6 Ways to Have the Best Powder Day at Vail (and Avoid Lift Lines!)

Feb. 6, 2014

It’s no secret – when the snow report is good, skiers and snowboarders flock to Vail for the miles of trails, light snow, the Back Bowls, and Blue Sky Basin. You might have seen pictures on social media of lift lines on powder days that can look big and scary.  Fear not – we’re here to help you avoid pinch points, pick a route without lift lines, and get the most out of that new snow. Here are the top 6 ways to make the most of a Vail powder day.

Gondola One before opening last Friday. A full gondola maze like this takes about 8 minutes to clear.

Gondola One before opening last Friday. A full gondola maze like this takes about 8 minutes to clear.

It’s a funny thing what powder does to skiers and snowboarders. Most people spend 30 mins to an hour commuting to work every day. But a 5 minute line to hop on a high speed lift to fresh snow can drive some people crazy. With over 5200 acres and 31 lifts, Vail is huge. These hints can help you explore a little more and enjoy your powder day at Vail. (Locals and long time Vail skiers – don’t worry. We are not here to “give away” your hard earned secrets, just encourage smart behavior that will help everyone have a great day.)

So without further wait… here are the top five ways to make the most of a Vail powder day:

1. Plan your route!

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When you get a lot of powder hungry skiers together and let them loose, they tend to follow each other. That means a lot of people end up at the same place. So making a quick strategy of where you are heading with your ski partners is usually a better way to go than just following everyone else. Some pointers…

– There are 3 main access points to Vail; Lionshead (Eagle Bahn Gondola and Born Free Express #8), Vail Village (high speed Gondola One), and Golden Peak (Riva Bahn #6). Take a minute and look at what areas and lifts these base areas access before you make your decision. The Gondola One lines can get big before the mountain opens on a powder day, especially on weekends. Lines at Gondola One move much faster however, a full maze means about an 8 minute wait, and a line back up on the snow means ~15-20 minutes.

– Don’t show up at the lifts 5 minutes before opening and expect to be the first ones on! This applies to pretty much every ski resort, everywhere. People live in the mountains because they like to ski – powder days are what they live for. There WILL be people in front of you in line on big snow report days.

– Vail is big! There are lots of places to go. Everyone knows Blue Sky Basin is great, but have you fully explored everything else?
– What’s the weather like? If it’s really windy, some lifts may be delayed on opening. See #2 below..

– Consider avoiding High Noon Express #5 between 9:30 and ~11:00! Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls are accessed by 4 chairlifts on the front side. To ski the backside, you have to take lifts up from the front side. Most people start their ski day in the morning. We’ll let you do the math here without making any specific suggestions.

2. @Vailmtnalerts 


This twitter account is updated by lift dispatch, often letting you know about openings and closings before anyone else! You can either follow on twitter or set up mobile alerts that send straight to text, or just check m.vail.com. Priceless info on a powder day (or any day).



3. Obey all ropes and closures!!!


Vail Ski Patrol is not just trying to keep you out so they can ski it themselves. When it snows, there is a lot of marking and mitigation work to do.

Vail Ski Patrol Opening the Back Bowls from 2010-2011

By ducking a rope, not only could you put yourself and Vail Ski Patrollers in harm’s way, you could end up in the wrong spot on the mountain. Ropes, signs, and closures are there to guide you and prevent you from ending up stuck in a gully or away from lifts. Just because you see a track going somewhere doesn’t mean that person isn’t boot packing their way out at the bottom because they made a bad decision and ducked a rope! Remember: tracks are not necessarily signs of intelligent life or good skiing. So don’t lose your pass, stay inside the ropes.

4. Follow Lift Line Etiquette


It makes everyone’s day better!

  • Listen to lift attendants at Gondola One – they will help load and get 10 people to a cabin (yes you’ll fit!)
  • Alternate in between lines.
  • Don’t try to cut or use the marked Ski School line.
  • Fill up every chair by allowing and asking for singles.
  • Pay attention and move forward when the line moves.
  • Be prepared to load.

These simple tips keep the lifts moving, keep lift lines moving, and at the end of the day, gets everyone on the chairlift faster and up the mountain.


5.Ski Mid-Week and during non-holiday times

We know… that’s your off day from work! It might be time to ask yourself, “how much do I really like skiing/riding powder?”

If snow is forecast on a Wednesday… go for it!  Many people take vacation days on Fridays instead of Mondays. If you never have skied Vail mid week, you will be surprised at how incredibly empty 5200+ acres feels.


6. Have fun.


Don’t forget, you are about to ski and ride in powder. Quite possibly the best feeling on earth. Smile and say hi to your fellow skiers and snowboarders. Wave to the lift operators who are working to get you up the hill. Say “thanks” to Mountain Safety and Vail Ski Patrol. Don’t let a lift line make you angry, instead, think “how did I get here and what would have been a better way to go?”. Hoot and holler at the top of your lungs on that first run.

Video from January 31st, 2014, a powder day at Vail:

For help with planning your next powder vacation, visit our website and Plan Your Trip.

Questions? Comments?