Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Creek Runs Through It: Vail, Colorado

I tend to get carried away when it comes to sports, especially running, triathlon and skiing. I ran a marathon before I ever ran a half marathon (probably the dumbest yet smartest decision I ever made since I'm still hooked a dozen years later). I thought I'd be done after one Ironman--that whole cross it off the list of random ideas I created for myself when I was 21 and sitting at the intern desk of an active lifestyle publication--and then all the training and racing for Olympic, and half and full Ironman distance triathlons never stopped. I ski lift open to lift close, racing to ride one more time at the end of the day--though I blame that as much on my husband as myself since he acts, and nearly looks, like a five-year-old ready to open presents on Christmas morning when he gets to ski country.

So I'm not even remotely surprised that I'd "over document" a run, taking too many pictures when exploring a path that I had driven past a million times but never run. I’m no stranger in a strange land, though it might seem that way since I’m not running along the Lakefront, there are no towering skyscrapers in sight, and my breath is labored from the altitude (or so I’d like to believe). I’m in Vail, Colorado, a spot I’ve been to several times over the years except it’s always to ski and not to run. In fact, my running shoes usually never make it into my suitcase because I know I’ll be skiing and good luck finding a fitness center at your lodging location (they do exist, just not always at places I’ve stayed). But a dwindling snow base and steady spring-like temperatures called me to bring my sneaks this time around, figuring that if I couldn’t ski, at least I could run, as painful as it might be as my body acclimates to the higher elevation.

What I didn’t expect was the Gore Valley Trail directly outside my front door. When you see cyclists and other runners going by as you watch from the living room window, you can’t help but get the urge to see what the trail holds. That and having a food-focused mind that wanted to see what the Taste of Vail lamb cook-off was all about. Running seemed like the easiest way to get there—even if it was three miles away.

Who knew that the familiar could look unfamiliar while documenting the run from West Vail to Vail Village and back? I took close to 100 pictures (no worries, I’ll spare you from the photo flip book) in an effort to show the secrets spots along the trail that I had never noticed, document the turns where I got tripped up, and share the random sights I've seen a million times in Lionshead and Vail Village but never photograph. Sure I took a photo break more often that I probably should have, especially on the way to the Village, but I’ll just say that my lungs and legs needed it.

The Gore Valley Trail is clearly marked, pointing me in the right direction just steps from where I was staying in West Vail. First stop is Donovan Park (0.7 miles away), then Lionshead (2.3 miles away), then Vail Village (2.9 miles away).
Most of the trail runs along Gore Creek, lined with luxury real estate that has view of Vail Mountain. Usually the creek is calm this time of year, at least as far as I remember, but the waters are rushing. Perfect for fly fishing.
The trail is also bordered by the frontage road and Interstate 70. You can't smell a ton of exhaust (or I'm simply immune from all that I smell in Chicago on a daily basis) but you can hear the cars rush by even while wearing headphones.
 I ran straight through Donovan Park, up a hill (that hurt) and into Cascade Village, the westernmost part of Vail Mountain. The village has lodging, restarants, a parking lot, a bus stop (the bus system is free to ride around Vail), and Chair 20, which gives skiers access to the mountain.

I almost started running along the Frontage Road when I couldn't find the trail in Cascade Village. Turns out I had to run down these stairs and under the lift to pick it up.

After leaving Cascade Village, the trail winds along the north side of the creek until you cross over this bridge. Why it's lined with these white boards I have no idea, but they had been removed when I walked this portion of the trail a few days later.

The trail doesn't come to an end at this bridge/tunnel like I thought it might--I saw mud and snow and knew that I wouldn't run over it. But when I crossed the other bridge, the path veered left and this newer construction was merely something to look at.

This portion of the trail was nice and flat, very Chicago-like, except it was slippery and muddy in spots from the snow melting. It's also a popular fly-fishing hangout--two guys tested their luck as I ran by.
 Up ahead is the skier bridge, which was rebuilt in 2004 (I think), and serves as the thoroughfare that skiers travel to load Lionshead's base lift and gondola or to ski down at the end of the day. And until this trip, I didn't realize that the path wound underneath it with a steep climb to the gondola house.

 The path goes right by the gondola house. The Eagle Bahn gondola is ready for take off.

The mountain view is usually much more spectacular than this sight, which is missing the skiers, snowboarders and usual amounts of snow (it looks pretty bare, doesn't it?). And that's the skier bridge I ran under a few minutes earlier.
Skiers might not be coming down the mountain but ski bikers (in yellow and white) are--you can rent them from Adventure Ridge at the top of the gondola. In the background is Lionshead and Arrabelle Square, a huge complex of lodging, restaurants and shops.

 There was a concert taking place in Lionshead's Arrabelle Square that evening. The stage is set up on what's usually a skating rink.

 More Arrabelle Square. To think that this spot was just a hole in the ground when I skied here during the 2005-2006 season.

 I guess you could call this part old Lionshead--it's been part of the Lionshead base since I first skied Vail with my family in 1994.

After leaving Lionshead, I found another section of the path that followed Gore Creek, traveled through the backyards of some condo complexes and passed by the library which was under construction.

The path ended and spit me onto the same road the buses drive between Lionshead and Vail Village. On the left is the Vail Valley Medical Center--no visits this trip (score!).

Vail Village is very pedestrian friendly. Good for the foot traffic, bad for the runner who has to dodge the pedestrians who barely move for the buses sharing the road.
 If I could create a slideshow for the next few images (above and the four below), I would. After all, they are all about the lamb cook-off, the reason I went running that afternoon--after skiing a full day on what terrain was open. In the background is Vail Mountain, likely the run Giant Steps or Head First or maybe Pepi's Face. In the foreground you'll spot just a handful of the lamb tasting tents.

 Who's hungry for lamb sliders? People were rushing the table to grab what these guys were preparing.

I don't even like lamb yet my mouth was watering at these gourmet plates. Don't they make you hungry?

You can't exactly run successfully through a crowd of people--not to mention that I wanted to salivate over the food and not skip by it.

The cook-off was the place to be, whether you were sipping wine, sampling the lamb contest entries or catching up with friends. But the scents only made me hungrier, and I didn't wait in line to buy tickets for food, so I high-tailed it back...
Through Lionshead and the concert that was taking place in the square...under the chair lift in Cascade Village...

Back to where home was for the week (taken hours after I returned, my runner's high made me forget). And it was downhill, or had to be, all the way because I felt like Speedy Gonzalez when I glanced down at my pace. Hard to run at altitude? Nah, the scenery help me plug along--and I'm definitely missing it now that I'm back to the same old, same old at home.

Have you ever run in Vail, Colo.? What's your favorite mountain spot to run?

Note: A version of this post originally appeared at


  1. I had one of the best ski vacations at Vail and was able to ski its challenging trails then had a nice apres ski. The village has nice restaurants and shopping boutiques. For those who haven't been to Vail, here's a virtual tour:

  2. Hi Brian,

    Thanks so much for sharing your virtual brings back memories from when I was there last month! I'd agree, I have a good time every time I visit Vail! Thanks for reading!


  3. The writing of this blog is simple yet so powerful and strong.get more info



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