A ski town typically summons thoughts of some snowcapped mountainous respite—powdery slopes that snake their way through frosted foliage and directly to the doors of a toasty lodge serving up Kahlua hot chocolate and locally brewed beers. You spend your mornings riding, your afternoons in true après-ski fashion and your evenings making probably poor choices that’ll certainly beget remorse when your alarm wakes you up with the sun again. You rise and shine, nonetheless, because adventure is beckoning. That’s just life in the mountains.
In the wintertime anyway.
I recently had a chance to visit Vail, Colorado, which proved to be an action-packed getaway in the warmer months, too. The weather in Vail lulls around the mid-70s to the mid-80s with low humidity and cool nights during the summer. By fall, the forests paint the horizon yellows and oranges. It’s a picturesque place where there’s always something to do.
Contrary to popular belief, ski resort towns thrive year round. As the locals put it, visitors come for the winter but should stay for the summer. Here’s why.
1. The hiking is unparalleled.
Keep a watchful eye for wildlife while you take in the breathtaking scenery along any one of the hiking trails you’ll find in a mountain town. The United States is abundant in treks for thrill seekers, with a number of awe-inspiring national parks and mountain towns with impressive elevations alike. In fact, Colorado boasts 53 fourteeners, more than any other state. Vail, in particular, is known for its fourteeners; two for consideration include Grays Peak (14,278 feet) and Quandary Peak (14,265 feet).
Of course, you don’t need to hike that high into the clouds to find adventure. A number of trails comb through Vail mountain, which you can find from the top of the gondola—easier interpretive trails like Fireweed to tougher trails like the Berrypicker. Paragon Guides, the oldest guide service in the Vail Valley, also offers a number of guided hikes on trails ranging from shorter and easier loops to more advanced climbs—some accompanied with your own porter that comes in the form of a llama.
2. The biking is a workout.
If you’d prefer to explore the mountains on two wheels, casual cyclists and avid mountain bikers alike flock to ski towns when the snow melts every year. Whether you’re a novice or semi-pro, biking both paved and vigorously rocky trails is invigorating—especially when you factor in the altitudes. Known benefits of mountain biking include improved heart health, increased brain power, reduced stress and boosted mood, so there’s really no excuse not to give it a go. Like ski and snowboard gear rentals, most mountain towns offer bicycle and mountain bike rentals year-round. Rent a cruiser to explore the village or a mountain bike to get your adrenaline really pumping.
3. The boozing is… everywhere.
Who said adventure has to happen in the great outdoors? After all, when you take refuge in a ski lodge or bar in the valley, you’re still technically in the great outdoors—just inside surrounded by the outside. At the base of every skiable mountain worth skiing is a village, and in every village is at least one boozy bungalow. And most mountain towns havens, meaning local brew to savor. Not a beer lover? In Vail, wine connoisseurs tend to take shelter from the sun inside Root & Flower, while whiskey lovers migrate toward 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company, which distills and serves whiskeys, vodkas, bourbons, moonshines and more.
4. The rivers are alive with adventure.
If you’re not some expert angler but you one time saw A River Runs Through It and Brad Pitt got you curious (about fly fishing), the valleys welcome you. Every mountain has a valley and, in some, rivers full of fish abound. It’s not uncommon to find fly fishing tours for all levels, either. You can learn the art of the sport’s complicated casting techniques with seasoned professionals, so long as you’re willing to wear the waders. If waders aren’t quite your look, perhaps you’d prefer a life vest. Whitewater rafting and kayaking are also common in these kinda places.
5. The shopping is addicting.
Did you really vacation at a ski resort if you didn’t come home with a logoed beanie or at least a fridge magnet? The shopping isn’t just a bunch of souvenir stands for tourists, however. Many of the big-name outdoor gear companies post up in these towns. Think Helly Hansen, Patagonia, Burton and more. Maybe you’re not in the market for new bindings or a down jacket right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t just take a look. That said, willpower is futile with off-season sales. You’d be hard pressed to walk out empty handed, so you might window shop from the sidewalks instead. Your wallet is safer out there, barring the allure of open-air markets that tantalize pedestrians with locally sourced fresh foods, artisan crafts and live entertainment. Vail’s farmer’s market, for example, introduces passersby to over 120 vendors every Sunday for the whole summer.
6. The mountains are still calling.
Sure, there’s no snow to ski. But what about trying your hand at a ropes course, or rock climbing, or zip lining or perfecting your backflip on a bungee trampoline? Vail’s Epic Discovery pass will grant you admission to a number of adventures that don’t require any snowfall—and the scenic gondola ride up isn’t bad either. There’s even a 550-foot long tubing hill, so you can still get your fix spiraling down the slopes year-round—or riding a Forest Flyer coaster that winds 3,400 feet down the mountain, following the natural contours of the landscape through the lush forest. Wherever you are, hitch a ride up the mountain on the gondola to take in the views and find your own way down—that’ll be a journey in and of itself.