Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ski Trip to Vail, Colorado

Craig and I were lucky that our ski trip to Vail was later in the season. December and January ticked past with very little snow in the Rockies, an unusually dry winter. By the end of January, only portions of Vail's Front Side were open and it was a slow zone throughout while the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin were off-limits. Our fortunes changed at the beginning of February as consistent snow arrived. I eagerly checked the powder conditions online as more runs and chairlifts opened throughout the month until over ninety percent of the mountain had a deep enough base when we arrived in early March. Like last year when we went to Aspen, I met up with my friend, Craig, at the Denver Airport after he had spent over two days flying from New Zealand.

Noah on the fun blue, Simba.
Craig in Game Creek Bowl
For Vail Pink, Gomez was playing in the Lionshead Village at Vail.
After spending the night at a nearby Marriott, we drove over the mountains to Vail early Saturday morning. Since our check-in at the Evergreen Lodge in Lionshead Village wasn't until 4pm, we stored our bags, picked up our skis and hit the slopes. With only a half-day before the lifts closed, we stuck to the runs around the Eagle Bahn Gondola. After a shaky first trip down Born Free, my legs responded quickly. While exploring the short runs in the Game Creek Bowl, I dropped both of my ski poles from the lift chair while taking a picture. Fortunately, they landed in an accessible spot and I was able to retrieve them without too much trouble. We ended the day with a nice cruise down Simba that had great views of the resort below. After Craig signed in at his anesthesiologist conference, we checked out the band, Gomez, playing at the Vail Pink Concert in the village and went to dinner at Garfinkel's. (5-Alarm Chili!)

view of Blue Sky Basin from top of Sun Up Bowl
The High Noon Lift cutting through a grove of Aspens
Looking across the Sun Down Bowl from the top of Wow.
After a little bit of falling snow on Saturday, Sunday was bright and clear with blue skies. It grew hot quickly, especially in the long lift lines on the Front Side. To escape the crowds, we headed over the ridge to the Back Bowls. Slot, the black diamond run down the center of the Sun Up Bowl was very fun and we repeated it three times. When entering the Sun Down, I got mixed up and led Craig into Wow, a very steep, mogul run. After a very expensive lunch at the Two Elk Lodge ($30 for a small pizza and more chili!!!), we took a fun intermediate cruiser, Poppyfields, to the bottom of China Bowl before heading back to the front of the mountain for a couple more runs. Last year, we were spoiled with a place right on the slopes so we could ski on and off. After a long day skiing, the walk back to the Evergreen Lodge was draining. On a Sunday night, Vail Village was pretty dead so we ended up at Joe's Deli where I had a pastrami sandwich.

The top of the Northwoods lift.
Skiing down Ramshorn to Mid-Vail
A view of Mid-Vail from the top of Look Ma
On Monday, we took the bus to Golden Peak on the east side of Vail Village to ride the Riva Bahn Express Lift. It was another blue sky day on the slopes, but I had dropped a couple clothing layers and felt great all day. Gandy Dancer, near the top of the Northwoods Express Lift, was one of my favorite runs, really steep sections interspersed with short flats. After a couple runs, Craig and I separated so I could go over to Blue Ox, the long steep black diamond run on the edge of the mountain. After meeting back up for lunch at Buffalo's (Cheeseburger with Epic Sauce), we headed for Blue Sky Basin out on a second ridge beyond the Back Bowls. Vail's highest elevation (11,570') is at the top of Pete's Express Lift and there were great views of the mountain wilderness from Belle's Camp.

A view of four tough Black Diamond and Double Black Diamond runs from the top of Golden Peak.
Craig skiing down one of my favorite runs, Gandy Dancer
Looking down Blue Ox.
After Craig headed down early to get to his conference, I ended the day on Riva Ridge. In the middle of this fun run down the Front Side is Tourist Trap, one of the steepest sections I experienced this trip. I saw two big wipe-outs as skiers could not control their speed at the bottom. :) Back at the lodge, I visited the hot tub but it was indoors, very hot and stuffy so I didn't stay long. I loved the outdoor one we had last year in Aspen. We had dinner at Garfinkel's again, a nice filet with a great Cajun spice rub. Normally, the steamed vegetables served with a steak are pretty bland, but these were almost better than the meat. I don't know why, but food at high altitude always seems to have such intense flavor.

View of Pete's Bowl on Blue Sky Basin
A view of the Back Bowls from the top of Grand Review on Blue Sky Basin, the highest elevation at Vail - 11,570 feet
The steepest part of Riva Ridge, Tourist Trap.
While I had a little stiffness on Sunday and Monday mornings, by Tuesday I was feeling great. First thing, I convinced Craig to give Blue Ox a try before we headed over to Blue Sky Basin again. As a shortcut, we took a fun little detour through Marmot Valley inside the small Tea Cup Bowl. The best part about Blue Sky Basin is the long, tree-filled runs, especially Big Rock Park and Grand Review. After I barely survived an unexpected double-jump within a small grove of trees, I turned to see Craig following my narrow path. I tried to wave him off, but it was too late as his skis flew into the air above his head. The crash looked great on his helmet camera.

A trip down Marmot Valley in the Tea Cup Bowl, a shortcut to Blue Sky Basin.
Overlooking Earl's Bowl from In The Wuides on Blue Sky Basin.
The sheer drop off of Lover's Leap into Pete's Bowl on Blue Sky Basin.
The wind started to pick up as we headed over to Siberia Bowl, the most remote of the Back Bowls accessed by a small nutcracker lift. It was really howling as we descended along Bolshoi Ballroom, our worst run of the trip with hard clumps of icy powder (crud) that gripped our skis on every turn. It was a workout, but at least Craig and I could say we skied all of the Back Bowls. At the bottom, we learned that they were closing the backside of Vail due to the high winds and we headed back to the front. (We're lucky to have left Blue Sky Basin when we did, just missing getting stuck in a two hour lift line at the Tea Cup Lift to get out. We did end up having to hike a small distance over the ridge because they closed the small Wapiti lift as well.)

Under the lip on the Tea Cup Lift in China Bowl
Strong winds at the top of China Bowl, heading toward Siberia Bowl.
Cruddy snow on Bolshoi Ballroom in the Siberia Bowl
Since we had explored most of Vail, Craig and I took the rental car on Wednesday to the nearby ski resort of Beaver Creek, 10 miles away. It was the first overcast day since we arrived and it was chilly with a few flurries of snow. My favorite part of the mountain was at the confluence of the Birds of Prey, Grouse Mountain and Larkspur lifts. Three ridges rising in opposite directions with great runs on each, like Redtail (challenging blue), Shooting Star (super steep but short) and Yarrow (icy fast but wide). After lunch at Redtail Camp, we went up Grouse Mountain (black diamonds only) and took Raven Ridge down. We finished up the day on the aspen-covered runs of Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead Mountains, skiing through the trees in Coyote Glade and hauling ass along the blue cruisers of Cresta, Gunders and Grubstake. Back in Vail, we had dinner at Bart & Yetis and took the Eagle Bahn Gondola up to check out the view at night.

A view of Grouse Mountain and Larkspur Bowl from the top of Redtail at Beaver Creek
The sun breaking through crowds at Beaver Creek on Cresta
Taking the Eagle Bahn Gondola up the mountain at night.
On Thursday, Craig and I stuck to the Front Side of Vail, skiing the numerous short runs at Game Creek Bowl (crowded) and Mid-Vail (uncrowded). When we stopped for a late lunch (pulled pork sandwiches), Craig discovered the tail of one of his skis had split open. After he took a lift down the mountain to replace it, I took the opportunity to attempt a run that Craig wasn't too keen on, Hairbag Alley. The entrance to the black diamond was hard to spot, just a small sign next to a tight gap in the trees. I had my first fall of the trip, slipping as I dropped down into the steep ravine. Stopping several times to plan my route through the high moguls, peppered with the occasional boulder and fallen log, I did not have much room to maneuver on the narrow and shadowy trail.

View from the top of Hunky Dory on Wildwood
I fell trying to drop into the narrow entrance to Hairbag Alley
The narrow tree-filled ravine of Hairbag Alley
Eager for more punishment at the end of the day, I decided to attempt Riva Glade, another forested run that parallels the steep Riva Ridge. (I love maps so searching for these semi-hidden runs on the trail map adds so much fun!) It was much wider than Hairbag Alley, but it had a higher concentration of trees scattered among the moguls. Every year, I notice more and more skiers wearing helmets on the slopes and on these last two runs I was reconsidering my decision to not wear one. I didn't hit my head, but I did bang my hand against a trunk during my second fall between the trees. For dinner, we went for pizza in the main Vail Village where they were having another street concert.

The tree-filled run of Riva Glade.
Lots of moguls among the trees in Riva Glade.
A concert in Vail Village.
For our last day on Friday, we headed back over to Beaver Creek. This time we spent the morning on the smaller western mountain around Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead. It was a bright sunny day this time among the bare aspen groves as we worked our way slowly east toward Beaver Creek village and up the Centennial Lift to Spruce Saddle Lodge where we had lunch. With the warm spring conditions, we saw several girls on the mountain in bikini tops. After a run down Centennial and the steep Willy's Face that reminded us of Tourist Trap, Craig and I split up again so I could go attempt Golden Eagle, a double-black diamond run I had spotted from the Birds of Prey lift.

Taking the lift up to Beaver Creek past the Ritz-Carlton
A view of Beaver Creek Village from the top of President Ford's
Willy's Face, the steepest section of Centennial.
Golden Eagle is a Downhill and Super G World Cup Venue and the site of the Alpine Ski World Championships in 1999 and 2015. It was also my first attempt at descending a true Double Black Diamond run, a longer steeper section than any I had experienced in the past. I felt pretty nervous at the Super G entrance, staring down the course lined with metal poles that hold up crash netting during a race. (My pictures do no justice to the actual steepness.) The width of the run gave me some confidence as I dropped in, but I was not prepared for the slickness of the icy surface. I found that I had no brakes as my skis skittered across the ice when I tried to turn. I ended up having to ski into the softer snow among the moguls on the sides of the course to stop a few times. As I worked my way slowly down the run, I was amazed that the professionals could haul down this at 80 mph, flying through the air at the marked jumps.

A view of the Larkspur Bowl from the Harrier run
The Super G entrance to Golden Eagle.
Golden Eagle is very steep!
As I headed back over the mountain to meet up with Craig, my brother called me while I rode up the Larkspur Lift. He had made a mistake and arrived at the airport a day early to pick me up and was wondering where I was. Colorado! On the last run of my entire trip, Leav the Beav, a flat green trail leading down to Beaver Creek Landing, I had my most spectacular/embarrassing fall. My uphill ski caught a pile of slush on a turn and spun me 180. I almost pulled out of it skiing backward, but the spinning momentum took me to the ground as I did another 360. Craig was right behind me, but too bad he didn't have his helmet cam turned on to watch me wipe out. Ha! Our last night, Craig and I ate dinner at Vendetta's (blackened pork chop) and called it an early night. We had to get up at 4am to get to Eagle Airport.

A view of the Birds of Prey runs (Red Tail, Goshawk, Peregrine and Golden Eagle) and Grouse Mountain from Larkspur Bowl.
Noah at the top of Gunders on Bachelor Gulch
Noah in Vail Village
P.S. Tuesday night, we met up with Craig's friend Codi at the Vail Chophouse. We received an expensive dinner paid for by some drug sales reps from Craig's conference. (Appetizer Mountain of Lobsters, Crab Legs and Oysters! Plus I had an amazing pork chop!) At first Craig and Codi said I might have to pretend to be a doctor too, but the reps didn't mind. Phew! I don't know if I could have pulled that off.

Free Porkchop at the Vail Chophouse
P.S.S. While I had to make frequent stops on the Double Black Diamond, I normally can ski non-stop on a Black Diamond one with the occasional extra turn to lower my speed. On a groomed Intermediate Blue, I can pretty much hit my top speed with no need for braking turns. On Greens, I like to work on my carving technique, keeping my legs as parallel as possible.

Lionshead Village at the Base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola
P.S.S.S. Ski resorts always have a huge international population. Vail seemed to have an especially large number of Spanish speakers from South America, including the friendly girl from Buenos Aires who helped me with my skis.

A line of Snowcats grooming Powell below the Drink of Water Lift
P.S.S.S.S. The constant bright sun and snow glare was pretty harsh with my new hard contact lens. It took until about Wednesday before my eyes got used to it.

Sun shining through the Aspens in Coyote Glade.
P.S.S.S.S.S. One of the cool things about Vail and Beaver Creek is that they track your vertical feet on the chair lifts through a chip in our EpicMix lift cards. At night we could log into the website and check out how we did. Here is my mine:

The shear drop of Head First down to Vista Bahn Lift in Vail Village
3/3/12 Saturday - 11,332 vertical feet (Eagle Bahn Gondola x 3, Game Creek Lift x 4)

3/4/12 Sunday - 14,165 vertical feet (Born Free Lift, Avanti Lift, Mountaintop Lift x 2, High Noon Lift x 3, Sun Up Lift, Sourdough Lift, Orient Lift, Northwoods Lift, Wildwood Lift)

3/5/12 Monday - 18,136 vertical feet (Riva Bahn Lift, Northwoods Lift x 2, Highline Lift x 3, Northwoods Lift, Skyline Lift, Pete's Lift, Teacup Lift, Northwoods Lift)

3/6/12 Tuesday - 18,731 vertical feet (Riva Bahn Lift, Highline Lift x 3, Sourdough Lift, Skyline Lift, Earl's Lift, Pete's Lift x 2, Orient Lift, Mongolia Bowl Lift (nutcracker), Orient Lift, Northwoods Lift)

3/7/12 Wednesday - 19,758 vertical feet (Lower Beaver Creek Mountain Lift, Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Lift, Centennial Lift, Rose Bowl Lift, Drink of Water Lift, Larkspur Lift x 2, Grouse Mountain Lift, Birds of Prey Lift, Larkspur Lift, Bachelor Gulch Lift, Arrow Bahn Lift, Bachelor Gulch Lift)

3/8/12 Thursday - 20,835 vertical feet (Eagle Bahn Gondola, Game Creek Lift x 5, Wildwood Lift, Mountaintop Lift x 6, Northwoods Lift x 2)

3/9/12 Friday - 24,299 vertical feet (Lower Beaver Creek Mountain Lift, Bachelor Gulch Lift x 2, Arrow Bahn Lift x 3, Bachelor Gulch Lift, Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Lift, Elkhorn Lift, Strawberry Park Lift, Centennial Lift x 2, Birds of Prey Lift, Larkspur Lift x 2)

Boarding my airplane from Eagle to Denver
Total Vertical Feet - 125,712' (Legs felt great at the end of 7 straight days, even increasing my vertical feet every day) There were a few missed runs that I wished I could have done, but we pretty much covered every major area of both Vail and Beaver Creek. My only injury of the week was when my skis slipped out of my hands on a shuttle bus and smacked against my shoulder. I forgot about it and later that night it took me forever to figure out why my shoulder was so tender. Ha!