Colorado: Sweet exhilaration on the slopes

By Jennifer Ennion

Jennifer Ennion finds a warm welcome waiting for her at boutique ski resort Beaver Creek.

Sunset skiing at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado. Photo / Thinkstock
Sunset skiing at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado. Photo / Thinkstock

Ski resorts with the most terrain and largest number of lifts and parks draw the biggest crowds, but it's often the case that underrated boutique resorts offer better, quieter slopes.

Beaver Creek, in the snow-blessed US state of Colorado, is the perfect example.

There are 741 hectares of skiable terrain at Beaver, compared to 2141 hectares at sister resort Vail, and 1448 hectares at nearby Snowmass.

Unfamiliar with the Rocky Mountain resort, I stick in-bounds.

It's a stunning blue sky day, and, despite the long travel from Australia to get here, I'm ready to explore the slopes.

I'm with a group of skiing and snowboarding journos, and we've been partnered with a ski instructor keen to show us her mountain.

Susan's been instructing for almost three decades - 20 years in Vail and seven in Breckenridge - and is a true-blue skier of the old-fashioned kind.

She's all about groomers and leads us criss-crossing the mountain, traversing between hard, fast trails.

On every run, another snowboarder and I scan the side of the groomers for fresh stashes of powder we can duck off into, but we're too timid to launch into the unknown by ourselves. You never know what cliff drop you'll be faced with off-piste in North America.

Fortunately, we're also in the company of another local, May, who we convince to take us away from the tidy trails into the trees for more heart-pounding adventure.

May is skiing today, but also has plenty of snowboarding experience under her powder skirt, so she understands our needs. She's also the type of skier who doesn't mind stepping off the beaten path, so to speak.

Immediately she pulls up at the top of a glade beside Bachelor Gulch chairlift. We peer into the trees and although the powder isn't knee-high, there's still enough to slash our way through.

May shouts words of encouragement as each of us tip our skis and boards over the edge of the drop and then fly between the tall grey trunks.

We glide and bounce and fall and dodge head-high branches. We laugh and shout and woop our way through.

At the end of it all, back on a blue run, we're grinning widely, ready for another go. This is more like it, I think.

The slopes surrounding us are greens and blues, meaning that the pitch of the glades isn't steep. It's a great area of the mountain to get accustomed to before venturing to the more challenging tree runs around Grouse Mountain and Birds of Prey lifts.

And so the day continues, until our burning thighs and racing hearts can't take any more.

We make our way back to Beaver Creek Village just in time to enjoy the resort's famous cookie giveaway. Every day at 3pm, chefs in their whites hand out freshly baked choc chip cookies to weary skiers and boarders.

The heat of the biscuits warms cold hands that quickly become covered in melting chocolate.

It's a sweet ending to a sweet day.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Beaver Creek is in Colorado in the US Rocky Mountains, 193km west of Denver. A number of airlines offer flights connecting New Zealand destinations with Denver. Colorado Mountain Express operates transfers between Denver International Airport and Beaver Creek. By vehicle, travel along Interstate 70 and take the Avon exit #167.

Staying there: There is a selection of high-end lodges and apartments in the village, while Vail has more mid-range accommodation options, as well as luxury. There is very limited budget accommodation at both resorts.

Playing there: Beaver Creek's snow season started on November 27 and runs until April 20, 2014. The prices of lift tickets vary depending on the time of the season, but a one-day pass pre-purchased online costs around US$110 for an adult and US$79 for a child. The online tickets are discounted but are only available for international visitors 14 days in advance. The resort's Cookie Time is daily at 3pm at the base of the Centennial Chairlift.

RESORT DETAILS

Summit altitude: 3488m above sea level
Base altitude: 2469m
Average annual snowfall: 787cm
Terrain: beginner 19 per cent, intermediate 43 per cent, advanced 21 per cent, expert 12 per cent and extreme five per cent.
Skiable area: 741ha
Marked trails: 149
Lifts: 25
Terrain parks: three (plus a half pipe)

The writer travelled as a guest of Vail Resorts and Virgin Australia.

- AAP

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