BEAVER CREEK: PENULTIMATE IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN SKIING

Colorado Mountain Resort Offers all the Best of the West

By Eric Leiberman & David Leiberman & Mark Eberbach

You think the thrill might have been tempered by the warning signs: glimpses of the majestic Rockies from the plane, picturesque mountain passes that made it difficult to nap away the shuttle ride to the resort, and of course the seemingly hyperbolic assertions from friends that skiing out West was going to be “nothing like” anything we had experienced in the East.

Arrive by snowcat-pulled sleigh to Beano's Cabin: once a rustic mountain experience, five-course dining at Beano's Cabin is an elegant affair(© 2009 David Leiberman).

Somehow we still couldn’t help but literally exclaim in disbelief as we carved down our first run. Powder up to our knees, a panorama of mountain peaks and valleys surrounding us, and what appeared to be a bottomless trail – we almost felt that for years we had been cheated. So this is what real skiing is like!

Our first experience skiing (and snowboarding) in the West managed to exceed every one of our ambitious expectations, and Beaver Creek was a wonderful (if not pampering) introduction. Recall, if you can, a picture-perfect day when you really felt spoiled on the ski slopes. Now picture an alpine experience that is so much better!

At Beaver Creek, the sun shines bright over 300 days a year, lighting up 1,805 acres of pristine powder. I mean, we’re talking a vertical of 4,040 feet, from the base at 8,100 feet, to the summit at 11,440 feet; 148 trails accessed by 17 lifts. New England’s biggest ski resort has 1,000 skiable acres.

“Not exactly roughing it” is a slogan that you will read and come to understand over the course of your stay at Beaver Creek, a true “luxury” resort that for the third consecutive year was voted “Best Customer Service” in the country by the National Ski Areas Association. Remember when you actually had to walk to a base mountain chairlift, lugging your equipment and developing stress fractures as you trekked up from the village to the slopes in uncompromising ski boots? At Beaver Creek you’ll be riding in style up a series of escalators, greeted each step of the way by a team of mountain hosts eager to provide you with trail maps, help you with your equipment, and point you in the direction of the best snow.

Just think: before you even strap into your board or step into your skis, you’ll know where the best snow is, you’ll know which lifts are open, and best of all you’ll be given a free, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie at the base of the mountain while waiting to take the chair-lift to your first run of the day.

The service and hospitality doesn’t stop there. After shredding through the fresh powder and traversing the breadth of mountains, your quads, knees, and back are bound to be a bit sore. But the second you step foot into the beautiful mid-mountain Spruce Saddle Lodge (the only Certified Green Restaurant in the ski industry as recognized by the Green Restaurant Association), easily accessible from any point on the mountain, you are greeted and offered a tissue to wipe your running nose. You are then greeted once again before choosing which table to undress at and asked, “How were the slopes?” and “Is there anything I can recommend?” The bathrooms are well stocked with moisturizer for your wind-burned face and chapped hands.

Splendor on the Mountain

Eric Leiberman, snowboarding down to Beaver Creek village (© 2009 David Leiberman).

With all of the incredibly relaxing indoor activities that Beaver Creek offers, it is a wonder that people even make it out of the eateries and lodges! But we offer our most sincere advice: this is one of the best possible places to discover the experience of skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Get out and explore the “all-terrain experience,” and be treated to something spectacular. Even if you think that the West is too difficult or that there is too much powder, we would advise you to at least explore.

The beginner area, for example, is accessible by gondola and has been re-contoured so that it is not too steep and provides adequate rest areas for the beginner skier. Unlike most other mountains, beginners can even find themselves at the peak of the mountain with a bundle of manageable, and might I add, stunning, trails that go from top to bottom. In fact, the mountain is 19% beginner terrain and 43% intermediate terrain. Though an intermediate skier/snowboarder could find appealing and manageable trails all across the different mountains, each mountain seems to have its own personality, which appeal to the many types of skiers.

The mountain is essentially broken up into five parts: the Main Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Larkspur Bowl, Bachelor Gulch Mountain, and Arrowhead Mountain. Each area offers a different sort of terrain for a different sort of skier/snowboarder. This “all-terrain experience” includes tons of packed powder and groomed trails, but also ungroomed parts for those who appreciate a more authentic and challenging sort of skiing.

Eric Leiberman carves through the powder of a Vail "bowl"(© 2009 David Leiberman).

The Main Mountain area features nearly all the terrain that the greater Beaver Creek resort offers. Not only groomed blues and greens from top to bottom, but also powder and mogul-filled blacks. The Main Mountain also features beginner and intermediate terrain parks, which are well stocked with expertise-specific rails and jumps. A big problem that most intermediate snowboarders and skiers have with terrain parks is that the jumps are too big and the rails are too thin. Most importantly, this perception results in a sort of tentative approach to the “big jumps” which can lead to a fall or worse, an injury. The jumps and rails in the beginner parks definitely cater to those of us who are less experienced and don’t like being in the air for more than a couple seconds but they are certainly by no means simple. Here, they are the perfect size, allowing the intermediate skier/snowboarder to try new tricks and perfect old-ones without a big risk of injury.

Finally, the Main Mountain features the Bird of Prey Downhill Course, which was the site of the men’s World Cup Alpine giant slalom in 2005. Needless to say, this is a very challenging and intimidating course for the most experienced of skier.

The Grouse Mountain area features mostly blacks and double-blacks with ungroomed glades trails and fresh moguls. This seems to be a popular area for many of the expert skier/snowboarders as it is extremely challenging. Don’t think, however, that if you make it up the Grouse Mountain Express and have second thoughts that there isn’t an “easier way down”. In fact, one of our favorite trails on the whole mountain is an intermediate trail from the top of Grouse Mountain. Camprobber Road is one of those long and relaxing blue trails that you can spend 40 minutes on even if you are going at a reasonable speed.

When you are finished tearing up the fresh powder or making your way down the long blue, you can enjoy delicious outdoor barbecue at Red Tail Camp at the base of Grouse Mountain. This food, like all the others served on the mountain, are part of Beaver Creek’s Appetite for Life initiative which holds that “good food is fuel for a life well lived.” The ingredients used to prepare the food are of the highest quality and are produced in a healthy and sustainable way. All of the Vail Resorts have created a partnership with like-minded companies like Coleman Natural, Horizon Organic, and Starbucks.

The Larkspur and Yarrow Bowls offer a taste of the Back Bowls at Vail. If you have not experienced “bowl skiing,” it is something you cannot miss. It is essentially just a range of wide-open terrain that spans acres across the mountain – each bowl is probably more skiable acreage than an entire New England ski resort! They are utterly breathtaking and each run down these bowls offers a completely different experience. One part may be mogul-filled, one part may be groomed, and one part may even have a tree or two!

Mark skies through the powder of a Vail "bowl" (© 2009 David Leiberman).

If you crave more bowl skiing like we did, there’s good news! There is a $3 shuttle that takes you the ten miles to Vail where the entire backside of the mountain is bowl skiing. And it gets better! Your Beaver Creek lift ticket is valid at all of the Vail resorts; not just Vail and Beaver Creek, but also Breckinridge, Keystone, and Lake Tahoe!

The Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead Mountains offer similar intermediate green’s and blue’s with full service to the beautiful Ritz-Carlton in Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead Village. Complete with lavish private residences on the mountain and reservation-only restaurants, this part of the mountain cannot be missed.

Take advantage of Mountain Welcome Tours, which are available for intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders that want to explore and learn the mountain. Guests should meet at the top of the Centennial Express Lift (Chair 6) at 10 a.m. for the complimentary two-hour tour.

Other intriguing programs on the mountain include Ski with a Ranger – environmental education tours on Beaver Creek Mountain which let you learn about the National Forest and local ecology while skiing with a Forest Service volunteer. Tours meet weekly at the Environmental Learning Center and address different themes each week, like Winter Wildlife Adaptations, Local History, Predator and Prey Relationships, Forest Ecology, Wilderness Management, For the Kids: Become a Junior Snow Ranger and more. The tours are open to skiers and snowboarders of all ages, of beginner level and higher (you need to purchase a lift ticket).

Beaver Creek has also proved innovative with its new Ski School initiative called The Ranch, which was established based on the idea that if parents are receiving white glove treatment, so should their children. The Ranch is a trailblazing facility because of what it represents and what it offers. Apart from the fancy plasma TV’s and utterly jaw-dropping decorations meticulously planned out (even the jacket hooks are made out of three horse-shoes for good luck), The Ranch also offers organic and all-natural entrees and sides. Surprisingly, among the most popular appetizer orders are the edamame beans, which the kids just love to pop out of the protective skin and munch on after a long morning of lessons. My, how far we’ve come from greasy hamburgers and fries! In another bit of techno innovation, ski instructors use Zabbernauts – touch-screen menus – so they do not have to leave the kids unsupervised at the table to put in their orders.

Beaver Creek offers 1,800 acres of glorious powder (© 2009 David Leiberman).

Other kids’ ski school favorites include Park-ology, an introduction to terrain parks, and the Talons Challenge, a quest to ski or ride 13 of Beaver Creek’s toughest runs in one day.

In another creative program, Beaver Creek, which was the recipient of the 2008 Best Overall Safety award from the National Ski Areas Association, teamed up its safety ambassadors, Harry and Milli, with the Beaver Creek Children’s Ski and Snowboard School to offer the Harry and Milli Safety Scavenger Hunt. Safety clues lead kids and their instructors to Harry and Milli’s secret hideaways on the mountain, following a safety talk from Ski Patrol.

Adventure Ridge & Apres-Ski

After several long days of skiing and boarding, Vail Adventure Ridge at Vail Resort proves to be a refreshing change of pace. With access by a short gondola ride up the mountain, (which operates even after the mountain closes to skiers) Vail Adventure Ridge is a mountain-top playground that provides snowbiking (part bike, part skis!) for all skill levels, tubing, a bungee-trampoline, and kids’ snowmobiling. Snowbiking appears to be the “snowboarding of the 70s,” not widely understood or necessarily accepted, but extremely fun and unlike anything else. For $25, a family can rest their legs and still get their adrenaline pumping with an hour of tubing. With lanes of different heights to choose from, tubing is sure-fire fun and excitement for the whole family. (Adventure Ridge is open Tuesday-Saturday.)

For a more slowly paced and scenic adventure, half-day guided tours are offered for active snow-shoers. Snowshoeing in McCoy Park is a fantastic family activity keeps active minds and bodies busy discovering the beauty of the outdoors. McCoy Park, at the top of the Strawberry Park Express Lift, offers a variety of snowshoe trails for all ability levels, where kids of all ages can “get lost” in the spectacular scenery. The Beaver Creek Nordic Center rents pint-sized Atlas snowshoes, as well as the regular-sized version to outfit the entire family. Check out the guided snowshoe treks, too (970-845-5313 for more information).

Vail Adventure Ridge offers diversions like tubing and ski-biking(© 2009 David Leiberman).

The centerpiece of Beaver Creek Village, the Black Family Ice Rink has become wildly popular – more than 50,000 visitors took to the ice last season. The ice skating rink is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily during the winter season. Cost is $2 per person; rentals are available for adults ($10), children ($5, 12 years and under), which includes the ice time fee. Both hockey and figure skates are available for rental. A special Zamboni prepares the ice every three hours. Rink dimensions: 150 feet long by 65 feet wide. The rink is also open evenings during the summer season.

After the lifts close, check out the new Western Family Dinner Theatre, which features glow stick ski down and fireworks display, kids tubing, ice skating, storytelling around the fire pits and more.

Also, there is a schedule of Weekly Family-Friendly Activities – basically, special kids activities every night through March: Monday & Saturday Disco Skate Night, where kids boogie the night away at the Black Family Ice Rink in Beaver Creek with a DJ and light show (6 – 8 p.m., bring skates or rent, the ice time is free); Tuesday Beaver Creek Figure Skating Series, an organized figure skating show by local skaters (6 p.m.); Wednesday & Friday Kid’s Tubing for kids 5 – 12 (tubes provided); Thursday Rail Jam Series, a complimentary rail jam session, where skiers and snowboarders can practice sliding beginner rails on flat terrain supervised by instructors (Interested participants should meet in front of kids’ ski school); Thursday Night Lights, a complimentary guest ski-down is offered where guests (intermediate level skiers or snowboarders) board the Haymeadow Lift (#1) and ski down with their guides, carrying special “glow sticks” followed by on-mountain fireworks display (6 p.m. throughout most of the season, register at the Beaver Creek Children’s Ski and Snowboard Center).

Also, there is a free Rail Jam in front of McCoy’s, Saturdays at 4 p.m. This is a supervised session for level 5 and up (bring your own equipment).

Beano’s Cabin

The pinnacle of the Beaver Creek experience is, without a doubt, dinner at Beano’s Cabin. Resting in a meadow half way up the mountain at 9,000 ft. elevation, patrons access Beano’s Cabin by open-air 40-passenger sleigh rides behind a Sno-Cat from Beaver Creek Village. It is not uncommon for this sleigh ride to seem much like a Safari ride with all of the porcupines, foxes, and coyotes that inhabit the area surrounding the cabin.

Tubing at Vail Adventure Ridge(© 2009 David Leiberman).

Beano’s Cabin has been a famous tradition for more than 20 years – one of the first on-mountain dining experiences in the ski industry, in fact. But over the years, this has changed from a rustic, family-style affair to an exceptional, elegant five-course dining experience that consistently wins Four-Diamond ratings, as well as DiRoNa (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) Awards, Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence and top marks in the Zagat Survey.

The log cabin is beautiful and cozy, with a roaring fire – you are treated to slippers when you arrive. Beano’s Cabin is named for one of the earliest settlers on the mountain, Frank Beankowski (remnants of Frank’s original shack are behind Beano’s backdoor), who raised lettuce and rhubarb, and when Beano’s Cabin first opened as a members-only ski-in restaurant, jugs of rhubarb wine would be put on the table for everyone to help themselves.

Executive Chef Steve Topple has been at the resort for four seasons now, coming after working under the renowned Wolfgang Puck of England. Chef Topple’s specialty is seafood, and he continues to amaze with his fresh (FedEx’ed nightly) fish selections. But his focus on freshness and the use of local ingredients and organic meats has made him an expert in Rocky Mountain fare – including antelope, rabbit, and buffalo.

The menus change even weekly to take advantage of the freshest ingredients, but you may well see for your selection of appetizer Smoked Buffalo Tenderloin Carpaccio with Blackberry and Apple Compote; Crisp Sage Wrapped Rabbit Loin with Celery Root Slaw and Tarragon Vinaigrette. And for a main course Grilled Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope Loin, served with Smoked Chestnut Relish, Parsnip Gratin and Red Currant Sauce (extra $10 charge); Gingerbread Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb served with Sweet Potato Puree, Red Cabbage and Cabernet Thyme Reduction (extra $15 charge).

His seafood and fish selections are something to be marveled at: Kona Kampachi Sashimi served with Pineapple Salsa, Crisp Wonton and Ceviche Dressing and Almond Crusted Rocky Mountain Trout, served with Saffron Potato Puree, Wilted Spinach and Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette.

The meal starts with a “chef’s Amuse”, and is followed by a salad, then the choice of appetizer (Pan Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, served with Orange-Cranberry Biscuit, Plum and Cinnamon Sauce, extra $10), and finishes with a choice of desserts.

His style is a sort of creative American cuisine, which makes use of local ingredients, fresh fish, and organic meats.

The cabin is also well equipped with an extensive wine menu and micro-brewed beers. Some of the most delicious and diverse food we’ve ever had, this dining experience was nothing short of spectacular.

What a view! Eric snowboarding at Beaver Creek (© 2009 Mark Eberbach).

There are 10 sleighs a night, starting at 5 p.m. through 10 p.m.

The early sleighs – 5, 5:15 and 5:30 p.m. – offer a discounted family rate, where children 6-11 are charged $55 (children 5 and under are accommodated free) for a three-course children’s menu. There are kid-favor items, like pasta with marinara sauce, up to selections for more sophisticated palate, but in all cases, they are prepared with the same health-consciousness.

The adult menu is $105. Reservations are essential – in fact, Christmas and holiday seatings typically are booked when reservations for the season first open, in November; a credit card is needed to make the reservation, and will be charged unless canceled by 4 p.m. two days before (970-949-9090 or 877-354-0061).

Getting There, Staying Here

For most, the journey to Beaver Creek begins with a flight out to Denver International Airport or Eagle Airport and then a two-hour car or Colorado Mountain Express (CME) shuttle ride from the airport. CME offers convenient door-to-door airport transportation to most locations in Vail, Beaver Creek, and Breckinridge. They also offer private charter services throughout Colorado. With a fleet of over 240 vehicles including: 10-passenger vans, Cadillac sedans, 4-wheel drive SUVS and executive vans, CME can accommodate group services of between 20-2000 passengers! (Vans leave every hour from Denver International Airport, $87/each way for one person, discounts for 3 or more people, you can book in advance, www.ridecme.com).

Our CME van driver took us right to the concierge desk at Beaver Creek, and then right to our door at Townsend Place.

Considered one of the best values at Beaver Creek, Townsend Place offers deluxe condos at moderate prices with an ideal location that affords ski in/out access, just steps to the Village core, and all the convenience of a spacious apartment. Accommodations include a full kitchen, wood-burning fireplace, cable TV/VCR, washer/dryer, hi-speed wireless (in the atrium lobby), and outdoor hot tub (1270 Village Road, Beaver Creek, CO 81620, www.townsendplacecondos.com).

Vail Resorts, Inc. expanded its RockResorts lodging division this season with the grand opening of The Osprey at Beaver Creek, A RockResort. Following a $7 million dollar transformation, the boutique hotel, formerly known as The Inn at Beaver Creek, is the closest ski-in/ski-out hotel to a chairlift in North America. The Osprey includes a trendy tapas bar, a giant social room featuring classic movies on flat-screen TVs, and such amenities as a Wii entertainment system and helmet cams that can be rented to film on-the-slopes adventures. The Osprey also offers a fitness facility, outdoor heated pool, steam room and sauna. The big attraction for skiers at the hotel is the high-speed quad lift just 20 feet away. Guests can bring their own ski and snowboarding equipment, have it shipped ahead of the visit or arrange for custom rental gear to be delivered. Ski valets will store and prepare the gear so all equipment is ready and waiting slopeside when guests are ready to hit the powder.

For more information and packages and specials, contact Beaver Creek at www.beavercreek.com or call 866-668-8245 to book.

Have a chocolate chip cookie! One of the many niceties at Beaver Creek (© 2009 Mark Eberbach).

Meanwhile, Vail’s five mountain resorts are offering last season’s prices for both PEAKS advance ticket purchases and PEAKS window ticket purchase for all multi-day lift tickets for three or more days of skiing and riding.

This season’s best pricing is available when guests purchase a three or more day PEAKS advance ticket seven days in advance. Three-day adult rates include $249 ($83 per day) for Breckenridge and Keystone, $267 ($89 per day) for Vail and Beaver Creek and $228 ($76 per day) for Heavenly. These rates represent up to $27 off of the lead single-day window rate ($92 for Breckenridge and Keystone, $97 for Vail and Beaver Creek and $82 for Heavenly).Guests can purchase the discounted multi-day rate online at www.snow.com, through Vail Resorts Central Reservations, or at the resort ticket window.

Beaver Creek is one of the mountain resorts operated by Vail Resorts, Inc.; others include Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone mountain resorts in Colorado, Heavenly Ski Resort in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada and the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Vail Resort’s subsidiary RockResorts, a luxury resort hotel company, manages properties across the United States and the Caribbean. For information about Vail Resorts, visit www.snow.com.

Monday, 19 January, 2009

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© 2009 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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