I want to say that Vail Pass is undiscovered, but when I pulled up to the parking area for a day of backcountry skiing, I could see that that was definitely not the case. The parking lot was packed with snowmobilers, snowshoers, and backcountry skiers.
The appeal of Vail Pass is obvious: located on I-70, it’s extremely accessible. Furthermore, the main trail around the pass is groomed by snowcat along Shrine Pass road with both dedicated skier and snowmobiler trails, making hiking exponentially easier. It has miles of terrain, great views, and multiple backcountry huts.
For me, one of the defining features of Vail Pass is the low degree of commitment required to enjoy it. One can simply snowmobile or snowshoe along the respective paths, enjoy the views, and not have to worry about many of the things that traditionally occupy one’s mind in the backcountry.
To the east, one can see Copper Mountain and the Ten Mile range. To the west, one can see the Gore and Mosquito ranges. There’s an entire season’s worth of tracks at Vail Pass.
Be aware that much of the terrain on Vail Pass, particularly on the northern side of I-70 and the southern ridgelines, has killed skiers and snowmobilers. I observed avalanches when there was only a small base, so the danger will be amplified now that there’s more snow. However, the lower angled stuff is also extremely fun—just pick your route carefully so you don’t have to bushwack back to the car. In addition, be aware that the pass is a fee area after Nov. 28. It’s six dollars per person per day or 40 dollars for a season pass.