Telephone: (970) 477-8600
The Four Seasons' trademark casual chic achieves a contemporary Alpine state of mind in this impressive resort. Opened just two years ago, it's now Vail's best destination, combining luxury accommodations, good food and wine, and a central location. The rooms have an easy elegance highlighted by dark hickory wood and textured limestone, and all offer gas fireplaces and soaking tubs that recall classic claw-footed baths. The courtyard pool, large by Vail standards and heated year-round, shares space with a large outdoor fireplace to ward off any chill. The hotel's three-meal-a-day restaurant, Flame, gets serious at night, featuring a clubby, firelit lounge for after-ski cocktails.
THE SEBASTIAN VAIL
16 Vail Road, Vail
Telephone: (800) 354-6908
Located in the heart of Vail village, the Sebastian adds a breath of youthful, urban chic to a town that's teeming with Old World decor. Done in warm stone and ebony wood, the lobby sets the tone with a dramatic fireplace, two-story entryway and a library stocked with books and leather chairs. The entry-level guest rooms are handsome, with modest but nicely appointed bathrooms. Higher-end suites provide more panache, as does the cozy pool deck outfitted with a fire pit. The hotel's Block 16 restaurant changed after our visit to a new concept, called Leonora, described as a bistro, wine and tapas bar.