It can be tough deciding between Vail and Beaver Creek Resorts. They are as different as skiing and snowboarding. Through the years, Vail has ranked No. 1 or among the top three ski and snowboard resorts. Beaver Creek’s niche is as a boutique, upscale resort. Both have spectacular ski slopes and fun for non-skiers. Both are prime summer spots to explore surrounding mountains by foot, bike, horseback or golf club. Both run festivals throughout the year.
Vail is larger and sprawls from the ski slopes to I-70 and beyond. The core of Beaver Creek, 20-minutes away, is a small, luxe European-style village that clings to the mountainside. Beaver Creek has bases on three mountains and cat tracks unite them, so it’s easy to ski from one to another.
The slopes at Vail: You’ll never ski or snowboard everything at Vail. Check our suggestions for a day on the intermediate slopes. Lift tickets are also good at Beaver Creek, and certain passes are good at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Summit County.
The slopes at Beaver Creek: We started skiing here (sometimes referred to as “the Beav”) when it opened in 1980. The world-class resort, with fewer skiable acres than Vail, offers plenty to satisfy all skill levels. The best beginner runs are at the top of the mountain — giving newbies wonderful views, intermediates long runs, and advanced skiers access to runs used by world-class racers. Read our suggestions for a fun day on the mountain for intermediate skiers and snowboarders. A bit further from Denver, Beaver Creek is less crowded than Vail, which usually translates to “few or no lift lines.”
Check out the resort’s White Glove First Tracks for memorable first-on-the-mountain runs and breakfast at Allie’s Cabin. If you’re going luxe, ask about the White Carpet Club where you’re just an escalator ride away from the slopes, advice-filled attendants, and hot chocolate.
“Vail Valley” — a playground for outdoor enthusiasts — is a marketing term for the mountains and valleys stretching from Vail to Beaver Creek. Views of the Gore Range are beautiful year-round but in the summertime a blend of green pines and white aspens reach up to craggy peaks. Take a lift to bike down the resort’s ski trails. Plenty of outfitters offer fishing in gold-medal streams. Golf courses range from public to award-winning private courses.
Both resorts have easy access to an ongoing parade of festivals and events — from rock concerts to food and wine weekends. Residents appreciate culture, so expect prestigious symphonies, plays and dance recitals. Lodging rates are lower in the summertime.
Winter, Summer and Fall visitors shop on pedestrian-only streets. (Late Spring is mud season, when many stores close.) Whether you’re looking for logoed t-shirts or $1,000 ski jackets, you find them here. Towns are loaded with art galleries, clothing shops, jewelry stores and places to buy and rent athletic gear.
Vail Valley is chock full of dining choices. Cheap eats aren’t easy to find in Vail but they do exist. Some of the fanciest restaurants are located in hotel and mixed-use buildings; reservations recommended. There are good on-mountain choices, too. Check these tried and true dining establishments in Beaver Creek.
Beaver Creek for First Time Winter Visitors … how to move around the mountain
Beaver Creek Blow Out in Summer and Fall … hiking, biking, golf and family fun
Vail in 3 Days: What, Where, When, Why … summer and Fall in the Vail Valley
Vail Skiing for First Time Visitors … start early to beat the crowds
Most of the travelers flying to these resorts land at Denver International Airport and either rent a car or take shuttle service. If the roads are clear and traffic is minimal, the ride will be about two- to twho-and-a-half hours. From certain major cities, you can also fly into Eagle Airport, which is about 30 minutes on the west side of Beaver Creek. If you want a car book one in advance, although there are excellent shuttle services at both Vail and Beaver Creek. Van service to the resorts is another option.
The way to get to Vail or Beaver Creek by car is along I-70, but with caveats. If you’re not used to winter driving a snow storm can make this drive a harrowing experience even with a 4-wheel drive (they’re 4-wheel go; not 4-wheel stop). Skier traffic and Sunday afternoon summer traffic can be bumper to bumper so plan accordingly. During peak travel days, CDOT now opens a third lane eastbound (returning to Denver). It’s a toll lane, and the cost runs from $3 up to $30 or more depending upon the amount of traffic. If you don’t have a transponder, the price escalates because they mail you a bill.
Colorado Mountain Express (970) 754-7433) has been running reliable shuttle service for years and there is currently service from downtown
You can get to Beaver Creek from Denver via I-70. Exit at Avon (exit 167 ), which is approximately 13 miles west of Vail. Go left around the round-about, pass through 4 round-abouts to the entrance to Beaver Creek. If you’re there for ski day turn right on Rt.6, park in one of the day lots and use the free bus transportation. Colorado Mountain Express provides shuttle service from the Denver International Airport, from the Eagle Airport and from downtown Denver.
Partygoers who want rides between Vail and Beaver Creek opt for the TurtleBus, a green-painted school bus with limousine-style seats. You’re not driving, so grab a drink from the bar in the back of the bus. Check the Web site or call (970) 471-0547 for the schedule and to make a reservation.
The base of Vail is 8,120 feet above sea level, and Beaver Creek is listed at 8,100 feet. Both mountains top out more than 3,000-feet higher. If you’re not used to the altitude take it easy at the beginning of your trip and drink lots of water. Check out these High Altitude Tips.