Vail boasts so many runs, and such a huge variety of terrain, picking a best “last run of the day” could have lots of answers according to your preferences.
Personally I always like a last line with a bit of adventure and discovery, so back or side country is always good. Finding powder on your last run of the day is even better. Staying in the sun is special. Toss in ending with good beer in a funky bar and you’ve pushed most of my last line of the day buttons.
Which is why my vote goes to the run from Vail down to the Minturn Saloon, which I discovered courtesy of Lodge at Vail’s Matthew Boumphrey. We got chatting as he helped us with our bags on arrival, and fortunately he was happy to sign up for nothing more than the chance of fleeting fame in Snow Action’s pages to show me some of Vail’s best in and out-of-bounds lines like only a local can.
After a big day hitting Blue Sky Basin, and the awesome tree lines there, which if you hiked a little still offered over-the-knee powder stashes, we weren’t done as the lifts started to shut down. Like clockwork the outer areas at Vail close early and get swept by Patrol, so you want to time your last runs right.
A short hike along the ridge line between Wildwood on the front side and Game Creek Bowl on the backside takes you to the gate for the run down to Minturn, a little old mining town tucked in a side valley off I-70 between Vail and Beaver Creek. Apparently if Vail gets hold of a couple of parcels of land in between they could hook the whole thing up into one vast Euro-style mega resort. For now though it’s fine the way it is, sharing your last run of the day with like-minded adventurous, and thirsty, souls, keeps it populated enough.
After the obligatory pre-last run Coors, we headed out and down as the sun dropped onto the 14,000′ peaks in the distance. Despite being by no means the first here on the day, we had no trouble finding some clean fresh snow to charge on the upper glades. Maybe 1000′ of good vertical can be had before you hit the “luge track” run out, who’s nickname gets apter the lower and slicker it gets. Space out dudes, with a mix of skiers and boarders stopping and starting your main danger is collecting, or being collected by, others out of control or stopped awkwardly along the way.
All of a sudden we popped out onto an open boggy creek area, which is the must stop spot to have another Coors, or Colorado-legal joint, while catching the last rays of this south west facing little sun trap.
Whichever refuel option you choose remember on the 2nd section of the luge track everyone has been refuelling with something, so more caution for those ahead and behind you is in order. Magically the 2nd section goes quickly, and you pop out on the road for a hike or skate a kilometre or so into Minturn. Cross the silent railway tracks, turn the corner into the main street and the lineup of skis and boards on the wall outside tells you this is the spot. No America’s #1 Ski Resort glitz here, the Minturn Saloon caters to all.
To get back if you don’t have a friend lined up for a pick up (huge shout out to Matthew’s sister for that!) the friendly crew at Turtle Bus have a licensed bus service so the apres continues on board. Check their site for details.
Any competent skiers or boarders confident in ungroomed/varied snow conditions can do this run in good weather. If you time it not to be too late you will likely have some tracks to follow and others coming behind.
Whether it’s Vail’s best last run or not, it’s well worth it just to check out the saloon, doubly worth it for the run, and to know you can be so near and yet so far from civilisation.
– Owain Price