Colorado Ski Vacation

"Can you believe it - it's January 2010, very cold, the trees and ground are covered with 2 inches of white stuff, there are snow angels, snowball fights, and snowmen of all shapes and sizes with charcoal to carrot noses throughout the neighborhood - and this is near Dallas Texas - what's up with that? "We should be in Colorado skiing" I said and the immediate response was "lets go!" So we called the little bro and our two daughters and the same reaction - "let's do it." We made some phone calls and booked some reservations and then started the search in the attic and garage for ski clothes, boots, skis, and all that other gear that helps make skiing painful. When certain members of the family found out how dated their stuff was and that it all of a sudden didn't fit, it was off to the mall with credit cards in hand. Those of us who don't care or are more sensible, picked up the phone and started calling all our skiing friends to see if we could borrow some of their gear. When all else failed, I reverted to jeans, very old and dated and now very tight ski pants and silly looking long johns and some dated sweaters! When our six bags were full (and that was just for the two of us - I hate to think how many bags the daughters brought for 4 adults and three kids under 4), we stuffed it in the car along with the games, cooler, snacks, and six cases of beer, set the GPS for Vail, and started the long 17 hour drive.

 

We were still arranging and confirming our agenda on the drive to Vail and when everything was finally done and added to the grid, over the next 7 days we planned to:

  • ski Beaver Creek, Vail, Copper Mountain, and Keystone
  • go on a sleigh ride, enjoy a buffet dinner with music, and roast marshmallows around a campfire
  • Snowbiking is really easyblaze our own trails on snowmobiles in the rocky mountains
  • try going down the ski slope on a ski bike
  • take a guided snowmobile tour to over 11,000'
  • tube down the slopes at Copper Mountain
  • cross country ski to dinner in an alpine Yurt
  • find some great place for apres skiing parties and fun nightlife
  • most likely drink and eat too much and head home tired and sore with the top button of my pants undone

Ready to cross country ski to dinnerNot me, but looks like funTubing down the mountainsnowmobiling was a blast

Soon after arriving at my brother Scott's timeshare at Sheraton Mountain Vistas in Avon at the base of Beaver Creek Ski Resort, the two oldest grand kids (3 and 4 years old) and the five adults whose old skis and boots were too dated, rusty, or didn't fit descended upon Charter Mountain Sports to rent all the gear we were missing. Charter Mountain Sports has multiple locations in the Breckenridge, Avon, Vail, and Beaver Creek area and they were a real pleasure to deal with - quick, efficient, pleasant, and patient as we tried on multiple pairs of boots and asked tons of questions about skis, poles, conditions, nightlife, and more. Charter Mountain Sports offers everything you need from socks to skis and they have three different kinds of skis you can rent - performance (Scott couldn't resist these, even though he doesn't like to ski the moguls or black diamonds - he thought it might help attract the attention of some pretty snowbunnies), sport, and demo skis. Charter Mountain Sports also rents snowboards, has a lot of good skiing merchandise, and rents mountain bikes during the summer season. And best of all, their gear is in excellent condition, their prices are reasonable and they were a pleasure to deal with. After making a decision on what skis, trying on multiple pairs of boots, and buying out half of the merchandise in the store, we were ready to hit the slopes!

 

What makes a winter skiing vacation to Colorado fantastic are the variety of choices on accommodations from hotel rooms to lodges to resorts to huge beautiful ski-in ski-out mountain rental homes, over 27 different ski resorts (see this Colorado ski map), excellent restaurants, fun nightlife, and some of the most scenic terrain and best powder and ski conditions in the United States. Each of the ski areas has a distinct and unique personality and charm - for example:

  • Skiing in powder at VailAspen attracts the rich and affluent
  • Ski Cooper is a low cost, very laid back, and a family area
  • Vail is the largest in the US and has the best back bowls
  • Beaver Creek is "Not exactly roughing it" with heated walkways and escalators to the slopes
  • Breckenridge is known for it's quaint downtown
  • Keystone is a good mix of everything
  • Copper Mountain is affordable, fun, and convenient
  • Snowmass has some beautiful ski-in ski-out homes and fun trails
  • A Basin is where the locals ski

Our goal is to ski all 27 resorts, we have done 10 of them over the years, but we consistently keep returning to the Summit or the Vail area because of the range of skiing choices which include:

  • Aspen/Snowmass area with easy access to Sunlight, Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Aspen Mountain all of which are about a hundred miles from Vail
  • Summit area is less than a hour from Vail and includes Copper Mountain, Ski Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone, and a little out is Loveland, Arapaho Basin, and Winter Park
  • Vail Valley area for skiing the huge Vail resort and the more upscale Beaver Creek

We hadn't skied in about 5 years and I was a tad worried - would this old pudgy out of shape body last more 3 hours, could I still ski the bumps and black diamonds like in the old days, would the knees give out, or would altitude sickness creep in - but I knew I could ski for at least an hour down a couple runs before heading to the apres ski spots for hot chocolate, music, food, and cold drinks! In the old days, it seemed easy for us to get up after 5 hours of sleep and lots of partying the night before, drag ourselves out the door, and be the first ones in line when the lift opened, and some of the last off the mountain before joining the party at bottom of the slope.

And when it was finally time to get ready to head to our first ski area, for the next hour I:

  • found it very hard to squeeze into those tight long johns and I didn't dare look in the mirror
  • was sweating from all the gear as I waited for what seemed like hours as our group and grand kids made decisions on what to wear and got ready
  • surprised myself by not pushing them to hurry up and get out the door
  • had forgotten how hard it was to walk in those heavy ski boots, carrying skis, poles, goggles, and wearing a jacket full of gloves, hats, candy, a flask of Hot Damn, sun glasses, chap stick, a candy bar, sandwich, ski maps, and more - every pocket was stuffed and someone said I looked like the "Michelin tire man"
  • was heavily panting and had a hard time catching my breath walking to buy tickets which again took my breath away and gave me big time sticker shock as I signed the credit card bill
  • waited in our first lift line for what seemed like hours

I began to remember how painful and expensive this sport is - but after making the first run in warm weather through fresh powder trying to stay up with our the in-condition young kids, I forgot all that pain and cost and remembered why this is our favorite family sport! What a blast! Around 10 on Sunday morning, we finally made our first run down one of the slopes at Beaver Creek. The sun was shining, the snow conditions were good, the weather was warm (the frequent shots of Hot Damn cinnamon schnapps helped), the lift lines were short, the legs were holding out, and some of the skiing techniques were starting to come back - I forgot all that pain and cost and tried my hardest to stay up with our in-condition kids! What a blast!

Some of the best groomed runs are at Beaver CreekBeaver Creek Ski Resort has 1,825 acres of Colorado terrain with 25 lifts to get you up to the 149 skiable trails. Their motto of "Not exactly roughing it" gives you an idea of what Beaver Creek is all about - plenty of ski-in ski-out lodging, a quaint village area with upscale shops and mouth watering cuisine, first class service, attention to detail, slopes groomed to perfection, and outstanding apres ski at the base of the mountain. Even though a lot of the trails are well groomed (19% of the trails are rated "easiest) there are plenty of challenging runs (38% is "more difficult") with moguls and trees including the famous Birds of Prey downhill course. Ski.com gives Beaver Creek 5 stars and Ski readers ranked it #5 in the United States with high marks for quality of snow, apres skiing, dining, lodging, and ski lifts to excellent terrain for all levels. To learn more read our review of Beaver Creek Ski Area. Overall, we really like Beaver Creek - friendly service, a variety of runs, and good apres ski. A very good start for our first day of skiing - and I lasted until 3:30 before I had to ski down for a margarita and appetizers.

One of the Sage Adventures guides enjoying the snowMonday we set off early for a snowmobile trip with Sage Outdoor Adventures. We had five snowmobiles rented and after getting all of us fitted with racy helmets we piled in one of Sage's SUV's for a short ride up a narrow Bureau Of Land Management trails to our waiting snowmobiles. After hearing the 10 rules (ie, stay on the trails, don't cross the fence line, be back in two hours, have fun) and a short lesson on riding a snowmobile, the five of us plus the two oldest grandkids took off roaring up the trail. And over the next two hours we had a blast - beautiful scenery with panoramic views, short breaks for snowball fights, racing through the trees, blazing new trails through fresh powder, and a loss of patience when Scott broke one of the cardinal rules - as he typically does - and we, as usual, had to bail him out! You can learn more about this fun adventure by reading our Snowmobiling in Vail article.

After that fun adventure it was back to ski half day at Beaver Creek. Just a short block from the Sheraton Mountain Vista is a gondola at the Westin that takes you up the mountain. Another great afternoon of skiing at Beaver Creek Ski Resort and exploring some areas of the mountain that had opened since the last time we skied there. Since we only skied half day, we all had the energy to hang out at one of patios and listen to some good country music from a singer who reminded us of Texas singer songwriter Pat Green. He even sang a couple Willie and Waylon songs - we felt right at home. A perfect way to end a perfect day.

 

One of the terrain parks at Copper MountainTuesday, it was off to Copper Mountain for a full day of skiing and then a few drinks, music, and appetizers in one of the fun bars at the base of the mountain. Copper is about a 20 minute drive east on I-70 from where we were staying and it is one of our favorite mountains. It's more laid back, has a very good variety of runs, one of our favorite back bowls and trails, and is a little less expensive and pretentious when compared to Vail. Locals refer to Copper Mountain as being Colorado’s perfect ski mountain with some of the lightest powder snow in Colorado. And Copper is renowned for its sunny blue sky days, which we caught on Tuesday - a beautiful day, not a cloud in the ski, light crowds, good snow, and around 40 degrees - it just doesn't get any better than that.

Getting the courage to snowbike down the mountainFor a different and unique experience, Scott and I rented snowbikes from Front Range Snowbikes and spent the morning snowbiking the mountain with the owner of Front Range Bikes, Alan - what a great guy and he can make that bike do some amazing things. If you shorten a mountain bike, extend the seat, take off the shocks and brakes, and replace the tires with two short skis, you've got a ski bike. Oh, and you snap your ski boots into a pair of 16 inch skis. After a two minute lesson during which Alan assures us "this is really easy, a lot of fun, and no problem getting on or off the lift" - can I believe this guy who seems very fit, carries himself like a natural athlete, and has done this for a living for the last two years snowbiking almost every day during the season? To learn the answer and to find out why we loved this new way to enjoy downhill skiing, you're going to have to read this article on Snowbiking on Copper Mountain.

Scott and I both loved snowbiking, but my daughters wanted to give it a try and I couldn't leave Colorado without showing Scott, who recently moved from Oregon to Austin, some of our favorite Copper Mountain runs. The snowbikes can easily handle the bumps, powder, and double diamonds as Alan adeptly showed us, but I wasn't about to attempt it after just a few hours riding experience. So, it was back into the skis to see if my old legs and knees could handle the bumps, powder, trees, and back bowls of Copper. Read our article on Skiing at Copper Mountain to learn more about this fantastic mountain and a fun day of skiing. After a a great day on the slopes, we spent a few hours at Endo’s Adrenaline Café, at the base of the Eagle Chairlift, to enjoy their cheap beer, snacks, and music. Another fun day. Now the legs are getting a little wobbly and I'm up to 4 Advil a day plus the lips are chapped and we were out of Hot Damn Schnapps!

Tubing at Copper MountianJust outside from Endo's is the Copper Mountain Tubing area and the grandkids, and me, were eager to give it a try. So for the next hour I zoomed down the mountain in single and double tubes in a variety of formations (lying down, sitting, backwards, tandem, trains, spinning, head first, etc.) and acting just like the grandkids - hard to tell who had more fun, grampa or the grandkids. Copper Mountain's Tubing Hill has four lanes, single and double tubes, and an escalator to take you and your tube back up the hill - cuz you will want to ride back down again, and again until your time is up. Each lane is a little different than the others - one is slower, one is very fast, one has a jump, and the other has a sharp banking turn! After an hour of this we were ready for another hot toddie!

That's one of the reasons we love Copper Mountain, it has a fun family oriented feeling with several activities for kids and the young at heart, yet also offers challenging runs, exciting terrain parks, back country access, and good apres skiing. Speaking of terrain parks, Copper Mountain has two terrain parks with rails, boxes, jibs, and jumps plus a 22' super pipe and there are three additional parks currently under construction. Better yet, unique to Copper Mountain is Woodward at Copper which is a indoor year round ski and snowboard program offering winter day camps and week-long summer camps. Woodward at Copper offers the Barn, the first indoor ski and snowboard training facility with trampolines, foam pits, and Snowflex jumps dedicated to terrain park and pipe progression. The Barn is 19,400 square feet of terrain park and pipe progression split into three areas: the gym cross training area with trampolines and more; the snow zone with jumps, rails, and pipes; and a skate, BMX, and inline skate zone with all sorts of fun stuff. To learn more, read our Copper Mountain Ski Resort article.

Snowmobile trip with Nova Guides

Wednesday morning our daughter's husbands joined us and got their chance to ride snowmobiles with Nova Guides while their wives babysat the youngest grandkids. On the way to Nova Guides, Hudson who had so much fun on the previous snowmobiling trip was so excited he had a hard time sitting still and was constantly asking "are we almost there?" and he didn't know that after our ride, he was going to get to drive his own snowmobile! Nova Guides is surrounded by majestic mountain peaks at it's location in the heart of Camp Hale which was the former training grounds for WWII's 10th Mountain Division. We grabbed some helmets, got a quick snowmobile driving lesson, and took off in a cloud of snow following our guide on our very fast snowmobiles. And for the next four hours we tried to keep up with our guide - who happened to have a much more powerful snowmobile and set a very fast pace that even Scott admitted was at times faster than he wanted to go. What a fun morning - read more about our fantastic tour with Nova Guides, read our Snowmobiling in the Rockies article.

 

We have a good friend, Phil, who was on the University of Texas San Marcos water ski and heavy drinking and partying team with my daughter, who lives in the Vail area and is an expert skier and a real mountain man. One of his recommendations was that we should go out of our way to have a drink at the infamous Mango's Mountain Grill in the historic city of Red Cliff, which just happens to be on the way from Nova Guides back to our condo. Didn't take much arm twisting for a unanimous vote of "do it." From an already fairly narrow winding and twisting narrow mountain road we took and even narrower winding road along a sheer cliff to the quaint town of Red Cliff, population of 289 rugged outdoor souls. Red Cliff, founded in 1879, is a former thriving mining town in canyon of the Eagle Mountain river and it's home to a post office, a historic church, and numerous older wooden structures along the main street of the town. Several of the older structures have been converted in recent years into modern businesses, including a restaurant and Mango's. Mango's is three levels of fun and entertainment with good food (the fish tacos are world famous), live music, games, and affordable prices. The roof top deck offer spectacular views. This is a place where you could hang out for hours, but we had to head back to the condo to pick up our daughters and youngest grandkids for our next adventure. If you like cross country skiing, Red Cliff is home to several trails including the mostly downhill 11 mile Shine Pass Trail.

The Yurt at Tennessee PassWe jumped in the hot tub, changed clothes, and then loaded all 10 of us in the SUVs to head back up the narrow winding highway, past Red Cliff, and on to Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, where we linked up with mountain man Phil and his girlfriend for another adventure that Phil highly recommended. We were going to try to cross county skiing uphill, through the trees, to a Yurt for a gourmet meal at 9000'. Our group of 11 quickly overwhelmed the Nordic Pass staff and Phil and his girlfriends with questions - none of us had ever cross country skied - much less skied downhill in the dark with 3 kids under 5 and on a full stomach after drinking. And those skis are really skinny. Phil gave us a quick lesson, put our beer in his backpack with his two bottles of wine, kept assuring us we could do it, and took off leading the our pack which included the husbands pulling a sled with the the one and three year old grandkids, one daughter with snowshoes and her 3 month old son, and the rest of us for the first time on cross county skis. Wow, what a unique, thrilling, laugh filled, belly stuffing adventure - click on Cross Country Skiing To Dinner In A Yurt to read all about it.

Thursday we were back on those skinny sticks bombing down some of the runs at Vail Ski Resort. Vail is huge - seven miles wide, over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, 193 trails, and 31 lifts. You can find everything from wide green groomers to double diamond back bowls. In fact, Vail is so big that on an average day there are only 2 skiers or snowboarders per acre increasing to just 4 on a busy day. And the town of Vail is of the same scale - a wide variety of accommodations, shops of all kinds, plus pizza and burgers to gourmet cuisine. Read about our day skiing at Vail. Another fantastic day of skiing - manageable crowds, good sun, and warm - until about 3 when the snow starting coming down forcing us to head to lively apres ski spots in Vail village.

Wow, what a fun day. And how quickly the week was flying by. I woke up Friday with a couple tubing bumps and bruises, sore legs from skiing, and a slight head ache from one too many hot toddies! But after downing a couple Advils, a hearty breakfast, and a quick check of the forecast (sunny and 40), and what seemed like hours trying to get everyone dressed, a decision on what mountain to ski, and loading all the gear plus another stop to get some more Hot Damn Schnapps, chapstick, Advil, sun screen, and butter scotch candy, we finally made it to Beaver Creek in time for lunch and a half day of skiing.

Horses waiting to take you on a sleigh rideWe were some of the last ones off the mountain (truth is a couple of us had legs that gave out and thirsty palettes so we were drug out of the bar), stuffed everyone back in the SUVs to head back to the condo to for a quick shower, a cold beer, a new outfit, a couple diaper changes, and 90 minutes later all 10 of us were back in the SUVs headed to 4 Eagle Ranch for a sleigh ride, dinner, music, and marshmallows around the fire. The food was great, the grandkids had a blast, the scenery was stunning, the musician was entertaining, the beer was cold, and the stars were out making sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows with our family and grandkids a perfect end to a fun filled action packed seven day vacation in beautiful Colorado. Read more about a good time at 4 Eagle Ranch.

None of us were ready to head home on Saturday morning!

In addition to all the fun things that we did, there are lots more that we wish we had time to enjoy, some of which include:

  • cross country skiing - take those skinny skis into a smorgasbord of options with over 45 kilometers of track with sweeping panoramic views - you'll find trails at Nordic centers, ski resorts, golf courses, and Colorado Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management maintained trails
  • fly fishing - the Colorado Rockies are home to some of the best trout waters in the nation, and Gore Creek, which runs through Vail has been given a "Gold Medal" destination and you can catch a trout in any of several lakes, streams, or rivers 365 days a year
  • heli-skiing - the ultimate for soft, fluffy powder on tracked slopes for skiers and boarders of all levels
  • horseback riding - get off your feet and let a horse take you through some unbelievable scenery
  • hot-air ballooning - float serenely above the valleys, rivers, and mountains for the ultimate views and scenery
  • ice skating and hockey - take off those heavy cumbersome boots and slip into some blades and go ice skating or a game of hockey on one of several rinks in the area around here
  • sleigh rides - take a moonlight sleigh ride for unbelievable silence and serenity, beautiful scenery, and unparalleled romanceGo snowcating with Nova Guides
  • snowboarding - if you haven't tried snowboarding, you're missing an unforgettable experience and you'll find board rental and lessons to make it memorable and for the experienced there are several terrain parks and snowboard zones with chutes, run, gullies, half pipes, and more.
  • snowcat tours - to experience the back country, try a snowcat tour to some of Colorado's highest peaks in an enclosed and heated snowcat
  • snowshoeing - try blazing a trail through the powder and trees and connecting with nature on a pair of snowshoes on any of several trails ranging from beginner to very difficult
  • spas - after all that skiing, snowshoeing, skating, or snowboarding there is nothing better than a full body massage and there are several choices in the Vail Valley
  • festival and events - throughout the year you'll find a wide variety of events from tree lighting to plays and musicals to downhill racing
  • kids activities - while you're skiing, shopping, snowshoeing, or getting a massage the kids aren't going to miss you - there are lots of ways for them to be entertained including ski school, tubing, and skating
  • hut trip - the Vail area is home to 24 very cool huts which were styled after the European tradition of hut-to-hut travel and are available for rent for overnight and accessed by back country skiers, snowshoes, or cross country trekkers
  • zip lines - take a soaring zipline experience in the Rockies, above the trees, and across the crystal clear streams

And there is nothing better than after of a fun and exhilarating day in the snow, then swapping stories, relaxing by the fire, enjoying your favorite drink, munching on some good grub, or dancing or singing with the bands at any of the several apres ski pubs, saloons, or restaurants at the base of the mountains and scattering throughout the towns.

Make sure you pick up a free WhatToDo guide to take advantage of all the discounts on food, clothing, snowmobiling, and more. Also check out our Colorado Ski Area Overview Page for some high level information on a lot of Colorado ski areas.

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Texas Outside has been alive & well since 1996 - that's ancient by today's internet standards! Texas Outside was originally developed by Lone Star Internet which is an Austin based web development company with an excellent reputation & client base. In March of 2006, we purchased Texas Outside & made a commitment to add new, exciting, & informative content on Texas outdoor activities & fun things to see & do.

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