Vail & Beaver Creek Review

The place you would have grown up skiing if your parents/grandparents had tried a little harder.

Growing up skiing the east coast in the pre-internet era you only knew what you knew. For me that was the Poconos and if you were lucky and one of your friends’ family had an extra spot in their cabin, a trip up to Vermont. I could only dream about going “out West” skiing, but saw the sweatshirts and knew the names of where my more affluent friends went for Christmas – Breckenridge, Telluride, Aspen and Vail.

Coming out here was like an alternate reality of what was possible had our ancestors not stopped in New Jersey but kept pushing West as so many pioneering folks did. This is possible and some people live here and ski these amazing mountains every day or every weekend. My reality is only mine, but there is another way, just like when you watch the X-Game now vs. 15 years ago. The tricks that these athletes are doing now are on an entirely different level versus what was done 15 years ago. It’s almost a completely different sport. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, that which is possible is only limited by the extent of what you can believe is possible. After talking with several folks who live in the Beaver Creek and Vail areas full time, I now know what is possible.

Grab a cup of coffee, because this in in-depth. Here’s out trip to Beaver Creek and Vail.

Beaver Creek

Dining

Staying in Beaver Creek meant that the majority of our dining was done in the village. It was a short walk to the village and more importantly a short walk back to our condo, no car required. After a long day of travel and trouble checking in, we just wanted to grab something quick and easy. The Coyote Cafe was just what we were wanted. First thing I noticed was their extensive margarita menu on display over the bar. They seemed a bit understaffed or maybe just busier than expected on a Tuesday night, but they had TGR movies playing on the TVs, a solid menu including Mexican fare, burgers, salads and some of the best chips and salsa I’ve ever had. The chips were crispy and not greasy while the salsa was thick and spicy. Tremendous!

The Skiing

A few weeks ago, shortly after finalizing our trip, I was streaming some classic Warren Miller films. One of those was “No Turning Back” from 2014 which featured a segment on the World Cup races at Beaver Creek. To be honest, I really didn’t know too much about Beaver Creek besides a few stories from friends who had stayed there a few years back. They said it was bougie, but didn’t really get into the details of the skiing. Since we had opted to stay there and there was a foot of fresh snow on the ground, we decided to ski there the first day.

Our condo was in a pretty choice location between the Strawberry Park Express Lift and the Elkhorn Lift. One of the coolest features of Beaver Creek is all the “skiways” they have created connecting the slopes to the condos. This creates a ski-on/ski-off experience for a large number of different communities within the resort. That was one of my favorite features of the resort and it made it easy to get on and off the mountain.

We had a jackpot first day. About a foot of snow had fallen overnight and it didn’t stop snowing until the end of the afternoon. With those kind of conditions it would be pretty hard to have a bad day on the slopes. Beaver Creek is a very beginner and intermediate friendly mountain, with roughly 80% being blue and green slopes. Starting from the Elkhorn lift, it took us a few lifts to get over to a section that had more challenging terrain. That was the area serviced by the Larkspur and Grouse Mountain lifts. The conditions were so perfect that we just lapped those lifts for a hour-or-so. There were no lift lines and we kept yelling “wooooo-hoooo” and smiling every single time down. The photo below shows what the conditions looked like.

After that, we headed over to the Birds of Prey, Cinch and Centennial Express areas. These areas had diverse and challenging terrain. As we lapped the area, you could see the conditions changing with each run. The snow continued to fall and skiers and boarders found the choice spots usually right along the treeline. We finished the day in the Rose Bowl area, but at this point we could feel how beat-up our legs were. Knowing we had a few more days of skiing left we decided to end the day on that positive note.

Favorite Run: Screech Owl/Raven Ridge

Apres Ski

We ended our day at the Beav’ right at the top of the village between the Haymeadow Gondola and the Centennial Express Lift. Apres ski beers were definitely earned today! I did minimal research about where to go for apres, because I really wanted to be in the moment and let “Jesus Take the Wheel,” as they say. Our only guidelines when going to a bar or restaurant right off the mountain is to avoid the cliche-ly named establishment like Moguls, Double Diamonds, Powder or the like. This lead us to the C-Bar, which was connected to the Beaver Creek Chophouse. Maybe it was because it was Wednesday, but it was really quiet and nobody seemed particularly over-excited to reflect upon the amazing conditions we all just enjoyed out on the mountain.

Another recurring theme was the mediocre draft beer selections. Yes, most places had a nice selection of cans and bottles from local craft brewers, but the draft selections at most places were sub-par. Maybe it’s because I’m used to skiing in Vermont and every place has an epic selection of local beers from the best craft beer state in the country (boom, I said it). One of the beers we found quite often and ordered was the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA, which is not a local beer (they’re out of Oregon), but is delicious.

Dining

Wednesday night we ventured down into the Avon village outside of Beaver Creek and dined at Vin48. This had been recommended by someone from Beaver Creek and it was a great recommendation. It’s a wine bar, but had one of the best draft beer selections we encountered anywhere on our trip. Both Nick and I had the Outer Range Hazy IPA on draft which was really hoppy, citrusy and delicious. It’s brewed in Frisco only about 30 minutes away so it must have been fresh! For my entree, I had the roasted duck breast, a bit of a departure from my usual wheelhouse, but is was done beautifully medium-rare and tasted exquisite. The roasted brussel sprouts, which must have had a little vinegar or something sour, were a delicious complement.

Thursday – Vail

The Skiing

After skiing Beaver Creek the first day, we headed over the Vail for the next two days. Thursday was another straight-up powder day. It had snowed all day the day before and dumped a little more overnight. Of course, the first thing we did was head to the famous back bowls. We had plenty of opportunities for fresh tracks and it was legendary. We did several laps off the Game Creek Express chair, then headed to the High Noon and Skyline lift areas. It was just unbelievable, the vastness of the terrain, the light fresh snow – everything was perfect. There were some lift lines which we didn’t quite expect on a Thursday, but it was a powder day, so not out of the ordinary.

Thursday was a really cold day and topped out at about 18° F. After a few hours of skiing, waiting in lift lines and sitting on cold lifts, we needed a little warm up. There weren’t too many options in options in the back bowls. Luckily, there was one spot, Belle’s Camp, where we could warm up and grab a coffee and water. Since it’s the only spot in the back bowls, just about everyone who was on the mountain with us, was also in Belle’s. It is not a very big facility, just a cabin and we were all jammed in there, which was good for staying warm.

Heading out of Belle’s we jumped into the Champagne Glades. We were having an awesome time picking our way through the glade when tragedy struck. Nick was making a turn and tweaked his knee. He wasn’t even sure what happened – it wasn’t a crash just an awkward turn. This was also the knee that he blew out his ACL on at Mammoth Mountain a few years ago. He had also just been at Whistler the weekend before which may have weakened it and this just pushed it too far.

As a precautionary measure, he took Kelly’s Toll Road, getting back to the front side and taking blue and green trails to get back to Lionshead, ending his day. Andrea and I tried to ski down with him but we got separated and our phones froze up since it was about 16° F at this point. The closest lodge to warm up was Golden Peak lodge but when we got there the power was out and none of the services were available. Our phones defrosted and found out that Nick was at Lionshead, so we tried to make our way over to Lionshead which is the other side of the mountain, more than a mile away. We ended up taking Gondola One which gave us a reprieve from the cold for a few minutes and had a plan to hit the Avanti Express, then take Eagle’s Nest to Born Free, get to Lionshead and call it a day.

This seemed like a great idea and at this point Andrea and I were both very cold and tired. Now I’m the kind of person, I make a plan and I stick to it, so all I could focus on was getting to that Avanti Express chairlift, which would allow us to get to Lionshead. I failed to look at signs showing we could’ve taken Gitalong Road almost all the way to Lionshead. Eh, no big deal right, hop on the lift get a few more turns in before calling it a day.

Someone forgot to tell the Avanti Express chairlift about our plans because about one minute into our lift ride, at the point where we were the furthest off the ground, the lift stopped and not one of those, a snowboarder-who-had-one-too-many-PBRs-fell-getting-off-the-lift stops, we’re talking STOPPED. Like I said, earlier, it was maybe 16° F at this point, the sun was starting to go down and the wind was really whipping up, especially being that high up on the mountain.

I heard some sort of message being broadcast from the lift station about Vail losing power, but couldn’t tell the exact message. Andrea was frigid at that point and I was trying to keep her warm, but could only do so much. After about 5 minutes, I was starting to get a little nervous because if what I heard was correct and the mountain lost power, how long would be stuck up there and how long would it take for them to get us down? After at least 10 minutes, the lift finally started back up and we both collectively let out a sigh of relief. I definitely got some grief for missing that sign that would’ve just taken us to Lionshead, but hey it built character, toughened us up and made that first apres ski beer taste even better. We resumed our plan to hit Eagle’s Nest to Born Free and drop underneath the Eagle Bahn gondola all the way down to the Lionshead base area.

That wasn’t even the first time we were stuck on a chair that day, we were stuck on the Tea Cup Express in the back bowls for a least a few minutes earlier in the day. The joy of the fresh pow, the lack of wind and having the sun in our faces, made that a lot more pleasant.

Favorite Run: Champagne Glade (until Nick got hurt)

Apres Ski

We were frigid at that point and needed to meet back up with Nick, who had been out in the car changing and warming up. There was no plan and we ended up at Bart and Yeti’s in the village for apres ski food and drink. Again, the beers on draft were a disappointment – Miller, Coors, Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada – nothing fun and local. Nick and I went w/ New Belgium Voodoo Ranger (in bottles) which is always solid, but something I can easily get at home. We were all starving at that point and I was steered by the waitress towards the French Dip sandwich, which did not disappoint.

Dinner

Thursday night we were experiencing serious decision paralysis but ended up making a reservation at the Golden Eagle Inn, based mostly on the great reviews we found on Yelp and Google. Among the three of us, this may have been the best meal of the trip. We ordered cocktails and my Manhattan and Nick’s Gibson were perfect. We devoured the bread and salad appetizers, then went on to the main course of roasted loin of ELK, which was cooked and seasoned perfectly. The only thing I would’ve changed was the size, it should’ve been twice the size and I would’ve happily and easily eaten it.

Friday – Vail Part 2

The Skiing

Nick’s knee wasn’t feeling right so it was just me and Andrea out there on Friday. There wasn’t any fresh snow, but the mountain was still in fantastic shape after all the snow from the previous two days. Our plan was to explore more of the front side of the mountain. When we got to the top, I took us back into the bowls because they were just so much fun.

We ended up doing a bunch of runs in the Game Creek Bowl then over at the Sun Up Bowl after following a bunch of kids in superhero costumes, because they definitely looked like they were going somewhere awesome. Eventually, we made it to the frontside as we initially intended, finding a run called First Step which went into Northstar that was surprisingly untraveled. It had some great moguls, and was in great shape. The run was so much fun and we ended up lapping it 3 times until the sun started going down and putting some serious shade on the runs. Of course, on the last trip up, the chairlift STOPPED again for a solid 3-4 minutes.

Favorite Run: First Step

Apres Ski

It would have been tragic to leave Vail without having made it out to the Red Lion, so that’s what where we went. We got there around 3:00 so we were still able to grab a table for a bite and a beer. Like a broken record, the draft beer selection was nothing special, but there were some yummy options in bottles and cans. I went with an Odd 13 – Codename: Superfan IPA, which was exactly the kind of beer you want hitting your lips after a long, hard day of skiing – fresh, crisp, flavorful and refreshing.

It paired wonderfully with my grilled fish tacos with avocado wedges. I’m a pretty tough critic when it comes to fish tacos, but these were outstanding (especially for being that far from the ocean). The fish was flavored with a bit of spice, perfectly cooked and had great fillings. Dropped a little drizzle of the cilantro-lime sauce and a bit of salsa on each taco and they were as close to perfect as a fish taco can be.

We wrapped up our late lunch/apres at the Red Lion and it started to get crazy packed. Even though it was early February, the sun was out and the outdoor section was mobbed. As someone who always has a judgmental eye on the situation, I noticed a large percentage of folks who were coming out for apres ski, but forgot the ski(or snowboard) part. There were no ski boots, goggle-tans, post-ski funk or messed-up helmet hair. Just Canada Goose jackets and whatever trendy, cute, faux technical-looking “in” boots were required to complete the look. These people go by many names – scenesters, poseurs, New Yorkers, etc. – but when they arrive on the scene, it’s time to move along, and move along we did.

Next stop was the Vail Brewing Company, but not the one in the village, we went to the real-deal brewery in Eagle-Vail. This epic location is also next to a weed shop and the Rocky Mountain Taco truck. Now this was our kind of place! Is there anything better than walking into a legit brewery that’s making IPAs (who’s not these days) and getting that smell of hops? I love that! They had a lot of great beers on draft and I went with the Lunar Nectar IPA. It did not disappoint and was my favorite beer of the trip – thick, hazy, citrusy and fresh.

We only stayed for one beer and as I was closing out our tab, I noticed a dude at the bar looking at my jacket. I was wearing a mid-layer, 3/4 pullover by a brand that doesn’t sponsor the podcast (so I shan’t mention their name) but on the right chest I have a “High Falutin Ski Bums” patch sewn on. The dude at the bar asked me about the podcast and said that he had listened to it! That was one of the coolest moments ever, because how random is it that a person at a brewery in Vail has listened to a podcast made by two guys, one in New Jersey and one in Florida?!?! I chatted with him and his buddy for a bit, gave them some stickers and headed off on our next adventure.

Dinner

Friday was our last night in town and after a late lunch and double apres ski we weren’t sure what to do for dinner. There were still plenty of options in the Beaver Creek village that we hadn’t tried, since another one of our dining policies is to never eat twice at the same place on the same trip. The first night when, we ended up going to the Coyote Cafe, Andrea had done some scouting while Nick and I dropped off supplies at the condo and her backup choice from Tuesday became our go-to on Friday – Revolution.

The atmosphere and ambiance of this place was excellent. They had a nicely stocked bar off to the side, captivating art and sculptures and an open kitchen. When we spoke to the waitress she told us the restaurant cooks everything by rotisserie and they had a wide range of different meats to choose.

(Authors note: editing this post, I just “got” that they’re a rotisserie restaurant and are called Revolution.)

I had to ask exactly what it was before ordering, but the porchetta that I got was outstanding. According to wikipedia:

Porchetta is a savoury, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The carcass is deboned, arranged carefully stuffed with liver, wild fennel, all fat and skin still on spitted, and/or roasted, traditionally over wood for 8+ hours.

One oddity that had to be mentioned – this is a restaurant with a bar, in a ski town, on a Friday night and it closed at 9? Maybe that’s just Beaver Creek and their modus operandi. It made us ponder a bigger question, if the mountain caters to an older, more-affluent crowd and according to many economists, we are near the end of one of the longest periods of economic prosperity, what does the future look like for Beaver Creek? I have no idea, I just want to ski, but if you consume too much from the next section you start to think about it…

The Cannabis

Maybe it’s cliche, or maybe it’s just the new normal, but when you go to Colorado, people always ask about weed/marijuana/cannabis. Looking at dispensary maps, you notice there isn’t anything in the towns of Vail and Beaver Creek. You have to go to the town in-between, Eagle-Vail, the “green-light” district of the county, with several strip malls, all containing at least one and sometimes two or more dispensaries.

I’m not sure if funny is the right word to describe it, but it is curious. We went to one, Rocky Road, and got some post-apres ski pain relief in various forms. The most helpful to all of us was the Sour Strawberry cannabis strain which helped ease the little aches and pains lingering after a great day of skiing. The most interesting was the Magic Buzz Sweet Dreams sleep aid. It contained 10mg of THC along with melatonin, valerian, lemon balm & chamomile. The bud tender told me it might be best to only take half and see how it goes. I took a little more than that and woke up a little paranoid around 1am (I was also jet-lagged and adjusting to the elevation) but after a quick bathroom pit-stop slept quite well. Next time I’ll just take the whole thing and see what happens.

Pre-conclusion Fancy Mountain Rant

As someone who loves real estate and mountain aesthetics, Beaver Creek felt like you were skiing at a country club (at times I felt like I shouldn’t be there!). In the lower sections where there is more beginner and intermediate terrain, you have these amazing houses nestled within the roads and trails going up the mountain. These aren’t just ski bum shacks either, these are crazy multi-multi-million dollar ski palaces. One thing you notice is many of them are empty. I know billionaires need to diversify and put their money somewhere, but it really drives me crazy to see this epic ski country real estate sitting there empty.

Am I jealous? Yes, because I’m trying to make my way into the mountains for a full-time occupancy and there is only a limited amount of land and property available for development on-and-around the mountain. This drives the prices up and make it unaffordable except to the very wealthy. Could I just work harder, make more money and buy my own ski palace, I guess so, but I think that ship might have sailed.

Based on my experience, If you’re the kind of family who wants to go to Beaver Creek or Vail, you want a luxurious ski vacation. You want to stay in a fancy hotel (like the Four Seasons), go out for fancy dinners, ski valet, etc. That entire experience is predicated on all of those hotels, restaurants, bars, ski shops having access to workers that can provide service that will match the expectations of those discerning customers.

I’m speaking a bit anecdotally, but I’ve talked with folks in Whistler and Jackson Hole who encounter the same problems. How can you get a staff capable of providing these customers’ high expectations, while also paying them a living wage that allows them to live anywhere near the I-70 corridor? I’m sure there is some employee housing for those who are young and single, but if you’re someone with a family, it must be almost impossible. I know I’m drifting way out of my lane, but it’s something that I think about a lot – the separation of haves and have-nots getting so great especially in affluent ski towns.

Conclusion

We had a wonderful time and want to give a MASSIVE Thank You to Jessie from Vail Resorts for helping us to get out there. I’ll be honest (like I haven’t been during this whole post), I don’t think I would’ve gone to Vail and Beaver Creek if I had to pay full-price for lift tickets. At $189 and $209 at the window, Beaver Creek and Vail are two of the most expensive places to ski in North America and probably the world.

Yes, I know you always buy your lift tickets in advance to avoid window prices (as High Falutin as we may get, we are ski bums first and foremost). As we’ve discussed on the podcast several times, the strategy of both the Epic and Ikon Passes seems to be trolling customers with outrageous ticket prices to incentivize them to pick up either an Ikon or Epic Pass at the beginning on the season. If Vail said next year that a one-day lift ticket is going to be $299, but you could get an Epic Pass will be $999, you simply do the math that if you ski 4 days, you’ve gotten your money’s worth getting the Epic Pass.

Between the two mountains, which are only about 15 minutes apart(in good weather), they offer so much terrain no matter what your level of skiing. You also have tremendous amenities available to you. I’m so glad I finally got the chance to ski there and that we had such great conditions. Would I go back, yes, definitely, especially if I had an Epic Pass. Would I go on a Saturday? Probably not. If you’re going on a ski trip and you’re choosing a destination, it’s important to understand what you want out of your ski vacation. If you are looking for a wide array of skiing terrain, luxurious accommodations and want to be right on the mountain, both Beaver Creek and Vail fit the bill. If you want to party, go to Vail. If you’re older or are going with a family go to Beaver Creek.

Thanks for taking the time to read our review. We’d love to hear your thoughts, so hit us up @skibumpodcast on either Facebook or Twitter.

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