Vail, Colo., is considered one of the premier ski resorts in America, if not the best. It's also home to some of the country's most expensive real estate.

Much of this is because the area is surrounded by the White River National Forest, which means private land is very limited. The greater Vail area is a valley that run 30 miles from east to west and encompasses Beaver Creek and other neighboring ski resorts.

Vail remains the largest ski resort in the U.S., with more than 5,000 acres of slopes. This year, Ski Magazine's readers voted Vail, a perennial favorite, as the second-best ski resort in North America, trailing only Deer Valley, Utah.

To buy a place in Vail, especially the areas of Vail Village and Lionshead, which are closest to the mountain gondolas, look to spend some big bucks. Nearly all houses are above $1 million, while condo prices rival those of Manhattan and San Francisco. On the cheap end, you can buy a 650-square-foot one-bedroom condo at Vail Racquet Club, five miles away from Vail Village and Vail Mountain, for about $300,000. To get the same sized unit, but right in the heart of the village directly across from the chairlift up the mountain, will cost you about $720,000, says Carroll Tyler, a managing broker with Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate.

For the first half of this year, the average selling price for single-family homes in Vail Village and Lionshead was $4.9 million, up from $3 million a year earlier. For condos and townhomes in this area, the average selling price was $1.5 million, up from $912,416 a year earlier.

Recently, the market has been taken by storm by a wave of new construction that continues to push the price-per-square-foot sales numbers to record levels.

The Arrabelle at Vail Square, located 30 yards from the gondola, sold all of its 67 condos earlier this year for an average price of $3.2 million, or $1,150 per square foot. "By 2 p.m. the first day we started selling, we had 573 $100,000 deposit checks in for 67 units," says Adam Aron, CEO of Vail Resorts ( MTN - Get Report), which developed the project. The company ended up drawing names from a hat in a hotel ballroom that night to see who got units. Aron himself didn't have to stand in line to buy his unit, however. He exercised 640,000 employee stock options to buy a $4.6 million unit at Arrabelle that he reserved in late 2004, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Vail Resorts' other nearby project for sale in 2005, Gore Creek Place, a 16-townhome community, also sold out quickly at $1,005 per square foot.

Next up for Vail Resorts are two communities going on sale in early 2006. One is the Ritz Carlton Residences of Vail, a 108-condo development featuring ski-in/ski-out residences. Ritz Carlton will manage the building and provide hotel amenities to owners, such as 24-hour room service. The project will take two years to build. Units will average 2,000 square feet and will likely be offered between $2 million and $4 million, which amounts to $1,500 and more per square foot.

"As the next two projects come on the market, people might want to move quickly, because there's been a bit of a land rush, 1850s-style," Aron says. "One of the reasons why there's so much demand for good new residential product in Vail is that Vail was fully built out about 20 years ago. And there's really been no new residential projects built in Vail for several decades."

The other Vail Resorts project set to go on sale next year is the Lodge at Vail Chalets. The project will feature 13 homes, about 4,500 square feet each, and will sell for between $9 million and $14 million, or $2,000 and $2,600 per square foot. Last year, Vail Resorts and other developers got some assurance of the high-end market's strength when a 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom condo atop the Lodge at Vail sold for about $2,500 per square foot.

However, don't be fooled: The Lodge Vail Chalets units aren't actually single-family homes, just massive townhouses built side by side, meaning some walls will be shared. But each unit has its own private elevator, and windows stare out at the "big money view" of Vail Mountain known as Gore Range.

Golf Course Digs ...
... That's Vail Golf Course

With the slopes now open, Vail is set to begin its busiest real estate selling season of the year. What better way to celebrate the holidays and the Good Life than to ski the beautiful slopes and take a peak at some of the possible vacation homes in the area?

Here is one of the more luxurious single-family home properties currently on the market, listed by Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate:

Price: $16.1 million
Location: Vail Golf Course
Bedrooms: 6
Baths: 6
Sq. Ft.: 9,800
Year Built: 1993
Acres: 0.41

The home, built primarily of Colorado rough gray granite, wood and glass, has its own restaurant, outdoor hot tub, cookout area, gym, 3,000-bottle wine cellar, game room and cozy living room.

And This Is the Living Room ...
... Grab a chair

The guest house is connected to the main house by the swimming pool. The grand windows in the great room offer views of the dramatic Gore Range. The home is close to Vail Village, yet it sits in a private lot surrounding by huge evergreens.

The property has been on the market for a few years and was originally priced at $18 million. "It's a perfect house for someone who would be entertaining a great deal -- either large families or a corporate-type setup," says Tyler, Slifer's managing broker.

As Slifer's Web site boasts, "To own this distinctive home would be to realize `The American Dream.'"