Firsthand Report: Beaver Creek, the Other Side of Posh 4
Author thumbnail By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist

My son Vince and I logged two very enjoyable ski days at Beaver Creek, Colorado in early January 2012. I had skied neighboring Vail long ago, but this was my first time at “The Beav.” To be honest, as a middle class stiff I’d been a little intimidated in the past by Beaver Creek’s reputation for posh, upscale skiing. I’m not going to tell you Beaver Creek is a bargain basement, but there are ways to cut costs and still experience this extremely classy resort. And what we found was top value; an accessible, fun ski experience at a refined, yet friendly mountain, not without a few sharp talons in the way of ski terrain.

We didn’t catch Beaver Creek wearing its haute couture snow conditions. Nearly the entire Rockies had suffered a rare, sustained snow drought in the weeks prior to our visit. Nonetheless, I was very impressed that The Beav had numerous open runs on every major trail pod in the place. And while the place is not quite the size of Vail, it’s huge by any other measure with 1,815 skiable acres and 25 lifts including 11 high speed quads and two gondolas. Importantly during our visit, Beaver Creek also has a tremendous snowmaking system covering over 700 acres of terrain which buttressed the subpar snow pack. Before our first morning was done Vince and I had skied from a summit elevation of 11,440’ to the base of the Arrow Bahn Express Chair at 7,400 feet. You can do the math on that monstrous vertical drop.

Morning corduroy under the Centennial Chair. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

Because of the size of Beaver Creek and the fact that it was our first visit we were motivated to take advantage of the free daily mountain tour program. Free is good at Beaver Creek and so was the tour! We joined a fast moving group of ski club members from south New Jersey. Our leaders were two friendly Beaver Creek Ambassadors named Dexter and Terry. We met at 10 am at the top of the Centennial Express Chair (~2,100’ vertical) where they pumped us full of complimentary hot chocolate during group formation.

Skier Mover to Strawberry Park. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

We spent about 90 minutes zooming around with Dexter and Terry and ranged from Blue/Green cruisers off The Beav’s highest summit down to the Beaver Creek Village and across a bridge via magic carpet to the Strawberry Park Express Chair (~1,740’ vertical). During the course of the tour we made a run under the Bachelor Gulch Express (~1,500’ vertical). This chairlift serves the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch, a most impressive slopeside hotel built in 2002 from local timber and rock in a “Parkitecture” style reminiscent of the great US National Park lodges. There was a live guitarist singing John Denver’s “Country Roads” in the patio outside the hotel as we loaded the chairlift.

After no small amount of mileage we made it all the way to the Broken Arrow Restaurant at the base of the Arrowhead Mountain trail pod where the group took a coffee/hot chocolate break courtesy of the Ambassadors. The tour was not finished, but Vince and I excused ourselves to hightail it back to the base village for a lunch date with my wife and daughter who were spending a “rest day” strolling the Beaver Creek Village.

The four of us met at the base of the Strawberry Park Express Chair in the lounge of The Osprey, another upscale hotel property at Beaver Creek. The Osprey’s Lounge offers a quiet little lunchtime hideaway with elegant ambiance just a few steps from the lift. In the hotel lobby we traded our ski boots for plush, white slippers to wear during dining. Our lunch order included tacos, sandwiches, pizza, some killer hand cut french fries, and a winning Tres Leches Cake for dessert.

Vince and I hardly got a word in edgewise about skiing because my wife and daughter were full of chatter about their exploration that morning of Beaver Creek’s lovely base village. The Village contains some gorgeous buildings, more lodging and dining options, high-end shops, and a picturesque ice rink within a compact layout that is extremely pedestrian friendly including escalators and moving walkways.

After lunch the ladies returned to sharpening their black diamond shopping skills while Vince and I headed to the Birds of Prey trail pod. There we skied the Golden Eagle trail, one of Beaver Creek’s signature expert runs. Golden Eagle has enough pitch and length to have been certified as a World Cup Super-G race course and will host its second FIS Alpine Ski World Championship in 2015. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the course was in very firm “race” condition. Smooth like a tilted ice rink, we had all we could do to hold an edge on some of the steeper, slicker sections. It is mind boggling to carefully pick your way down such a slope knowing the pros pretty much straight-line it from top to bottom for a couple thousand vertical feet.

The Rodeo Terrain Park. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

One of our last runs of the day took us through The Rodeo, Beaver Creek’s premier terrain park. I don’t know if parks come in graduated sizes, but The Rodeo seemed longer, wider, and steeper than a number of other expert parks I’ve seen around the country. It was loaded with rails, tables, jumps and other features laid-out in parallel. Though it was empty during our pass-through, it looked like it could handle a ton of traffic.

Between our two ski days at Beaver Creek we sandwiched an off day in Denver to deliver my wife and daughter to the airport for a return flight back East. The first day with them we had utilized rock star parking within the village, but prior to our second day Vince and I stayed overnight about three miles from the mountain at a nice Comfort Inn in Avon. From there we joined the proletariat on the free Avon town shuttle to access the slopes. It worked very well, particularly since we had scored our motel room for $59 via Priceline.com.

On our second ski day Vince and I set out to find a little of “the Other Side” of Beaver Creek ski area. Beaver Creek marketeers contrast their posh reputation with an Other Side tagline to promote the mountain’s more challenging features. In addition to The Rodeo expert terrain park, there is a nice array of black and double black diamond mogul runs, the steep Royal Elk glades off Grouse Mountain, and some designated extreme terrain in the Stone Creek Chutes, a side country experience to the far looker’s left of the trail layout.

Due to the low snowpack the chutes and glades were not open, but that still left us we a good number of big time bump runs to explore in four different major trail pods: Birds of Prey, Grouse Mountain, Larkspur, and Rose Bowl. All are served by express quad chairs with big verticals in the 1,500-2,000 foot range. And while we’d been messing around in Denver Ullr had blessed Beaver Creek with approximately six inches of new snow, making all the bump runs fairly forgiving.

Vince on Goshawk Trail. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

One of the first challenges we tackled on our second day was Goshawk trail in the Birds of Prey section of the mountain. It’s an honest double black diamond and provides a long uninterrupted dose of moguls, which were nice and soft after the previous day’s snow. Then we moved on to Larkspur Bowl (dark blue in difficulty) which is as wide as the name implies and still held day-old snow that had yet to be fully tracked out. I really got into the single black diamond bump runs like Lupine beside the Larkspur Express chair (~1,500’ vertical). Larkspur’s exposure makes it a nice place to spend the morning on a sunny day and given its width we observed several snowboarders making some really cool extreme carving runs in the bowl. Next we skied a steep groomer called Raven Ridge from the upper terminal of the Grouse Mountain Express (~1,800’ vertical). There are a gaggle of good bump runs on Grouse, but surfaces were still firm there and the steep glade runs from its summit weren’t open so we continued exploring. The last good mogul trail we hit late in the day was Ripsaw in the Rose Bowl trail pod. It had some of the best snow on the mountain. Some day we’ll have to return for the hardcore chutes and glades and a further investigation of “the Other Side” of the Beav’s image.

The staff-to-guest ratio at Beaver Creek is through the roof. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

It takes a lot of verbs to summarize the posh side of Beaver Creek, which is undeniably endearing and includes an amazing staff-to-guest ratio. We saw tons of friendly mountain ambassadors, instructors, safety patrol, ski patrol, and photographers handing out a range of complimentary items like hot chocolate, granola bars, sunblock, and good old tender loving care. There were free chocolate chip cookies out there too, but we never caught up with those. Vince and I registered our two-day ski passes with EpicMix, a free, personalized RF-enabled card based system offered at all Vail resorts that automatically tracks vertical feet, miles skied, and any pro photos taken of guests while on the mountain. The system allows electronic retrieval and sharing when the day is done.

EpicMix photographer at work. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

The Beaver Creek snowmaking crews very nicely supplemented the atypically lean natural base. We saw miles of morning corduroy manufactured by an enormous fleet of state of the art grooming vehicles. I couldn’t believe the dozens of snazzy groomers I saw parked at a maintenance complex beside a runout near the base. The beginner/kiddie hill is served by its own dedicated Buckaroo Express Gondola. This area also includes a covered magic carpet that doubles as a lift for the adjacent snow tubing hill. Besides the huge mid-mountain Spruce Saddle Lodge and several smaller on-hill public dining options, the mountain is sprinkled with semi-private dining facilities/cabins for special occasions and clubs.

When it comes to skiing why choose between posh and hardcore when you can go to Beaver Creek and have it all?

Video by Vince Kenney

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About Jim Kenney

Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.

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Reader Comments

robbie allen
February 6, 2012
I love Beaver Creek! You are right the posh lable scares away some folks, but it is a great skiers mountian. Lots and lots of places to explore and never crowded. Thanks for the report.
Connie Lawn
February 6, 2012
Fabulous as always! Would love to ski with you - help me restore my confidence. Yours, Connielawn@aol.com
robbie A
April 6, 2013
The Beav does not disappoint! There is a lot of mountian to explore. glad to see you made it over to arrowhead. That is the unexplored country of BC!
snowsmith
April 8, 2013
Another great tip report, JimK. A few years ago, I rented a condo at the base of Arrowhead. Nice place, good price and an easy walk to the lift. Everybody talks about Deer Valley being the top of the heap. But I think THe Beave outshines Deer Valley. I loved skiing on the Birds of Prey down hill course. Steep at the top! I cannot imagine just poing the skis downhill and not making any turns. Those guys are crazy.

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