Beaver Creek, Colorado: Spring skiing down memory lane

Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 05:40 PM

Top-of-the-world views from atop Beaver Creek, Colorado.
A look over at Larkspur Bowl.
Looking down the trail toward Beaver Creek Village.
A ski lesson with a Gore Range view.
The beginners' gondola at the base.
SpeedMeister races toward the faux gold mine...
...and he finds a piece of gold. He strikes it rich!
Pretty aspen trees line the sides of the trail.

Years ago I taught skiing at “The Beav.” That's what the locals called Beaver Creek Resort back in the day. It’s a sunny Colorado ski area with about 1,800 skiable acres located 10 miles west of its sister resort, Vail Mountain.

Early last week I was able to take a ski down memory lane on the slopes at Beaver Creek. My companion was a speedy 7-year-old; I like to call him SpeedMeister.

We skied on a day when a spring storm was moving from the west into the Vail Valley. The clouds looked threatening in the distance, but we enjoyed sunny turns before the winds and snowflakes moved in.

We headed for the very top of the mountain, where — believe it or not — there are wonderful beginner trails that top out at an elevation of 11,400 feet! I recall bringing many adult beginners up to the summit after they had mastered the bunny hill, and they were enthralled by the mountain views!

SpeedMeister loved it up here as well. We zipped down the jumps on the Park 101 terrain park a couple of times before heading to Jack Rabbit Alley. This three-part wooded run allowed kids to turn through well-spaced trees. Of course, there were little kickers along the way and SpeedMeister was sure to take every one that he saw!

This being early April, the snow was springy. But up on these high-altitude, well-groomed trails we had some great turns. It wasn't too soft. We rode fast lifts (there are 11 high-speed quads here) and we enjoyed views of the snowy Gore Range in the distance.

Later, after a couple of small wipeouts had SpeedMeister thinking about calling it quits for the day, we ventured to the mid-mountain area. Here we checked out the kids' “gold mine shaft.” We skied through the wooden shaft and SpeedMeister was psyched to find some silver and gold. (That would be a silver Hersey's Kiss and a piece of pyrite!) He asked me to zip them away in a pocket for safe keeping. As we skied down the mountain past gorgeous aspen trees, he insisted we were going up for another run. Excellent!

Riding the Centennial high-speed quad from the base, I looked longingly at Strawberry Park, Larkspur Bowl and Grouse Mountain. All of these parts of the resort were closed for the season. I was just a few days too late to ski them.

Strawberry Park has long expert and intermediate cruisers. In addition, the scenic Nordic center is at the top of that peak at 9,800 feet!

Larkspur features a wonderful, intermediate mini-bowl and fun short-but-steep bump runs. I used to love to get some sunny turns here.

Grouse Mountain offers many of Beaver Creek's most challenging runs. They are all steep and often bumped to the max. By riding the Grouse Mountain high-speed quad, you could hit the moguls and steeps to your heart's content. Or until your legs give out! I recall being challenged by Royal Elk Glades, which is designated as a double-black-diamond run.

Just to the east of Grouse Mountain is where Beaver Creek runs its Birds of Prey World Cup downhill events early each season. In the past it's been only men's racing, but in preparation for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships to be contested on the slopes of Beaver Creek, the resort has created a new women’s speed course. Beaver Creek widened and connected trails on Upper Peregrine and a new trail, named Kestrel (a kind of bird of prey). This will be part of the women’s course that draws them at mach speeds into the finish line at Red Tail Camp. (They are building a new restaurant at Red Tail Camp, as well.)

In December of this year, Beaver Creek and FIS will put the new course to the test with women’s races on this new course, one week after the men’s races. Our American team is fast, so these would be awesome races to check out!

If you look at skiing magazines, you might get the idea that Beaver Creek is rather luxurious. You are right. Their current tagline is: “Beaver Creek: Not exactly roughing it.” The resort, opened in 1980, is now home to deluxe slopeside lodging (Park Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton, for example) and fancy on-mountain or slopeside dining experiences. Escalators help skiers and families get to the lifts faster, and another one will be installed this year near the ice skating rink.

Vacationers enjoy the choice of three slopeside ski villages to hit the lifts, including Beaver Creek Village, Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead. And down in the town of Avon, below, you can actually catch a gondola from the Westin Resort and then another two lifts to get to the ski slopes.

But you can also enjoy the resort for just the day by taking county buses or parking at the base of the access road and then taking free resort buses to the mountain. As in Vail, parking slopeside is pricey. Take the bus!

Toward the end of our ski day, I saw that Beaver Creek continued one of its tastiest traditions. The SpeedMeister and I spied a white-clad baker in the base area with a platter full of chocolate chip cookies! These sugary treats fueled us for another fun spring skiing run at The Beav!

Beaver Creek Resort at a Glance

Base elevation: Beaver Creek Village 8,100 ft./ Arrowhead Village 7,400 ft.

Summit elevation: 11,440 ft.

Vertical drop: 3,340 ft.

Lifts: 25 – 2 gondolas; 11 high-speed quads; 1 triple; 2 doubles; 1 surface lift; 8 conveyor lifts

Uphill capacity: 43,221 skiers per hour

Annual average snowfall: 325 inches

Snowmaking: 650 acres

Total skiable area: 1,832 acres

39% Expert/advanced (711 acres)

42% Intermediate (776 acres)

19% Beginner (345 acres)

“Conventional” trails: 150

Longest run: 2.75 mi. - Centennial

Parks & pipes: Three parks (Park 101, Zoom Room and The Rodeo) and one halfpipe

Filed in: Alpine / downhill skiing, Colorado skiing, Spring skiing, Western skiing

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