Photo: Vail's famous pine trees
Around two hour’s drive west (97 miles) of Denver, Colorado, lies the flagship resort of Vail – moniker of the biggest ski resort company in the United States. Vail is the largest ski resort in Colorado and the fourth largest in North America after Big Sky, Montana; Whistler, Canada; and Park City/Canyons, Utah.
Almost unique among ski resorts, Vail maintains an even mix of local ski resort authenticity and ski resort glamour. The clientele coming to Vail often represents big money, which is on display at the high end shops and ostentatious houses. Yet the town of Vail is much more than a Disney ski resort town - at Vail you will find a year-round population, friendly locals and a relaxed, mountain vibe.
That combination, along with famous Colorado powder, is what makes Vail an excellent resort at which to work a winter season.
Vail has so much to offer seasonal workers: huge terrain, big snowfall, and a vibrant, bustling town. Because of this, Vail is among the best resorts in Colorado at which to work, along with Breckenridge, Telluride and Aspen. If you want glitzy retail, it’s there – yet, if you are a seasonal worker who needs to save, there’s no problem finding a cheap Subway to eat at.
Photo: The slopes of Vail
Vail is probably better to work at than the other Colorado Vail Resorts of Keystone and Beaver Creek due to larger terrain and better towns.
You will find a lot of South Americans working at Vail, including lots of Argentines. There are less foreigners now due to tightening labor restrictions in the US, but you will still find a few Australians, Europeans and New Zealanders.
The season usually opens towards the end of November and closes mid-April.
Vail lies right off the I-70 which you can take directly from Denver. If not driving, the best and easiest way to get to Vail is to take the Colorado Mountain Express (www.ridecme.com) which is a shuttle service. This goes straight from Denver Airport to Vail and usually costs about $100, but Vail employees get free transportation.
Photo: China Bowl - Chris Mclennan, Vail Resorts
Vail does not have the big steeps or rocky chutes famous at other Rocky Mountain resorts, but it is HUGE with 5,289 acres of skiable terrain and 31 lifts (which are powered entirely from renewable energy sources). Every seasonal worker seems to find his or her own favorite corner at Vail and there is more than enough terrain to last the season.
Vail is split into three main areas. The front side is full mostly of cruisers as well as the beginner area and has most of the groomed runs on the mountain. The skiable terrain of the front size is, in itself, bigger than most resorts. Intermediates and mogul-lovers will be those most drawn to the front side.
Behind the front side are seven back bowls which offer some of the best in-bound bowl riding in the world. They are not particularly steep but they are very open and offer tons of lines. This is the best place to be on a powder day.
Additionally, beyond the back bowls is Blue Sky Basin which is particularly awesome for tree skiing and for finding new lines and powder stashes.
The major downsides to Vail are the large number of cat tracks which are required to get around as it is such a big place and the large number of shorter runs. Also, experts may find Vail lacking in steep terrain, chutes and rocky lines, although there are some tight trees and a few cornices and mini cliff hucks to find if you look.
The crowds get very large at Vail and there can be some bottlenecks at the base of the mountain. On a powder day, everyone seems to head for the back bowls given they are not so steep and therefore open to most intermediate-advanced riders. Nonetheless, the mountain does tend to spread the crowds quite well given it is so big and, particularly up the back, you can still find solitude on most days excluding a few of the exceptionally busy days.
Photo: Bumps forming under the chairlift
Average snowfall at Vail is 354 inches / 899 cm, which is around the same as Beaver Creek and Breckenridge. Because Vail is so huge, you are able to find powder stashes even a few days after a large dump, despite the large crowds that form at the base.
Colorado also gets 300 days of sun per year, meaning plenty of bluebird days. The weather is also never too cold, unlike some resorts further north.
Three terrain parks are available at Vail. The largest of these is the Golden Peak Park which has pro-features and includes a 22 foot half pipe. There are jumps ranging from 10 foot to 50 foot. This is also the site of the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championship which brings in unbelievable park riders each year.
The Pride Terrain Park below Eagle’s Nest has beginner features, while the Bwana Park on the western side has features for intermediate park riders.
Vail Resorts Management Company is the owner of Vail. This group now owns the likes of Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek in Colorado, Park City/Canyons in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in California. Vail Resorts is one of the biggest ski resort companies in the world.
There are not just regular mountain operations jobs such as lift operations etc., but also retail jobs (Vail Resorts operates more than 190 retail shops) and property jobs (Vail Resorts owns and manages six hotels at ski resorts).
All job openings for the Vail Company are posted at jobs.vailresorts.com/
You need to start looking early for a job at Vail as they receive plenty of applications each season. Jobs are posted around late summer or early fall. You can apply for up to five positions at a time.
Photo: Two Elk restaurant at Vail - Vail Resorts
Minimum wage in Colorado is USD 8.23 per hour and most seasonal jobs pay around this.
While obtaining a sponsored H2B visa is a little difficult unless you have a specialized skill such as ski instructing, Vail does take on foreigners each season through partner J-1 visa companies.
See Work a Winter Season in the United States for more information on work visas to the U.S. and job programs for ski resorts.
For Australians - If you obtain a J-1 visa yourself through a J-1 visa company, then you may be able to get a job with Vail through normal hiring processes.
Vail partners with the following J-1 visa companies
Staff get a season pass for Vail. This gives you access to Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone for free as well. Other perks include free ski lessons, discounts for family and friends, food and beverage discounts and retail discounts.
As Vail is a year-round town, there are plenty of seasonal jobs in the village not with the resort.
Big hotels are another good option for seasonal work (you also get good tips!) A few of the larger hotels around Vail include: Vail Marriott, The Arabelle at Cascade Village and Cascade Hotel.
Photo: The Spring Break concert at Vail Village
Four different base areas make up the Vail resort area.
In the center of town, Vail Village is where you will find most of the nightlife and the bars. To the east, Golden Peak is primarily set up to accommodate the Golden Peak Ski School and ski racing on Vail. To the west, Lionshead is the family oriented side of Vail with the majority of hotels, restaurants and shopping. 10 minutes walk beyond Lionshead is the sleepy area of Cascade Village, location of staff housing.
Walking between Lionshead, Golden Peak and Vail Village is easy and can be done in around 20 minutes. However, there is also a free shuttle that comes roughly every 5 minutes to transport you between these places.
However, many staff at Vail live in either East or West Vail. West Vail is another 1.2 miles on from Cascade Village. East Vail is further out from Golden Peak. It is not practicable to walk to either West Vail or East Vail from the main village. You will need to take the bus. There is no free parking out in either East or West Vail.
In West Vail, you will find everyday amenities such as grocery stores and gas stations. East Vail has a quieter, more neighborly feel to it with fewer amenities.
The town of Avon is 10 miles to the west down the I-70 or 30 minutes on the bus.
Unfortunately, there are no free buses to Summit County, which has the town of Frisco as well as the resorts of Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin. You will need to drive if you would like to go to Summit County.
Employee housing is offered to full-time employees at two locations in Vail. Expect to pay around $300 a month for staff housing. Staff housing fills up, however, and is not guaranteed.
The main housing is in the ‘’Timber Ridge’ complex opposite Cascade Village. Each apartment at Timber Ridge has a living room and kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. You will be living two people to a bedroom.
Timber Ridge is located 10 minutes walk to Vail Village and, handily, is just on the other side of Cascade Village which has a chairlift to get you quickly up onto the mountain on your days off work. Timber Ridge is best if you want simple living, but quick access to nightlife and riding.
A second housing complex, 'Rivers Edge', exists 10 miles down the highway at Avon. This is a newer, nicer complex but you will feel out of the action a little bit as it is a 30 minute bus ride to get there, which can take longer if a storm has hit, and can be a pain getting into work each day.
Rivers Edge apartments have four bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and a bath. These are usually just one person to a bedroom. If Rivers Edge is your only choice, it is recommended to try and look for your own place closer to the main village.
Find your own Place
Because staff housing fills up, many employees look for their own housing.
Living in Vail as opposed to nearby towns is generally the best option as this will encourage you to spend more time on the slopes on your days off.
If you are finding your own place, it is best to be in a group. You could get a place between 4 for around $1600 a month out in West or East Vail. More central places will be closer to $500 - $600 a month per person per room.
Avon is a cheaper option for rent than Vail as it is more of a regular town. It is serviced by the Eagle County bus service which runs fairly regularly. Eagle-Vail is also along the route to Avon and provides additional housing options. Both these towns would be best for seasonal workers looking to spend less on rent or have a quieter season away from the activity of Vail.
Another option is to live in Beaver Creek resort; however, there seems to be little benefit to this as you would need to pay ski resort prices.
Avon has a Walmart which you can use to buy basically anything you need to furnish your apartment. Avon also has a Home Depot as another choice for appliances.
There are two supermarkets in Vail, both of which are fairly cheap for a ski resort.
Photo: Lionshead Village - Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts
Being a year-round town, Vail has a permanent array of bars and restaurants. This is great for seasonal workers as it means there are plenty of locals to mix in with the people on holiday and people working at Vail. For seasonal staff, there are plenty of bars with specials each night. Vail is entirely walkable which means it is great for bar hopping. The best bars are found on Bridge St.
Vail does après-ski quite well, unlike many resorts in Colorado. You can find decks to watch riders closing out the day at The Chop House, Garfinkels or the Tavern at Arrabelle in Lionshead. Pepi's does après-ski the more 'refined' way.
Shakedown Bar has great live music, while Samana and Vail Underground bring in DJs to keep you going late into the night. The Red Lion has music nightly but tends to attract the older crowd.
10th Mountain Whiskey Room is a must-visit during the season to sample some of the fine whiskey they have on offer. The Vale Ale House is the place to go for true local American craft beer.
Vail staff also tend to have a lot of house parties given that the bars can get quite expensive.
On Australia Day, staff at Vail go up to Blue Sky Basin where there's a small hut and BBQ's. You bring meat and alcohol and spend the whole day back there which lots of fun.
Look out for the $3 slices of pizza in town which are simply enormous. Being such a large town, you will meet plenty of new people, and there is a good ratio of girls to guys unlike smaller resort towns.
Photo: Vail's tubing hill