Colorado, Hold the Crowds

Skiing Solitude in Vail Valley

Schussing the bumps of Screech Owl, a black diamond run at Beaver Creek that's challenging without being punishing, I cut down the side of the slope, close to the trees, chucking powder as I go. But I can't help but feel there's something wrong. Then it hits me: I have this entire swath of snow to myself. Reach the chair lift, I find no line: I hop aboard and am carried right back up. Surely there's something amiss, especially since this is President's Day, one of the biggest ski weekends of the year.

But no, there's nothing wrong. In fact, this is normal—even for a holiday. Welcome to Beaver Creek—a big-time resort without the crowds of its more famous neighbor, Vail. Located just a few miles west of Vail on I-70, this 11,440-foot mountain serves up as much skiing adventure as you can handle, with almost 150 named trails, six express quad lifts, and two terrain parks.

Granted, Beaver Creek can't rival Vail for its vast terrain, ultra-steep steeps, and famed back bowls. But, especially for beginner and intermediate skiers (who return to the mountain's bottom after each run), skiing Vail can come at a price—waiting in long lines. The 1999-2000 season saw almost 1.4 million skiers at Vail, while Beaver Creek had less than 600,000 (of course, Vail does have more than three times the number of skiable acres and more than twice as many lifts).

While you shouldn't skip Vail (the new Blue Sky Basin is worth fighting the crowds), Beaver Creek serves up a more mellow experience: It's a laid-back resort that's geared toward families. And if you're just starting out on skis or are a twice-a-year skier, Beaver Creek's slopes will suit you much better. A full 34 percent of the trails are classified as easy, and 39 percent as intermediate (compared with 28 and 32 percent, respectively, on Vail's front side; Vail's back bowls and Blue Sky Basin are mostly expert slopes). And a Beaver Creek benefit that kids and adults love: free cookies, passed out in the lift lines each morning.

Best of all, basing yourself at Beaver Creek doesn't mean you have to ignore the area's other mountains: Your Beaver Creek lift ticket gets you onto Vail's lifts, as well as onto those of Keystone and Breckenridge.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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