Photo: Snowboard taking a jump

A snowboarder jumps off an ice waterfall cliff on a sunny day in Vail, Colorado.

Photograph by Patrick Orton, Aurora Photos

Pop. 4,768
GPS: 39°38'N 106°21'W

Those with an axe to grind call it an overpriced, glorified truck stop, and that’s fine. That’ll keep their dull blades away from all the hidden secrets in and around this iconic Colorado vacation spot.

PLAY

In the summer, this town’s a launch pad to some of the best hiking, biking, rafting, and whitewater kayaking in the West. In the winter, 5,289 acres (2,140 hectares) of freeride terrain is on offer in-bounds; for the beacon and bravery-equipped, try hiking and dropping the legendary and lesser-known East Vail Chutes, which just so happen to feature some of the best ice-climbing in the country. When locals get sick of the slopes, they turn to snowmobiling. You should, too. Try Piney River Adventures for guided tours of Eagle County ($80 for an hour; www.pineyriveradventures.com).

EAT

Vail Village’s dining runs the gamut, from family spots and cheap-beered dives to upscale gastronomic peaks. We recommend Pazzo’s Pizzeria for the former (www.itsblank.com/pazzos), and Larkspur Restaurant for slopeside, culinary refinement and a heck of a wine list (www.larkspurvail.com).

SLEEP

For an authentic mountain-town feel, try Gore Creek or Pitkin Creek Apartments in East Vail (www.lodgeatvail.rockresorts.com). Free shuttles take you to and from the main village, and you’ll get the luxury of lower prices, bigger spaces, and the tranquility of nature (including the occasional bear in your garbage) without the mobs and mayhem of village life.

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