Firsthand Report: Vail
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

Our favorite time of the year is the spring, when we can make our annual trips to the West. Sometimes we go more than once a year, but spring is the best. So far, Vail is proven to be wonderful, as expected. The trails we tried March 20-23, 2011 were well groomed with a solid base of 74 inches at mid-mountain. So far Vail has received over 411 inches of snow this year! Vail expects to stay open through Easter week, April 24, with Blue Sky Basin and China Bowl open, in addition to many trails in the front sections. The trails were in excellent condition at the top. Towards the bottom there was some soft snow and slush, as could be expected in 44-degree weather. Later in the week we had snow, harsh wind, and some areas were hard packed. But they were fast and smooth when groomed.

We were advised at this time of year to download on the Cascade Village Lift, which is a few steps from our comfortable, luxury hotel, the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. One time I did not follow the advice - I will never make that mistake again!

This resort and spa is definitely a wonderful place to stay. It is large, comfortable, with old country elegance and all the modern conveniences. It rents 292 rooms and 80 condos. The service is impeccable, and all the staff members are anxious to please. A few feet from the door of the resort is the Cascade Village Lift which accesses the rest of Vail by a crosscut trail, Post Road. The lift, visible from our room, was literally waiting for us. The gentle roar of Gore Creek outside our balcony was a spa in itself. The Cascades area is adjacent to the Lionshead section of Vail, which is one of my favorites. It brings back memories of skiing with President Gerald Ford; I was one of the few members of the White House press corps who could keep up with him. Some of the best easy cruising trails, including Simba and Born Free, are in this section of Vail and the village is a bucolic contrast to the bustle of Lionshead.

The hotel spa is one of the original ones in the Rocky mountain area, and offers a large selection of services. I took advantage of some of them, when not skiing or writing. In addition to the massages, facials, and other treats, there are the heated swimming pools and steam rooms. It is funny to see us walk through the halls of the huge resort in our white spa bathrobes - very intimate! All this is such a contrast from the rugged ski dorms and cold outdoor toilets, when I started skiing in the sixties! At least I have always known ski lifts - I am not fit for climbing, although I greatly admire those who can do it.

Patrick Kermond of Ski Butlers is waiting for skis. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

We rented our skis from Ski Butlers, and it was again a worthwhile experience. The Ski Butlers representative was at our hotel, waiting for us promptly on Sunday morning as we arrived. As happened last year in Utah, we had to make minor adjustments or swap off equipment as the week progressed. They responded promptly with no red tape. This is a group of friendly, young entrepreneurs, started by Bryn Carey. He comes from a prominent New Hampshire ski family, and the concept is growing. While we got our equipment in Vail, we plan to return it in Snowmass. Then we can forget about it, and not have to drag it through airports. In recent years, I always recommend rental equipment for long trips. It is more modern, up to date, and well maintained. We flew Southwest Airlines, so would not have had to pay extra baggage fees, but this was still easier. Even in Western airports, I seem to notice fewer people carrying skis or snowboards with them but many prefer to bring their own boots.

There is so much we like about the Vail Cascade Resort, but one of the many aspects is its dog friendly status. For this trip, we were joined by our son and his wife, who live in Denver. They have a new puppy, a Sheepadoodle named Moxy, and did not want to leave her behind. This hotel is great to dogs! If you want, special bedding and bowls are provided, but we brought our own. There is a fee of $50 extra for the dog, but you would pay nearly that much in boarding fees. (This fee is nothing compared to the $250 penalty if you smoke in your room, which I think is a great policy). Our room was conveniently located near the elevator, which went right out to a dog walking area. Plastic bags and disposal cans are provided, to keep everything sanitary. Too bad we could not fit the dog with skis or snowboards.

Connie with granddog Moxy check out the view from the balcony. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

If you visit Vail, there are many activities and festivities all year; so far we are still into the snow sports. But, one of the people you have to look up is Kirsten Texler, Director of Public Relations and Communications for Vail Cascade. Everyone has a story, and hers is remarkable. She had been a ski instructor for 17 years, and before that, skated in the Ice Capades in 1989 to 1990 (she must have been five years old at the time!) Some of her more interesting and humorous stories as an instructor are found in her book, “On the Edge.” We always meet interesting people in all the ski areas we visit, and Kirsten is certainly among them.

As for the skiing, few places in the world compare to Vail. There are 193 conventional trails, terrain parks, tubing, and a variety of restaurants and activities. I love the breathtaking vistas from the top of the mountains - absolutely stunning! When we skied, Simba remained my favorite trail. It tended to be hard packed and windy on Monday and Tuesday but that made it more exciting. Higher up, some of the chairs had to close for a time due to wind. And lower down, the trails were slushy and hard work. I was not yet used to the altitude, and my heart and legs really felt the strain. But still, I prefer this to below zero winter temperatures anytime! March and April are spring vacation months in many schools, so the slopes and lifts are crowded at times. But most of the slopes are wide enough to accommodate the crowds. You can avoid a lot of them, if you gravitate to the less popular slopes. Most of the ones we tried were well groomed, but we did not try any advanced or backcountry areas (which are not recommended). We did have a very rough time getting down a trail to the Spa, but it was our fault. We were warned to download, but I was concerned about that too, because of the strong wind. Fortunately, a wonderful member of the ski patrol, Gary Smith, joined us and may have saved my body. He helped smooth out some of the crud, and picked me up when I fell (which I rarely do). He also reminded me to sideslip in the narrow, icy areas. It has been years since I used that desperate technique.

In my articles I do not tend to quote prices because they change so. But all resort areas have a variety of deals, where you can usually get exceptional value for your money. At Vail Resorts you can get passes for a few hundred dollars which give you access to all their resorts. The most worthwhile appears to be the Epic Pass, which gives unlimited access for $649. I met people on the slopes who said they averaged $12 a visit, because they bought early and used their passes so frequently. So shop around, plan ahead, and check all websites for the best offers for you. Snowsports and all holidays are expensive, but there are ways to manage them and make them less expensive. For those who are fortunate enough to do so, you cannot really put a price on the excitement, exercise, fresh air, or the memories!

Wednesday was our best day yet. The sky was a perfect shade of blue, the sun was bright, the weather fine (in the forties), and the groomed snow was fast and smooth. This more than compensated for the hurricane force winds which had swept parts of Colorado earlier in the week (causing brush fires in some areas).

Charles and I cruised down numerous freshly groomed trails. I could not get enough of Simba, Bwana, Born Free, and Avanti. Charles also checked out the Game Creek bowls trails, but I wanted to stay away from as many roads and catwalks as possible, and stick to the wide, sweeping runs. Despite the perfect weather and spring break, the crowds were manageable and we never waited more than a minute or so at any lift. Many of the visitors were racing or watching the Korbel ski races, which began on Wednesday.

At the end of the day, Charles and I luxuriated in a couples massage at the Cascade Aria Spa in the Resort. This is not as kinky as it sounds - the only weird thing is walking the hotel corridors in the white robes provided by Vail Cascade. But many people do it - it is a badge of honor. Once inside the modern spa, we were assigned lockers which contained slippers and even softer robes. We then went to relax in the large, candle lit Meditation room, and sipped wine and fruit smoothies. Tilly Blake and Dee Personett emerged from the warm massage room, where Charles and I lay under warm sheets on two separate beds. We enjoyed the ministrations of their powerful hands to a background of classical music and time just stopped. We had both thought that an hour was way too long for a massage but our muscles told our brains to go somewhere else and come back. Those muscles said “you worked us all day, now it’s our happy hour!” The massage was particularly helpful to me because I have developed Parkinson’s disease this year and my muscles are constantly fighting one another in addition to fighting those heavy ski boots (when is the ski industry going to learn to develop boots that are light, people-friendly, and not torture chambers? No wonder more people turn to snowboarding!) Tilly told me she has done work with some patients who have lost limbs, or suffer from a variety of ailments, as I do. The sessions were truly therapeutic and relaxing. I did not even want to get into the shower or hot tub after, because it was so nice to let the soothing oils soak into my body and soul.

Continue to Part Two - Beaver Creek

About Connie Lawn

When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.

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