It can be tough deciding between Vail and Beaver Creek Resorts in Colorado. Both are owned by Vail Resorts but these two are as different as skiing and snowboarding. Through the years, Vail has ranked No. 1 or among the top three ski and snowboard resorts by publications ranging from ski to family magazines. Beaver Creek has carved out a special niche as a boutique, decidedly upscale resort. Both have spectacular ski slopes and fun for non-skiers in the winter. In the summer, both are prime spots to camp (in comfortable to luxe lodging) and explore the surrounding mountains by foot, bike, horseback or with a golf club. Both Vail and Beaver Creek run festivals throughout the year.
Vail is the larger village and it 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. This resort actually 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 (unless you’re a ski instructor who has spent more than 15 years teaching here). You can reach all of the the terrain via two gondolas and lots of chairlifts. They open up approximately 3,500 vertical feet on trails, glades and vast bowls that stretch more than seven miles across mountainsides. With roughly 5,000 skiable acres, the area is so large that it can take a half hour to get to Blue Sky Basin via ski trails and lifts. Here’s a lot more info about skiing at Vail, and a suggestions for a day on the intermediate slopes. Keep in mind, your lift ticket is also good at Beaver Creek. Certain passes are also good at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Summit County.
The slopes at Beaver Creek: We started skiing at Beaver Creek (sometimes referred to as “the Beav”) about the time the first buildings were constructed. Since opening in 1980, Beaver Creek has become a world-class resort and while there are fewer skiable acres than Vail, there’s plenty to satisfy all skill levels accessed by 24 lifts that reach trails and bowls spread across 1,832 acres.
The best beginner runs at Beaver Creek are at the top of the mountain, giving newbies to the sport wonderful views, intermediates have long runs, and advanced and expert skiers can challenge themselves on the runs that world-class racers ski down during the Birds of Prey World Cup races. Here are suggestions for a fun day on the mountain for intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Possibly because it’s a bit further from Denver, Beaver Creek is less crowded than Vail, which in winter 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 planning a luxe vacation, when booking your lodging ask about the White Carpet Club. In the club, just an escalator ride away from the slopes, there are lockers, attendants to help you with advice (and taking off your heavy ski boots), and hot chocolate after a day on the slopes.
“Vail Valley” is a marketing term for the mountains and valleys stretching from Vail to Beaver Creek. In the summertime this region is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. The views of the Gore Range are beautiful year-round but in the summertime there’s a blend of green pines and white aspens reaching up to craggy peaks. Hike on trails threading Vail or Beaver Creek and in the surrounding mountain. Take a lift uphill to bike on the resort’s ski trails. (There are hooks to carry bikes on one of the lifts.) Plenty of good outfitters offer fishing in gold-medal streams. Golf courses range from public links to award-winning private courses to which certain hotels have access.
Whether staying in Vail or Beaver Creek, you have easy access to the ongoing parade of festivals and events – from rock concerts to food and wine weekends, throughout the winter, summer and fall. Culture is important to the residents, so expect symphonies from such prestigious groups as the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, plays and dance recitals. Almost every weekend, there’s a festival designed to draw visitors and families to explore the region. Lodging rates are lower in the summertime.
Winter, summer and fall visitors explore the shops on the pedestrian streets in Vail and Beaver Creek’s pedestrian village. (Late spring is considered mud season and many stores close.) Whether you want Vail and Beaver Creek logoed t-shirts, or a $1,000 ski jacket, you find them here. The town is loaded with art galleries, clothing shops, jewelry stores and places to buy and rent athletic gear. Your choice of restaurants ranges from upscale such as to inexpensive pizza joints.
Here is a two-day itinerary for exploring Beaver Creek in the summer and fall.
There are so many restaurants in the Vail Valley that a foodie could easily write a book on them. While it’s not easy to find “cheap eats” they do exist. And don’t be surprised to find that some of the best and fanciest restaurants are located in hotel and mixed-use buildings . Reservations for the moderate and high end restaurants is strongly recommended. There are good on mountain choices, too. (Vail’s mid-mountain 10th Mountain Restaurant is a top choice on cold days – but you’ll need reservations.) The following suggestions in Beaver Creek are some tried and true dining establishments worth a try.
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.