Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cold ski days and epic powder – Arapahoe Basin and Vail in Colorado

The holiday break for those of us in Boulder Colorado started late and extended deeper into January than I ever recall. This scheduling quirk led our family to plan and end of holiday 3 days ski and snowboard vacation that would start at Arapahoe Basin and have us spend the last 2 days at Vail.

After a very slow start in November, that had the Colorado Ski areas concerned - as there was record low natural snowfall, the skiing and snowboarding has gotten very good. December turned around quickly as many resorts reported record snowfall for the month of December. The snow has regularly been falling feet at a time and the start of 2008 has seen this same pattern of deep snow continue in Colorado. With a great base the resorts are serving up spectacular conditions with powder days being a regular occurrence. With the storms has come some very cold skiing as well. While resulting in more frequent breaks to warm up the cold temps has ensured the snow is staying dry, soft and light.

This trip was going to be interesting as we are spending a couple of nights at The Antlers in Vail. This condominium/hotel complex is one of the properties in the Lionshead area of Vail that has undergone a facelift and is walking distance from the Gondola and chairs. Having never stayed here I was curious as to the facility. The stay was a pleasant and enjoyable stay. Big rooms, great service – free movies for the kids and popcorn, heated pool, sauna, huge hot tubs with killer jets to massage out the kinks and aches from hard days on the mountain. The business center receives high marks for me as I had to stay in touch with emails and ran a conference call and demo one day. This business center had 4 computers wired and with printers. I would strongly recommend a visit to The Antlers if you are planning a visit to Vail. I know we will be back. The staff was friendly and helpful and the amenities and comforts met and surpassed our expectations.

The start of this mini vacation was a day at Arapahoe Basin. We arrived at the basin late morning on Sunday the 6th. There had been several inches of new snow each of the last several days ensuring soft broken powder throughout the mountain. WE skied pretty much all around the mountain including the alleys on the far side of Palivaccini. Snow cover is excellent and the entire mountain skilled very well. After a nice casual day of skiing we headed over to Vail for the next part of our mini ski getaway. Of special note was how the area emptied after 2 PM . Most of the crowd was trying to beat the I-70 traffic and the area was quiet. We are usually part of the crowd trying to avoid the traffic, so it was a treat to heading the other direction – westbound.

The next couple of days we spent skiing at Vail Mountain. Monday and Tuesday saw fresh snow each day. The first day reminded me of one set of reasons why Vail continues to be such a world class resort for all. My two sons who are taking up snowboarding and have not exactly been pushing it were who I would ski with. They had yet to snowboard down a blue run, either of them, but the decision this day was we would ride the Gondola and try Simba which is a manicured and relatively easy blue intermediate run. This would prove to be a breakthrough day. The snow was soft and silky as well as freshly groomed. The corduroy was the kind of ego snow all skiers and snowboarders need when there is some trepidation and one needs to get over the proverbial confidence hump. This day was one to remember for each of them. They loved the corduroy and reveled in their truns and the fact they were both now cruising blues. As a Dad really looking for the breakthrough in our skiing/snowboarding family this was the right set of runs and the day we had been looking for.

Tuesday was the better of the days in my book as I got to go and enjoy a full on powder day. We were able to hit the Gondola area by 8:40 am and were able to stay ahead of the crowds. This is a key strategic move, if you wish to avoid huge lines and cut up snow in the back bowls. Our approach was to take the lifts next to the gondola and head into Game Creek Bowl. After a quick run here we jumped into the back and had an epic run down Ricky’s Run. There were huge swaths of deep untracked snow. We eventually made it back to Blue Ski Basin and were surprised to see the one lift was not running. When speaking to one of the patrollers we were informed this chair is not running all the time due to staffing. We approached this by coming back again anyway. It was along traverse out but the pow in Champagne Glades was well worth it, and the fact the chair was not running preserved a few extra runs in the powder.

One note was the small restaurant at the top of Blue Sky Basin, does not even have hot water and the grill is on allowing you to bring your own meat to barb-que. From here we went back to the front side. One surprise was how untracked and deep the runs were off the Rim Runs. A few runs, here and then more fresh lines in Riva glade. By this time of the day my legs were becoming jelly and it was time to head back down until the next trip back to the mountains.