Sunday, December 21, 2008

Skiing Vail and Beaver Creek Colorado Winter 2008


These are two magnificent resorts which truly live up to their slogans! Vail says it is “like nothing on earth” and Beaver Creek’s motto is “Not exactly roughing it.” If you ask any skier or snowboarder what their favorite areas in the world are, most will say Vail or Beaver Creek, if they have had the good fortune to make the visits.

But, these are no cream puff areas. Despite the many wide, gleaming, and groomed green and blue runs, there are also a lot of steep, challenging black diamonds. The altitude of 9 to 11,000 feet can get to you quickly, especially if you have just arrived from sea level. Most of the visitors we met seemed to be from the East, the Midwest, or Texas, and we were all challenged.
These resorts can be very expensive, but there are a lot of ways to minimize the costs. There are attractive off season packages for all the resorts. We met some visitors who booked great package deals from their ski clubs, or from many of the on line travel services or groups, such as Mountainsportsclub.com. With many of these packages, you are getting the best rates and often staying in luxury accommodations. Sure, you can still find some homes for sale in Beaver and Vail for up to 12 million dollars, but you don’t have to go that route! You can also join a private mountain club, for $50,000 to $250,000, but my guess is, there is now less demand for such exclusive clubs on the mountain. A lot to pay for parking, lifts, and meals, in my estimation. And, we all sit on the same ski lifts, with the same parts of our anatomies!

We arrived in Beaver Creek on the 10th, after driving about an hour from Breckenridge. It was sad to leave the friends we had met at the Hartford Ski Spectacular, but we hope to see many of them in upcoming events. It was also hard to pull away from Breckenridge that day – the weather was mild and the slopes in good condition. But, in Colorado, there are also so many excellent choices to make, you can overdoes with too much sweetness.

In Beaver Creek/Avon, we were met by Jen Brown of Vail Associates – a real dynamo who accomplishes much more than the average person. She is a former ski racer (for 20 years) and another ex Easterner who moved to Nirvana. She installed us in a spacious condo at “The Seasons at Avon.” It is always a bit strange to move into someone else’s home, and take it over for a few days. It is beautiful, with the large kitchen, living room, and switch-on gas fireplace. From the front sliding window, you can see the trails of Beaver Creek. Great to watch the full moon over the slopes, and see the groomers at work throughout the night. These homes can easily accommodate 6 or 8 visitors, if you are not big on privacy.

On Thursday morning, Charles and I walked across the street, and took one of the many free, “eco” buses to Beaver Creek. You can drive, but it is discouraged. Parking is expensive at all the areas, but that is also meant to try to convince drivers to leave their cars someplace else, and take the bus. There are, of course, some discount rates for disabled and seniors, but it can be hard to get those parking spaces on crowded days.

Beaver Creek is one of the areas in the world which is truly visitor friendly. After a short walk from the bus, there is a series of escalators which take you to the lifts. At the end of a beautiful day of skiing and boarding, waiters circulate and hand out their hot, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. What a change from the early days of ski dorms and cold, icy outdoor bathrooms of my teenage years!

At Beaver, we rode up two chairs, the Centennial and the Cinch Express. We met one of the many Guest Service representatives, BT Trumpower, and he made our day. He is a snowboarder, and showed us the mountain. By coincidence, he is a Marylander, and still lives in Ocean City in the summer. He showed us the good groomed cruisers, and advised us to follow the grooming trucks. As soon as they finished, we danced down some of the best corduroy I have ever experience.

Beaver is a large mountain, but not as sprawling or complex as its sister resort of Vail. It now hosts the “Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup” and has a wide variety of challenges including the Rose Bowl and steep bumps on Grouse Mountain. It also has the beautiful long Cinch run, where those wanting easy skiing and riding can cruise from the top to the bottom of the mountain. Safety and speed are carefully monitored, especially on “Gold Dust,” which has signs proclaiming, “speed is monitored from the air!”

Visit to Vail – one of the largest snow resorts in North America

What can I say about Vail? It is so beautiful, I literally dream about it at night. It is sweeping, immaculately groomed and kept up, and has some of the biggest area and varied terrain of any resort on earth. It is also extremely visitor friendly, with a large number of Guest Service Representatives and Mountain Ambassadors to help you every step of the way. These are fascinating people – the ones we met were semi—retired doctors, teachers, or accomplished professionals from a wide variety of disciplines. I know this advocation has long been one of my goals, if I ever semi retire.

I first came to Vail when Jerry Ford was President. He enabled the White House press corps, and their families, to follow him on many trips to Vail, and to Beaver, which was just under development at the time. These trips were definitely better than the vacation White Houses of many other Presidents. I was pleased to see the many buildings named after Gerald and Betty Ford at Vail and Beaver. Maybe we could convince the Obamas to visit the slopes, if they ever have any spare time!

At Vail, my husband and I drove, but perhaps should have taken an inexpensive “eco bus,” which is cheaper if you get a senior discount. We were fortunate enough to find free parking on Frontier Road, and then walk across to a shuttle bus to Vail and Lionshead. It is much better to make your way to Lionshead, even if you have to take two buses. Your are quite close to the base of the Gondola, and can get to any trails or the world class bowls.

There are paid parking areas, but they can cost about $35 and often entail more walking up and down stairs, and through the village. Again, with heavy boots and skis, it is not fun. How I desperately wish I could snowboard – life could be so much easier! Alas, that has passed me by.

On the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, we met two of the Guest Service Ambassadors, and took a fast, comprehensive tour of the mountains. We covered an enormous amount of territory, and looked down into the bowls, but did not take them this time. The snow was falling and the flat light gave way to blinding snow. We all knew a one week blizzard was predicted, with temperatures well below zero. So, after two hours of fast skiing (for me), we retreated to one of the many fine mountain top restaurants, had a terrific meal, and took the Gondola down. I felt like such a sissy, but many others were taking the same route. I missed some of my favorite blue cruising trials. I also missed the famous Vail vistas, although some were visible through the snow. But, I knew they were there from the many visits I had made to Vail. Better to be prudent, and live to ski another day.

The next day, Saturday, we resisted the temptation to ski, despite the fresh snow. The temperatures were dropping and the forecast was frightening. We returned the fine rental equipment at Vail, although we had first picked it up at Breckenridge. This is one of the many advantages of renting the newest equipment. It is good quality, and we did not have to lug it to the airport, and pay the extra charges for the flight. I have long advocated rental, but I may break down and buy new boots, if they are light enough.

After another great meal at one of the many Vail resort restaurants, we were on our way. My husband Charles did a great job driving over the snowy Vail pass, and through the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels. There were lots of spin outs and accidents along the way. I was terrified. Thanks Charles! We made it to a motel in Denver, and had a relatively smooth flight on United the next day. The airline was very good about accommodating stand-bys, because schedules were so messed up with the storms.

We left Colorado with the knowledge it, Utah, and the other mountain states were getting pelted with snow. It is a good omen for Christmas and, hopefully, a good sign for the future.