As I write this, it’s Day 10 of the Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and racing fans the world over are abuzz with the exploits of skiing’s lycra-clad elite. Highlights so far have included Anna Fenniger’s nerveless display in the women’s Super G, and Patrick Kueng’s death-or-glory descent in the men’s Downhill on February 8. (Did you notice how loudly he bellowed at the end of the race, by the way? Clearly, that guy had committed every last atom of himself to the job.) We’ve also marvelled at the two courses down which the competitors have flung themselves. If you haven’t already seen the footage, then I beg you, take a look at the turns Kueng is forced to make on his way to victory, courtesy of the vertiginous middle section of the men’s Birds of Prey course. Most people wouldn’t even walk down slopes as steep as this, let alone ski them at speeds of over 70mph.
But if all this mesmerising action has persuaded you that Beaver Creek is off-limits for the ordinary skier, think again. This mid-sized, multi-faceted resort has a lot to offer beyond the Birds of Prey and Raptor race tracks, and none of it involves hurtling down a mountain at 70mph, with just a scrap of lycra and a ski helmet for protection. Here are some of its most notable assets.
Boy, they really know how to make corduroy in Colorado, and Beaver Creek has some of the best of it. A self-professed smoothy of the skiing world, the resort’s motto was, until recently, “Not Exactly Roughing It”, and it works hard to produce immaculately-groomed pistes each morning (check the daily grooming report to see which runs have been smoothed out). Mother Nature lends a hand, too. This is a high-altitude ski area, set between 2,470 and 3,480 metres, nearly 1,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The snow that falls here is usually (but not always) light, cold and relatively dry – and it tends to stay that way too, thanks to the fact that most of the slopes face north or north-east.
As a result, you’ll find ego-boosting skiing all over the mountain – for all levels of skier. Some of the pistes (called trails in the US) are unusually steep for an American resort. Others are extraordinarily benign: notably Redtail and Harrier off Spruce Saddle, and the long and soothing runs down to Bachelor Gulch. Your average racer could probably ski these backwards, blindfolded and standing on one leg. Your average family group, on the other hand, will find them the perfect place to warm up their ski legs at the start of the holiday.
2. Low-stress powder
Not every powder pig will warm to Beaver Creek. Here, the forest rises right to the top of the lift system; and whilst there are open slopes, and thinned-out trees scattered across the ski area, it lacks the big, unbroken powder fields you’ll find in Vail next door (or in A-list Alpine resorts such as Val d’Isere, Val Thorens or St Anton). To really enjoy it, you’ve got to have a taste for tree-skiing.
That said, Beaver Creek does get a lot of snow. The average is 323 inches/8.2m a season, which is more than Avoriaz – the snowiest resort in the French Alps. Midweek, it can seem virtually empty too. So if you’re skiing Monday to Friday, and a storm blows in, you’re going to get an awful lot of powder to yourself. Early-advanced skiers in particular will love this kind of day. The pistes will be virtually empty, and coated with a thick layer of fresh snow – which means they can enjoy the pneumatic bliss of powder turns, with a firm base of corduroy not far beneath. Powder skiing doesn’t get any easier than this.
3. Bump runs
They like their bumps in Beaver Creek. The steep slopes of Grouse Mountain (pictured, above) are a magnet for diehard mogul maniacs, but there are also many shorter and gentler bump runs dotted across the mountain, sitting right alongside groomed trails. Pretty soon, plucky intermediates are going to find themselves dipping in and out of these bumps, and getting a taste for mogul skiing. For many, it’s an intensely ego-boosting moment.
4. A hard-working ski and snowboard school
Beaver Creek chases hard after the family-skiing market and one of its prize assets is its painstaking, child-friendly ski school. By European standards, prices are high: but in return you get a dedicated children’s centre called the Ranch, complete with its own restaurant, and served by its own gondola: at Beaver Creek, there’s no mucking about trying to master a drag lift. There’s no worrying about the instructors’ mastery of the English language, either, which is a big relief for Brits used to the polyglot slopes of the Alps.
5. Nice neighbours
There aren’t many resorts that serve up as balanced a mix of skiing as Beaver Creek – coupled with reliable snow, a top-notch ski school, and two World-Championship race courses. In fact, the only terrain it’s missing is an area of above-the-treeline bowls and chutes, and a half-pipe (although it does have three terrain parks).
But it’s not a big place, at least not if you’re planning a week-long holiday. The total skiable area is 1,832 acres – compared with 8,171 acres in Whistler, and 24,000 acres in the Espace Killy, home to Val d’Isere and Tignes. So it’s good to know that Vail (pictured, above) is only 11 miles away. It’s covered by the same lift pass, and adds another 5,289 acres of terrain, including a big dollop of easy off-piste skiing and oodles of intermediate-friendly cruising, on-piste. What’s more, there’s a regular $7 bus service linking the two resorts if you don’t have access to a car.
So, who should target Beaver Creek?
In a word, families – at whatever level they ski. Most parents don’t have the time or energy on a family holiday to explore a big ski area, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want top-quality slopes when they do get out on their own. For them, the compact and varied terrain at Beaver Creek is perfect. So too, the painstaking, can-do attitude of the ski school when it comes to children. They’ll also appreciate the manageable size of the base village, which comes complete with heated pavements and escalators: a real boon if you’re marshalling a platoon of little skiers.
Meanwhile, adult-groups will be better off staying in Vail. But they should still plan one or two day-trips over to Beaver Creek. You don’t want to leave skiing as good as this to a bunch of adrenaline-starved Mums and Dads…