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How Sweet It Is! Skiing At Beaver Creek, Colorado

Nov 14, 2023 03:35PM ● By Story and Photography By Lisa Ballard

It’s impossible to be a skier and not know about Vail Resorts, the ski resort company that operates dozens of ski areas across North America including its namesake Vail Mountain, but also many other bucket-list skiing destinations. Park City, Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Whistler-Blackcomb are part of the conglomerate. Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass is a ticket to winter fun at more than 70 ski resorts around the globe. In Vermont and New Hampshire, Stowe, Sunapee, Okemo, Attitash, Crotched, and Wildcat are part of the Vail family. Beaver Creek in Colorado is another, actually, the second ski area to become part of Vail, in 1980, 17 years before any others and shortly after Beaver Creek opened.

First Impression

In the early 1990s, I made my first turns at Beaver Creek while hosting a women’s ski clinic. Back then, it was a quiet upscale ski area, 13 miles farther west on Interstate 70 than its glitzier big sister Vail. President Gerald Ford, nicknamed “America’s skiing president,” had a vacation home at Beaver Creek, as did a woman from Dallas, Texas, who brought seven of her friends to my clinic. They all stayed at her elegant stone and wood mansion along the resort’s access road that she used maybe two weeks per year. Back then, Beaver Creek was an enclave of the wealthy who wanted good skiing and a good time like everyone else but without the need to be noticed.

Beaver Creek left a happy first impression with its high-speed lifts, relaxed atmosphere, and plenty of broad, well-maintained runs. It was one of the few mountains where lower-level skiers could enjoy the upper lifts with aplomb. A number of wide, easier trails spilled off the summit, each with mesmerizing views of the majestic, snow-capped Gore Range.

Ski Racing Heritage

I returned to Beaver Creek in the early 2000s as a commentator during ESPN’s coverage of the Birds of Prey downhill. My job was to interview racers at the start of this annual stop on the men’s World Cup before they plunged down the first near-vertical headwall on the course. The Birds of Prey hooked some of the best downhillers in the world in its talons and tore some of them apart. Television viewers loved the crashes. Skiers saw a more aggressive, adrenaline-pumping aspect of the resort.

In fact, ski racing is why Beaver Creek exists. The ski area was first conceived in 1956, five years before Vail opened, but it was never built. Twenty years later, when Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics, the bid included holding the alpine events at the proposed Beaver Creek site. However, the citizens of Denver turned down the games in a ballot initiative, shocking the world. Without the Olympics, Beaver Creek swam against a strong political current that opposed its development, but eventually it prevailed.

In 1977, former president Gerald Ford attended the ground-breaking ceremony. The mountain opened before Christmas in 1980 and has been improving and expanding ever since. Fittingly, in 1999, Vail and Beaver Creek hosted the World Alpine Ski Championships for the first time, with the men competing on the newly completed Birds of Prey downhill course.

The Candy Cabin

After my television gig, it took me another 15 years to return to Beaver Creek. Two winters ago, my friend Karen Loke invited me to join her there. Karen had an Epic Pass, good at all the Vail Resorts ski areas. Beaver Creek was one of her favorites. By coincidence, I was planning to be there for another ski race, the US stop on the international masters' circuit in which I was competing, but thankfully on a different trail than the infamous Birds of Prey. I added an extra day to my trip to explore the mountain with Karen. The chance to check out this sizeable resort again excited me. I wondered what had changed.

In truth, I didn’t remember much about the mountain’s trails, but as soon as we got off the Cinch Express at the summit, I immediately flashed back to the Birds of Prey, the entrance to which was to the right getting off the lift. But rather than a sheet of watered-down hardpack, the trail was knee-deep in tracked-out powder. I yearned to ski it, but a rope blocked the trail. Instead, we cruised down an easy groomer and ended up at the bottom of the Birds of Prey and Grouse Mountain chairlifts near a small log hut. An elk rack hung above the door along with a bright pink sign that said “Candy Cabin.”

“What’s the Candy Cabin?” I asked Karen. “You’ve never been in the Candy Cabin?” she replied, surprised. We clicked out of our skis and clumped onto the cabin’s small deck in our ski boots. I pushed open the door to peek inside. My eyes beheld a riot of color emanating from barrels of gum, gummies, taffies, licorices, and locally crafted chocolates. The Birds of Prey may be reserved for world-class downhillers, but the Candy Cabin was for world-class sweet tooths, and I had one. An hour later, we clicked back into our skis, our tummies sated and our pockets bulging with goodies for later.

We spent the rest of the day sampling several of Beaver Creek’s 167 trails spread across its 2,082 skiable acres. While Beaver Creek doesn’t have Vail’s famous sweeping bowls, it’s got acres of glorious groomers including its signature 2.75-mile-long Centennial trail. We also bounced down several bump runs and tucked into the trees here and here. At one point, we even skied past President Ford’s former slopeside ski house. (He passed away in 2006.) The mountain was noticeably less crowded than other destination ski resorts in Colorado, perhaps because one had to drive by many of them before reaching Beaver Creek.

“Want lunch?” asked Karen at one point well past noon. “Not really,” I said, “I’ve been eating candy all day.” “Me too,” giggled Karen, “The conditions are too sweet to stop.”

Corduroy, beautiful scenery, and pockets full of candy . . . what more could a skier want? I enjoyed Beaver Creek so much that I went back last year and plan to return this winter. Like Karen, it’s now one of my favorites. 

Know Before You Go

The closest airport is Eagle County
Airport (EGE), about 20 miles west
of Beaver Creek. Denver International Airport is 125 miles away.

Look for better deals on lodging in Avon, at the bottom of the access road, 2.5 miles from the ski area.

There’s no need for a rental car. Take an airport shuttle to your hotel, then use the frequent, free buses to ski and get around Avon.

Beaver Creek honors Epic Pass for its lift ticket. Purchase the pass before
Labor Day for huge savings.

Stay hydrated to feel better at Beaver Creek’s high elevation. The base of
Beaver Creek is twice as high as the highest ski areas in New England, and the air is much drier.

Wear sunscreen! Protect your skin from the sun, which is stronger at Beaver Creek’s elevation and compounded by the reflection off the snow.

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