If it’s your first time to Vail’s infamous back bowls, you are in for an experience of a lifetime!
In the 1870s, wildfires on the backside of future Vail Mountain left a wide, relatively treeless expanse stretching across five drainage valleys. Known as “bowls,” they provide modern skiers and snowboarders stunning unobstructed areas for fun. There’s nothing quite like carving through their famed fields of powder after a big snowfall or their mashed potatoes on a bluebird spring afternoon. Keep an eye out, and you may spot a charred trunk, a relic of the fires. The most visible trunk jutts up beneath the Orient Express/Chair 21.
For a fabulous, safe experience, know your access points into the bowls.
There are three main access points into Vail’s Back Bowls. To the east is one at the tops of the Wildwood Express/Chair Three and the Game Creek Express/Chair 7, near Wildwood Lodge. At the mountain’s center, access is at the tops of Mountaintop Express/Chair 4 and the Northwoods Express/Chair 11, near Buffalo’s. The westernmost access is at the top of the Sourdough Express/Chair 14, near Two Elk Lodge. Choose the entry point that leads to terrain best fitting your ability level and desire for adventure. Keep in mind that the back bowls are everchanging, and snow conditions from one day to the next can transform terrain from intermediate to expert. Note: Game Creek Bowl, though named a bowl, is not considered a back bowl.
Routes for the Mellow
China Bowl is Vail’s tamest, mostly because Poppy Fields, a consistent intermediate pitch, runs down its center and is groomed daily. Shangri-La, to the east, offers intermediate gladed terrain. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the road west out of China Bowl to the Outer Mongolia poma for dreamy gentle glades. Teacup, Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls have intermittently groomed swaths, noted on the morning’s grooming report, and their corduroy can be heavenly first thing in the morning. These faces will be the equivalent of groomed black runs. Feeling confident? Venture to Forever in Sun Down Bowl.
Routes for the Hard Core
Vail’s back bowls were made for off-piste adventure, each containing cliffs, chutes, glades and vast open slopes. Sun Down Bowl has the endless moguls of Ricky’s Ridge, the secluded steep glades of Seldom, and wide-open crud of Forever, made for cranking high-speed turns. Sun Up Bowl has gladed moguls on Yonder, Smart-Car sized ones on Milt’s Face and wide steeps on The Slot or Headwall. On China Bowl’s west side, Ghengis Khan starts with a knee-knocking cornice followed by a consistently steep pitch that’s a grin-generator on a powder day.
Gateway to Blue Sky Basin
At the base Tea Cup Bowl, or via a road from the base of China Bowl, lies access to Blue Sky Basin. This north-facing area is designed for a true backcountry experience with the needs of wildlife in mind. It’s lifthouses are encased in buildings and there is a minimalist lodge to limit impact. The only access back to Vail front-side is via the Tea Cup Chair, so try to avoid this lift after 2:30, as the line can be long with folks returning.