Most visitors flock to Vail during one season (winter) for one thing (snow sports), and with good reason. The largest single-mountain ski resort in North America—with annual snowfall of up to 30 ft/9 m of light, dry powder—boasts a whopping 5,300 acres/2,145 hectares of terrain with 34 high-speed lifts and 275 days of sunshine each year. It's no wonder Vail is a mecca for downhill skiers and snowboarders.

But there is more than snow sports in the Bavarian-style alpine village, where horse-drawn carriages meander down pedestrian-friendly streets, and the shopping and dining are world-class.

Summer, packed with sports and festivals, is a wonderful time to visit. Vail's perch at 8,150 ft/2,527 m above sea level in the Rocky Mountains makes it a retreat from the heat of lower elevations. Warmer weather (generally June-September) also allows more recreational options—golfing, rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding—and as many concerts and cultural choices as there are during the winter.

Unlike many other Colorado ski resorts, Vail does not have much mining-town mystique. The town, which is 100 mi/160 km west of Denver, grew out of an empty sheep pasture in the early 1960s and was later bisected by a four-lane interstate. Much of the town's architecture reflects the sometimes-regrettable ski-area style of the 1970s and '80s.

Interstate 70 still cleaves right through the valley, a loud, dirty eyesore that Vail officials have talked about burying or building a dome over. Until that day, though, it's easy to forget the highway is there, especially when you are overtaken by the Tyrolean charm of Vail Village that helps compensate for the town's lack of history. And though Vail doesn't attract Hollywood stars the way Aspen does, some see that as a plus.

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