I will never again criticize the sharp cold. The wind was biting when we arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado, and our bodies had not yet adjusted to the Colorado weather, from the relative damp cold of Washington. But that cold also produced several feet of beautiful natural snow over Breckenridge. In fact, there was snow over much of Colorado. We looked at it longingly, as we flew into Colorado on December 5, 2008. On our 3-hour drive from Denver, there was some snow on most of the fields and in the mountains. It was not as thick and beautiful as it was when we left Colorado last year at this time - then it was like driving through a picture post card. But, for early December, there was a great amount of snow. And, there is the promise of much more to come.
The cold blew away any muck in the air. The sunset over the snow-covered Rocky Mountains was the richest red and gold, and most dramatic I have ever seen. Then the half moon came out, escorted by the gleaming planets Venus and Jupiter. There were still skiers riding lifts outside our window, or skiing down the wide, gentle mountains. There were also people taking horse-drawn sleigh rides. These are memories which last a lifetime!
We soaked it all in from a luxury condo at Beaver Run. Since I was not yet ready to ski, I swam in the wonderfully heated pool, and looked up at the heavens from the water. A good way to unwind after a four hour flight from Dulles, and three hour drive from Denver.
Beaver Run is one of the best places you can stay in Breckenridge. It is ski-in, ski-out, and some of the ski lifts are outside the door. The ski rental shop is a few steps away, and the equipment can be re-adjusted or exchanged easily, if it is not a perfect fit. I have long advocated rental equipment - especially when traveling by plane. Now, with the extra charges for bags and sports equipment, the costs have become ridiculous. Much better to rent new equipment every time you ski. No one will foreclose on your rented equipment, and you don’t have to pay a mortgage on it.
Breckenridge has a number of restaurants on the mountains. There are also terrific restaurants in town, with free shuttle service through Breckenridge. Beaver Run is part of a larger Conference Center. That is what brought us: for the second year in a row, my husband Charles and I are covering the Hartford Ski Spectacular - one of the biggest events for Wounded Warriors and other individuals who need adaptive equipment or techniques to ski or snowboard. With families, friends, therapists, and volunteers the total comes to over 800 people participating. This is the 21st year of the Hartford at Breckenridge and it has been a struggle to finance it this year, with the sharp recession. But, the dedicated sponsors and volunteers are pulling it off.
We were greeted by good natural snowfall and groomed conditions from the start of our trip. Early Saturday, we rented our equipment and took a fast test run at Breck. Then, off to Keystone, since we would not have time to ski there later in the week. Our one week pass included all the Vail Associates resorts - Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Heavenly. They are my favorite Western resorts, and I try to visit them as much as possible.
Keystone has beautiful views, and there is a wonderful, friendly atmosphere among the visitors. But, I am sad to say, the long walk from the parking lots to the lifts can literally be a killer. It seems endless, especially when you are not used to the altitude, and are staggering in heavy boots, carrying skis. It is probably somewhat easier for the snowboarders. There are a few closer parking lots, at $20 each, and some limited close-in parking near other lifts. But, most visitors don’t know about them.
Last year, we suggested a system of golf carts, or some other means of transportation, to get visitors from the parking lots to the lifts. This year, with so many people out of work, it would be easier to get people to drive those carts. This is serious business - more older people are skiing, and they may not be very fit. The long walk is really dangerous. The River Run village is very nice, lively, with good shops and music. But, people trying desperately to get to the lifts and back are not really in the mood at that time.
Once we recovered and had a run, it was very nice. But, we had sapped most of our energy by that time. Keystone is continuing to make improvements, but how long can it take to get in some golf carts?
The next day, Sunday, was our first full day of skiing. Breckenridge was magnificent! The snow was in good condition, the sun was shining, the wind was down, and the temperature in the mid forties. Many of the lifts and trails were open but not all - it takes a lot of snow to blanket these massive Western resorts. There were thousands of people on the slopes, but the crowds were not overwhelming and the lines moved slowly. The views from the top of the mountains were impossible to describe - you have to experience them for yourselves!
I had two mishaps on the first day, but that was not bad. I tried to avoid exposed twigs and rocks, when I could see them. But, as I was dancing along, I sped over a covered rock and went flying. I am glad my arm was not broken, but it sports an ugly lump. A lovely young lady on a snowboard stopped, retrieved my poles, and helped me up. I told her, I have always thought snowboarders are nice people too!
Later on, the adventures continued. I lost my husband Charles, when I ended up at the bottom of Peak 8, and he went down to Peak 9 (where I was meant to be). We stupidly did not take cell phones or radios with us. I ended up taking several lifts and wrong trails. Finally, a great guy from the ski patrol gave me a lift on his snowmobile, and I got back to the base of Peak Nine. Poor Charles - a terrible ordeal for him. From now on - we take the phones! All this shows again, how exciting and unexpected snowsports can be.
I want to end this segment with one extremely positive note about Keystone. We were invited to share an incredible gourmet dinner at The Ski Tip Lodge. It was a former 1800 stagecoach stop, which was bought by the family which developed Arapahoe Basin and Keystone - Max and Edna Dercum. It is now an intimate, truly first class restaurant and lodge. The four course menu is exotic and exquisite. Chef Kevin McCombs, only 29, is a graduate of the Culinary School in Keystone and he now proudly shows his creativity with a variety of four course dinners every night. They are so beautifully presented, it is nearly a shame to eat them. A special thanks to him, Assistant Manager Bridget Johnson, and Kate Lessman Coble of Keystone, for giving us this experience!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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