Gondolas have served U.S. ski resorts since the 1960s, and while they've offered protection from inclement weather as skiers are shuttled up mountains, they've also been decidedly utilitarian. But since earlier this winter, visitors to Vail, Colorado can now ride in high-tech style and keep warm the whole way up, thanks to a new state-of-the-art gondola system at the heart of the resort's sprawling network of ski trails, which makes getting to the center of the action a relaxing, climate-controlled ride. The glass-wrapped French-, Italian-, and American-made (70 percent of the system is fabricated in nearby Grand Junction) "Gondola One" collects up to 10 skiers at the base of the front side of the mountain in Vail Village.
Riders pop off their skis and leave them in a rack on the outside of the car, and then sit back for the swift ride up from Vail Village to Mid-Vail – 7.5 minutes of luxurious respite from the elements thanks to heated, cushioned seats for warming your core back up and even (free) Wi-Fi, a boon for those who feel the need to stay connected in the hills and valleys that by nature have spotty cell phone network coverage. On our recent ride up, a grandfatherly gentleman asked a bearded snowboarder about the music playing from the headphones built into his Burton jacket's collar; by the time we arrived at Mid-Vail, the man had downloaded The Black Keys' "El Camino" and was ready to listen to it on the slopes.
Mid-Vail is the hub of an intricate latticework of trails that run the full gamut of difficulty levels from beginner to advanced, but it also features the plush fine dining spot The 10th, which is walking distance from the top of the lift and serves lunch, après-ski, and dinner (with complimentary slippers). The contained gondola design and the walk-on boarding style means anyone who just wants to eat can also ride up wearing regular shoes and civilian clothes is doable (and the ride back down with a view of the Gore Range in the far distance is nothing short of epic). Just make sure you're facing downhill. [vail.com]