High in the central Colorado Rockies, Beaver Creek Mountain is both the tallest of the four mountains (at 11,440’) within the Beaver Creek Resort boundary and the starting point for the World Cup FIS Men’s Downhill course.
Ski right as you exit the Cinch Express Lift and you might find yourself dropping off the edge of the world on the Birds of Prey race course. Ski left, and you’ll find yourself in the resort’s new Red Buffalo Park, 200 acres of beginner terrain reimagined this season for learning, exploring and family fun.
Family. Adventure. Learning.
While the green runs at the top of Cinch are not new, before this season skiing them required either a long run back down to the Cinch lift or a long lift ride (8-11 minutes) on a fixed grip double chairlift. Over the summer, Beaver Creek installed a high-speed lift that not only shortens the ride time to just four minutes, but makes it much easier for families and ski school groups to ride together.
The motto of Red Buffalo Park is Family. Adventure. Learning.
The family part is obvious. This is terrain that draws families in and entices them to stay with adventure.
There are thirteen (mostly) beginner trails in Red Buffalo Park. While many skiers and riders think of the term “park” as referring to the terrain park, you won’t find jumps, rails, boxes or other free ride features in Red Buffalo Park.
Instead, families will find wide, gentle runs at the top of the mountain designed to help skiers of all abilities progress. The views are big and so is the fun. There are two kids’ adventure zones, including Jack Rabbit Alley, an intermediate tree run with banked turns and western themed surprises. There are also five unique snow sculptures tucked alongside the runs. Trying to find them all might keep your kids busy all day.
As for learning, Red Buffalo Park is home to the Sheephorn Skill School teaching terrain and the Beaver Creek Ski and Snowboard School Cookie Cabin.
Open only to instructors and their students, the Cookie Cabin is a warm, lodge area below Ski Patrol Headquarters. Designed to welcome kids with a metaphorical “big, warm hug,” the Cookie Cabin has kid-sized cubbies, a gear tree to dry out damp mittens, tables and chairs where instructors can meet with their groups, and of course, cookies, along with water and hot chocolate to keep everyone hydrated.
Buzzing with activity, the Cookie Cabin, along with the Red Buffalo Express lift, allows instructors to maximize instruction time, as they no longer have to ski everyone down to Spruce Saddle for breaks.
And just to manage parental expectations, it’s important to note that Red Buffalo Park is suitable for Level Three lessons and above. “Never ever” beginner lessons still take place in the Haymeadow learning area at the mountain base. But what a great incentive: learn to ski and you can visit the Cookie Cabin!
Sugar For All
As the Cookie Cabin is open only to ski and ride school instructors and students, I recognize that this may disappoint some parents and kids. If you find yourself at the top of Beaver Creek Mountain and need to warm up, there is a warming hut on the upper floor of Ski Patrol Headquarters. While Ski Patrol doesn’t serve cookies, Beaver Creek chefs do and free chocolate chip cookies are available every day in Beaver Creek Village beginning at 3:00 p.m.
Additionally, don’t miss the Candy Cabin at the top of Strawberry Park Express. In the Candy Cabin you’ll find old-fashioned “by the pound” favorites as well as handcrafted truffles and turtles. While I was waiting to order, a girl next to me volunteered the following.
“I spend a lot of money here on different candies, but my favorites are the chocolate covered Swedish fish. They are really good.”
I do love expert opinions.
More Family Fun at Beaver Creek
As I’ve written before, Beaver Creek is a surprising ski resort. While it has a solid place in the hearts of families as a fabulous place for kids to learn and progress, Beaver Creek also has some of Colorado’s steeper and harder terrain, especially on the famous Talons runs, as well as abundant intermediate terrain.
In addition to nonstop skiing bliss, we recommend family racing on the EpicMix race course, ice skating in the village and a special family dinner at Beano’s Cabin.
A private club by day, Beano’s Cabin is accessible by reservation and snowcat sleigh for dinner beginning at 5:00 p.m. Definitely a high-end gourmet experience, Beano’s serves a five course meal emphasizing mountain cuisine for adults, with a substantial and appealing menu at reduced pricing for kids.
A hungry family of four, we’ve tried quite a bit of the menu. Our current recommendations are the cooked oysters with bacon and hollandaise sauce and the venison, both featuring preparations you are unlikely to find elsewhere.
The early seatings are often teeming with families. Beano’s welcomes children of all ages and does their best to make the evening enjoyable for all ages. We recently saw a family celebrating their son’s 4th birthday. His look of wonder as a candle-laden cake was presented to him delighted everyone in the dining room.
New Family Learning Zones at Vail
Vail is only thirteen miles east of Beaver Creek, so a visit to one mountain often includes a visit to the other. If you are visiting Vail with young skiers and snowboarders be sure to explore the newly designated family learning zones spread across the front side of the mountain from Eagles Nest to Game Creek Bowl.
Beaver Creek is the closest of the Vail Resorts’ mountains to our home and we’ve enjoyed skiing here for years.
While the mountain has a tony reputation, we’ve always found Beaver Creek very friendly and we’ve also always been able to find good lodging at a variety of prices.
When our boys were competitive ski racers, our go-to lodging was in Eagle, just 30 minutes away. Yes, staying in Eagle requires a commute, but the savings is worth it, and resort parking in the Elk and Bear lots adjacent to Highway 6 is easy.
At the other extreme, lies the Osprey Lodge which is only 26 feet from the Strawberry Park lift. Start your morning in the hotel boot room where valets help your kids boot up. Your skis are waiting for you just outside the door and within a minute or two, you are on the lift.
Another option is the town of Avon, with a variety of lodging, shopping and restaurants, as well as everyday retailers such as Walgreen’s and the City Market grocery store.
Free busses connect Avon to Beaver Creek and Vail, which makes Avon an excellent base for families planning to explore both mountains. For the ultimate in convenience, check out the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa. Connected to the Beaver Creek lift system by a gondola, the Westin also runs guest shuttles to Beaver Creek Village and Vail.
Some rooms at the Westin Riverfront have kitchens. There is a Kids’ Club with fun and varied activities and for those crazy people who like to work out after skiing or snowboarding, the resort gym is massive and the “home” gym of Olympian Michaela Shiffrin. For families who prefer to soak and relax after skiing, there is a full size outdoor pool and three very large hot tubs.
As promised above, here’s a 2010 video profile of Patroller J.W. Busby. In addition to ski patrol, Busby creates Beaver Creek’s snow sculptures.
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