When it comes to big-name, big-time, big-fun ski resorts, it’s hard to get past Vail.
Colorado’s largest ski resort at 5,289 skiable acres, Vail is known for it’s Back Bowls, impeccable grooming and proximity to Denver.
Just 13 miles west, you’ll find Vail’s sister resort, Beaver Creek. Smaller at 1,832 skiable acres, Beaver Creek is close to Vail and yet a world away. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve talked to people who ski Vail frequently, yet have never skied Beaver Creek.
We like both of these mountains, a lot.
And if you’re going to one, why not ski the other?
Family Skiing at Beaver Creek
Beaver Creek is easy to navigate with kids. You can cover a lot of territory in two days and feel familiar with the mountain.
Beaver Creek’s beginner options start with the Buckaroo Express gondola at the base and culminate at the top of the mountain under the Cinch Express. If you’re skiing Cinch, look for Tombstone Territory near the Spruce Saddle Lodge. It’s one of six Kids’ Adventure Zones at Beaver Creek.
Intermediate terrain is spread all over the mountain. Our favorite lifts for skiing the blues are Strawberry Park Express, Bachelor Gulch Express and the Arrow Bahn Express. The Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch runs are removed from the main mountain, but easy to get to. They are often wide-open with few people skiing them. Don’t miss Coyote Glade (Bachelor Gulch area), an outstanding introduction to intermediate glade skiing.
As for advanced and expert runs, steep terrain abounds at Beaver Creek and the resort serves it both smooth and bumpy.
One of our favorite spots is Rose Bowl, with long mogul runs and the Stone Creek Chutes.
If you’re ready to test your legs and stamina, check out the Talons runs — Beaver Creek’s most challenging terrain in Larkspur Bowl, on Grouse Mountain and under the Birds of Prey lift.
The Talons Challenge is an annual event when skiers try to ski all 14 Talons runs in one day. Create your own Talons Challenge. If you ski them all that’s 26,000+ vertical feet.
Family Skiing at Vail
Everyone who skis Vail has a different approach (here’s a post with some of our tips).
We have friends who always park at Lionshead and rip the Avanti groomers. We know others who fly their flag in Game Creek Bowl.
My son and I have a deep affection for Northwoods and Blue Sky Basin, yet we’re always up for exploring and continuously find new favorites.
If you’re new to Vail, use the EpicMix Guide on your phone (you can use this at Beaver Creek, too). Choose a base lift, your ability and how long you want to ski. The guide will suggest a route and you’re off. It’s the easiest way for a newcomer to get oriented.
Another option for families is to visit the Kids’ Adventure Zones. Vail has 13 Adventure Zones and they’re not all easy. Read the descriptions and check out the map coordinates as you plan your day.
Don’t go into the Back Bowls when visibility is low. The snow and sky blend together and it can be disorienting. While you can ski next to the trees for some relief, you’ll have a lot more fun if you stick to the front side on inclement days.
Finally, Riva Ridge is a must-ski for intermediate and advanced skiers. One of Vail’s original trails, it’s a top-to-bottom ride that will test your legs at the end of the day.
Food and Fun
Cookies and Candy. While sugar does not a ski holiday make, don’t miss Beaver Creek’s famous complimentary cookies. Available each day after 3:00 p.m., look for the chefs with the silver trays.
Visit Beaver Creek’s Candy Cabin at the top of Strawberry Park Express. While barrels of old-fashioned delights tempt the eye, we like the chocolate-covered Swedish fish and locally made chocolate snowflakes, ski boots and sea salt caramels.
If it’s a sunny day, take your bag of candy to the sundeck near the top of President Ford’s. It’s a good spot to click out of your skis and take in the view of the World Cup downhill course.
A Memorable Meal. A full morning of skiing makes everyone hungry, so set some time aside for a long lunch at SaddleRidge Restaurant at Beaver Creek or The 10th at Vail.
SaddleRidge is tucked into an unassuming lodge near the Buckaroo gondola. Ski to SaddleRidge or call ahead for a snow mobile ride. Trade your boots for slippers, enjoy the extensive collection of western art and mountain-inspired food. It’s a perfect spots for couples (while the kids are in ski school, perhaps?) and families. They have an excellent children’s menu.
The 10th is a modern restaurant with expansive views of the Gore Range. Kick off your ski boots, relax and take your time with excellent, alpine comfort food. The 10th is just uphill from the Mid-Vail lodge. It’s a busy place. Reservations are recommended.
Be Epic. Take an EpicMix family photo at both Beaver Creek and Vail and be sure to try EpicMix Racing. Lindsey Vonn sets the pace and each racer receives a handicap based on their age and gender. This means slow old mom (me) can rank higher than fast young son, even if he smokes me in the gates. It’s super fun!
Learn Something New. Taking the kids out of school for a midweek break? It’s easy to justify skipping school when you have the slopes to yourself. Add a bit of education by finding and skiing all of the Ske-cology runs at Vail and Beaver Creek. Spread across both mountains, follow the signs to learn more about the local environment and wildlife. Ske-cology runs are marked on both trail maps.
Other options for learning something new? Try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, or take a telemark lesson.
Mom’s Morning Out. Sometimes moms just want to connect with other mom’s and women. Every Tuesday – Friday morning, Beaver Creek offers a free Women’s Social Ski Tour for intermediates and above. Meet at 10:15 a.m. at the base of the Centennial Express lift. Look for the pink signs with the Starbuck’s logo.
Après Family Style. We’re boring, so for après we watch ski movies on local TV 8 after soaking in a hot tub.
If you like more action, consider ice skating at Beaver Creek, live music at the Red Lion in Vail, or cheap grab and go snacks from Loaded Joe’s near Vail’s covered bridge.
The Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum. Located at the Vail Village parking garage, this fantastic museum is well worth a visit. Exhibits range from the 10th Mountain Division to World Cup racing and it’s fun for all who love skiing. Love shopping? The gift shop is the place for unique ski-themed goods.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of fantastic places to stay in Vail and Beaver Creek, at all price points. We’re especially fond, however, of the large, quiet condos at Arrowhead and the location, location, location lodges in Beaver Creek Village.
We recently stayed at The Osprey at Beaver Creek which is a whopping 26 feet from the Strawberry Park Express. A ski valet stored our skis and boots each afternoon and carried our skis to the lift each morning. Service was attentive, but low-key and the dinner menu was both delicious and a good value. The rooms were massive, the hot tub was lovely and did I mention we were only 26 feet from the lift?
Getting between Vail and Beaver Creek is the trickiest part of a visit to both mountains.
If you’ve got a car, it’s easy. You’ll drive and park.
If you don’t have a car, check out the ECO bus with express service during peak morning and evening times in ski season (limited schedule, $7 per person).
More Reasons to Ski Vail and Beaver Creek:
- Vail, Colorado: Tips for Skiing this Massive Mountain, February 6, 2015.
- Happy Birthday Vail! January 9, 2013.
- Four Reasons We Love Skiing Beaver Creek, Colorado, March 9, 2016.
- Why Our Family Loves to Ski Beaver Creek, Colorado, January 7, 2015.
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