By Sascha Zuger

Tucked away a picturesque two-hour drive from Denver, this quintessential Colorado ski village presents world class dining, spas, resorts, and – of course – excellent downhill terrain. Far from the gloomy gray so often greeting skiers in the east, this gorgeous region offers a breathtaking vista of 14,000-foot peaks and 300 out of 365 days of sun.

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Our Colorado Mountain Express driver not only provided luxe, door-to-door stress-free service (with a midway Starbucks stop), he also entertained us with stories of the region’s history and spotted some Bighorn Sheep on a passing mountain slope. ColoradoMountainExpress.com

#2 Colorado Mountain Express

At The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a Rock Resort, impressive service adds to the old-world European charm felt throughout the property, from the massive fireplace lobby to the well-appointed suites with deep soaking tubs and steam showers. Not to mention the rooftop heated pool and double Jacuzzi overlooking the slopes and cobblestoned village! Arrabelle.RockResorts.com

#4 skibase_storefront

Having great gear is key to a positive ski experience, and judging from the compliments I got on the slopes, Ski Base Ski and Snowboard Shop is a top choice. Better yet, it’s a top mom ‘n pop – literally, their two boys can be seen helping out in the store! VailSkiBase.com

#5 Cinebistro Auditorium_Credit Brad Alexander

Although you can toss a snowball and hit an excellent eatery in this village, we ventured on the free shuttle to Cinébistro at Solaris. Once there, we enjoyed an Oscar-nominated flick  in leather, recliner-style seats as our server brought us gourmet dishes, craft beers, and handmade cocktails, along with a large ceramic bowl of popcorn with sea salt and real melted butter. Cinebistro.com/Solaris

Service sets Vail apart, from the friendly ski valets standing alongside the gondola with your gear each morning to the concierge waiting to organize a public art tour, snowshoe trek to spot wildlife, or dogsledding adventure to add to your stay.

In Vail, Colorado. Game Creek restaurant.

Private to members during the day, the Game Creek Club wows with a superb five-course chef’s menu perfectly paired with vintages by the on-site sommelier. Oh, and you’ll need to ski in or board a gondola and then a snowcat to reach the remote eatery perched mountainside under a sea of stars. GameCreekClub.com

#8 Ingie

While my fellow travelers might be expert Double Black Diamond fans, most of us can appreciate “Her Turn,” a specially designed Vail Resort ski program for women by women. My instructor, Ingie Franberg, gave me my first enjoyable ski outing thanks to her patient and encouraging manner. Vail.com

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For a taste of why so many celebs consider Vail their own private playground, take a trip to the RockResorts Spa at The Arrabelle. Its 80-minute massage with polished gemstones, a chaser of fresh-squeezed juice elixir imbibed in the large roman tub or steam room and sauna are, quite simply, glorious! Arrabelle.RockResorts.com/Spa/

#11 Austin ski instructor

If you’re skiing with kids in tow, they’ll be in excellent hands in an Ultimate Four semi-private, all-day Vail Ski & Snowboard School program. Top-notch instructors like Lionshead Village-based, Austin Stauffer, will keep you updated via the EpicMix online program as to your child’s progress. Vail.com

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