Most parents have stood on the sidelines of athletic fields, concert halls and school programs, beaming with pride at the accomplishments of their children. It is not often that Mom and Dad get to participate in these achievements side by side with the kids. These are exactly the kind of moments that Vail Mountain has created with the development of its new top-of-mountain summer experience, called Epic Discovery.
If your family is looking for a summer trip full of adventure and thrills — but surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery instead of a theme park — Epic Discovery is for you.
Parents won’t need to worry about kids whining that they’re bored at Epic Discovery. There’s truly something for everyone, and when your gondola reaches the top of the mountain, the amount of activities is almost disorienting at first. Or maybe it’s just the altitude at 10,000 feet!
For children 10 and up, the highlight is the Aerial Adventure ziplining tour. This is comprised of a series of seven zips that reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and measure more than 2 miles in total length. If this sounds too intense, rest assured that it doesn’t feel quite that fast. The guides are incredibly skilled and friendly. They’ll put even the most frightened participant at ease. This was my first ziplining experience, and during my very first zip, I went from terrified to absolutely relaxed in about five seconds.
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Each and every stage of the tour feels like an accomplishment — families will be high-fiving and rooting each other on. It takes about three to four hours to complete the experience, which includes wooden-log stair climbs and rappelling in addition to the thrilling zip lines. Participants have an entirely new perspective on the mountain landscape after the tour. For a more thorough explanation of the Aerial Adventure, watch this video.
Another favorite activity is the Forest Flyer alpine coaster. This is best described as sledding meets roller coaster, as you fly down the mountain on a track. Parents will love the gorgeous scenery throughout the ride; kids love that they can control the speed (but with lots of safety measures in place). I heard one girl boast that she’d already been on a dozen times that morning. It really is that addicting! Young children can ride along with parents, as the “sleds” seat two comfortably.
Kids not old enough for the Aerial Adventure tour can still experience ziplining on the Little Eagle zipline. The ride is quick, but still very fast and thrilling. Tubing is another highlight, especially for young adventurers with a need for speed. No wetsuits needed; this is actually a dry slope. Families can even link a few tubes together to do it as a small group.
Other activities include a variety of ropes courses for every age; trampolines; and play areas. I’d also encourage families to make time for some hiking. There are several trails around the top of the mountain, with educational and activity stations that will help children (and adults) learn more about the mountain’s unique ecosystem. Stop into the staffed nature center to ask questions, participate in activities and arrange for a guided hike with a naturalist.
Epic Discovery is smartly packaged as a day pass instead of paying for each attraction separately. Kids will want to do certain activities over and over again, so I was immediately convinced of the value of this $89 Ultimate Adventure pass. The pass gives you unlimited access to the full range of activities, including the gondola lift up and down for the day. The only exception is the Aerial Adventure tour.
For the Aerial Adventure tour, families will want to get a Game Creek Aerial Adventure Pass for $189 per person. This includes both the 4-hour aerial ziplining experience, and also includes the Ultimate Adventure Pass mentioned above. Ideally, you’d spend your morning doing the Aerial Adventure, have lunch, and then enjoy all the other mountaintop activities in the afternoon.
For families with young kids, there’s a discounted pass called the Little Explorer Pass for $49. While the lower price point is attractive, please note that it does not include the Forest Flyer alpine coaster, which is a favorite of most kids. It does include the climbing tower, trampoline, little zipline, pinecone adventure course, tubing and the gondola ride up and down the mountain.
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While the price point may seem steep, it is far less than what the average family would pay to spend the day at an amusement park, and yet the level of quality and range of activities is every bit as impressive, memorable and fun. I’d argue even more so, considering the incredible mountain backdrop that seems to instantly put families at ease. Best of all, lines were short (or nonexistent) and moved quickly.
The biggest question surrounding Epic Discovery is the ideal age level. You’ll find children of all ages enjoying Vail Mountain, from newborns snuggled in carriers to teenagers fresh out of high school graduation ceremonies.
If your kids are close in age, it’s best to wait until everyone is 10 years and 75 pounds so that the whole group can enjoy the Aerial Adventure ziplining experience. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime activity and something the whole family will always remember doing together. But if your kids are a wide age range, then I’d say any age is great, especially kids 6 and over (and 45 to 55 pounds), as there is still such a great range of offerings available. Just set expectations accordingly with younger members of the family.
All the age and weight restrictions are found on the Epic Discovery website. It is particularly important to check height and weight requirements, especially if your kids are small for their age.
Epic Discovery would be an ideal multigenerational activity. Our Aerial Adventure guides said they’ve worked with several grandparents in just this first summer since opening. If grandparents aren’t up to the physical challenge of ziplining, tubing and alpine coasters, they can simply purchase a gondola lift ticket and enjoy watching the grandkids take in these experiences.
Vail Mountain’s Epic Discovery will leave families feeling far more connected to each other and to nature than to their electronic devices. It earns a well-deserved spot on every active family’s summer bucket list.
Editor’s Note: Nicole was hosted by Vail Mountain. As always, our opinions are our own at Ciao Bambino. Photos by Nicole Wiltrout except where noted.
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