Big mountains and broad slopes. Plenty of curves and bowls. Days of sunshine and clear, cold nights. Powder snow, more often than not. This is the American West in winter, the heart of ski country.
It takes a whole guide book to concentrate on all resorts, and there are such works: A Western Ski Guide (Chronicle Press, San Francisco, $2.95), and Skiing Western America (Scribners, New York, $4.95). However, many ski books are not aimed where the Texas skier needs them to be. In the Texas Monthly Ski Guide, we have explored the core of ski country in the American West, specifically the resorts in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. We have answered questions that all skiers entering new country should ask, about the quality and quantity of snow, the presence and cost of ski equipment from lifts to skis-for-rent, the cost of room and board from the luxurious to the barely-essential, and the character of the aprés-ski life. Our Guide covers thirteen resorts in these three states.
We rate Vail, Colorado, as the best- all-around resort for skiers, whether they are beginners or advanced, or strictly aprés-ski. Winter Park and Keystone in Colorado rate as the two best resorts for the beginning skier; Vail for the intermediate skier, and Aspen and Crested Butte, Colorado, as the best resorts for the skier of advanced skills.
Vail is 110 miles west of Denver on IH-70; it is the modem version of an Alpine village with shops, lodges, lifts, and motels within walking distance of each other; heated swimming pools, saunas, nightly dancing, even book stores in between. But, most importantly, Vail’s ski school is large and well equipped, able to cater to both celebrity skiers and beginners. The school is wholly satisfying also for the progressing intermediate skier. There are excellent slope signs for all. The resort’s great ski attraction is the giant, powder-snow- filled, sun-facing bowls which astonish most skiers.
The quality of dining compares with that of European ski resorts. Among Vail’s restaurants, you should consider The Left Bank (French, meals ranging from $4 to $9), Gramshammer’s (Austrian, meals ranging from $5 to $10), Pistachio’s (Italian, where a serving of minestrone soup costs 75 cents, a heaping plate of pasta is $3.50, and an entree of chicken cacciatore goes for $6).
Quality is emphasized in lodging, too, and if you bring children, they will find large swimming pools and game rooms available. Vail has many condominium own-your-own apartment units, plus many conventional apartments in the central business district. However, other traditional travelers’ accommodations are numerous. Among the best: The Vail Village Inn which is across from the Holiday Inn (travelers will find the former $8 to $10 cheaper than the latter, at $20 a night, single, and $26 a night, double); the Lodge at Vail provides very chic $60 to $90 condominiums which sleep two to four as well as doubles for $36 a night, without meals. Vail is a prestigious address for skiers and reservations are mandatory. Its prices make life difficult for ski bums.
For further information, write Vail Resort Association, Vail, Colorado 81657.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
This resort can be reached by air from Denver’s Stapleton International Airport or via IH-70 and Route 40 from Denver. The 170-mile drive across Berthoud and Rabbit Ears passes takes at least four hours, and possibly five. The peaks include Mount Werner (10,600 feet) and Thunderhead Mountain, with many easy slopes and some difficult ones. The steepness at Steamboat insures fast learning. There are also numerous acres, uncluttered and extra-easy, for novices.
Plenty of Steamboat’s “champagne-powder snow” can be found. The mountain maintenance is exceptional so beginners need not fear getting lost in deep snow or falling into someone else’s sitzmark.
While you ski, leave the children in a nursery near the beginners’ slope. Complete ski outfits are available for $8 a day at the rental shop. New condominiums and lodges are located near the lifts; these include the skyscraper-like Village Inn with rates of $30 to $80 a night. You can stay in town for much less and commute to the ski area. Try the Rabbit Ears Motel at $14 to $16, the Anchor Motel at $16, or the Scandinavian Lodge at $14 to $22.
Aspen is America’s largest ski complex; it offers slopes for all skiers, and its restaurants and night-life centers will satisfy most people’s tastes in food and entertainment. There are four huge skiing mountains for beginning skiers, tourists, and racers alike. No artificial snow is ever needed here, and the area frequently gets its first cover before Thanksgiving. The best-known and original ski slopes are located on Aspen Mountain.
While Aspen Mountain, where the world championships are held, will appeal to fast skiers, adjacent “Little Nell” is for beginners. “Buttermilk Tiehack” is also for beginners. “Aspen Highlands” features huge slopes with a fine selection of runs for intermediate skiers. Buttermilk itself has sixteen beginner runs, fifteen intermediates, and a few advanced slopes. The Aspen Skiing Corporation also operates Snowmass, a popular complex for average skiers. The Snowmass slopes are vast and satisfying. One day of lift tickets allows you to ski the various areas; Aspen’s big bargain is the lift ticket for youngsters or the young-at-heart (over 65).
Aspen cuisine is superb with well over 30 restaurants offering a number of international entrees. The Copper Kettle serves entrees from around the world, including Persian, Portuguese, and Austrian dishes, and maintains high standards along with matching prices of $13 a dinner. There is much nightlife; in fact, the town is ideal for couples who don’t ski or don’t ski much. Accommodations vary from those for the $ 100-a~night family to the seeker of the $8 dormitory facility. Among the medium-priced lodges, the most attractive and tidiest is Gasthof Eberli in “downtown” Aspen, a quiet location. The price of $22 for a single to about $25 to $27 a couple reflects Aspen rates at places like the Boomerang Lodge and the Tipple Inn. Or try the Fasching Haus condominiums at $30 to $50.
Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park, less than two hours or 67 miles from Denver, is in evergreen-blanketed Denver Mountain Park of the Arapahoe National Forest at the foot of Berthoud Pass. It has wide trails, mammoth open slopes, and well-maintained ski areas. There are eight chairlifts and two T-bars with an enormous uphill capacity, plus 35 runs, the longest of which is 2½ miles with an 1800-foot vertical descent. This year’s big news is the development of the idyllic “Mary Jane” portion of this “skier’s-skier” mountain.
Keep in mind that Winter Park provides some outdoor travel for the nonskier, who can sign up for a “snow” tour in tank-like Sprites which roll into the wilderness. Short trips to look the terrain over begin at $3 per person; a longer tour including a box lunch costs from $8 to $10. Winter Park also has seven jumping hills where tourists can watch the jumpers. Snowmobiling at varying rates is available at the Idlewild Lodge, Hideaway Park.
You can stay at hostelries in romantic Colorado forests ten minutes away from the ski lifts. The lodges are not as luxurious as those in Vail or Snowmass, but the buildings have a pleasant, rustic Christmas-tree country character. A rental car can be of value, but most of your Winter Park hosts will meet you at your bus and shuttle you to the lifts free of charge. The best of the ski-lodge scene are at Winter Park’s Sitzmark Lodge or at Beaver’s. Both offer attractive seven-day packages that range from $150 to $250 per person, depending on the room size.
Loveland Basin Ski Area, Colorado
Ideal for skiers with just a weekend to spare, Loveland is easy to reach; it hugs the spectacular eastern slope of Loveland Pass, 56 miles from Denver. A variety of skiing is available on some of Colorado’s finest light snow. Loveland Basin is well established and handsomely equipped; the adjacent Loveland Valley has gained a reputation as an excellent family area with facilities for very young children. Skiing Denverites gather at Loveland on Sundays to the satisfaction of its Texan-owner. During the weekdays there are few skiers. There are no accommodations at the ski area itself.
This ski area, recently made more accessible via a tunnel, is located at the western foot of Loveland Pass, 72 miles west of Denver and five miles east of Dillon. The simpatico mountain has many trails that will suit and delight the intermediate skier but also won’t faze the novice. The area is perfect for visitors in search of the true Colorado; the feel of nature exudes from woods of spruce, lodgepole pine, fir, and balsam. The Keystone trail design utilizes natural glades, dips, and curves. The view from the 7000-foot-long upper lift to the 11,640-foot summit includes sun-dappled Colorado powder-snow dotted with the prints of showshoe rabbits. The summit view is excellent: Independence, Grey’s, and Torrey’s peaks, Dillon Lake, and the Gore Range are all visible.
Skiing is the be-all-and-end-all at Keystone; the chairlifts will not load sightseers, and you must go elsewhere to skate, skibob, or exhibit aprés ski furs and parkas. The clientele comes mostly from the East and Midwest with a sprinkling from the South. The place to stay is the Ski Tip Ranch which has plenty of intimacy, mood, and good food. The owners are true lovers of the outdoors; they are well traveled and are eager to talk skiing. A night plus two meals, pension-style, costs less than $20 at the Ranch.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte is a 40-minute drive north of Gunnison on Route 135, 228 miles from Denver; an airline and a bus line serve Gunnison daily. The ski area is somewhat isolated and therefore best for people who like a quiet vacation. A gondola lift rises 2000 feet above the valley floor, various chairlifts furnish access to trails and open slopes, and there is skiing for beginners, intermediates, and cross-country enthusiasts. Crested Butte is a quaint western town with several lodges like the Ore Bucket where rooms are $16 to $30 a night. Southern accents are heard on the slopes; the owners hail from Georgia.
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos Ski Valley lies in a narrow, spectacular valley some 80 miles from Santa Fe. Albuquerque is 130 miles away and Denver is 280 miles to the colder north. Years ago the area used the slogan “Naturally we older skiers prefer Taos” which they found ever-sunny, quiet, and cosmopolitan. Meanwhile, it was discovered by families and younger people. Taos’ reputation for difficult skiing is deserved but there are hills for beginners, too. The “Snake Dance,” “Spitfire,” and “The Chutes” runs will please hotshots. Intermediate trails were added in the last few years. There are runs that uncoil gently, soothingly through sun-flecked trees and there are runs that flow into various bowls.
Taos ski lodges have much in common; they are sophisticated and used to catering to guests who stay at least a week, arriving from Zurich, Austin, New York, Chicago, Los Alamos, and Grenoble. They employ the pension plan —you sleep and take meals in the same lodge. A number of them also do not accept credit cards. Unless you travel through an airline, you generally pay your $250 all-inclusive ski-lodge bill in cash. Most of the lodges are owned by skiing instructors, which makes for knowledgeable après-ski conversation. Among the best and most gregarious spots are The St. Bernard at $250 with delicious meals, lessons, and lifts, and the nearby Thunderbird Lodge. It’s hard to buy just a single night’s lodging at either of these well-run establishments.
Red River, New Mexico
Red River is not overrun like some Eastern or Midwestern ski meccas where chair (about $7 a day) and Pomo lifts can take care of all its visitors. The area is less expensive than the Taos or Colorado resorts and is conveniently arranged, with accommodations like the Alpine Lodge, located close to the skiing area. The ski station will appeal to skiers who have been on the slopes once or twice before or are rank beginners. Non-skiers can skate, hike, or sun.
Santa Fe Ski Basin, New Mexico
This area is a short sixteen-mile drive from Santa Fe. The 12,000-foot elevation means good snow, quick-tanning ultraviolet rays, and pure air. Ski rentals are near the lifts so short-time visitors need not bring their own equipment; the daily rental charge for everything is between $5 and $8. The trails are fairly short compared to Taos.
Santa Fe works for skiers who seek a peaceful, different retreat. The February and March days are as blue as the beaded Indian necklaces sold on the Santa Fe Plaza. The hotels and the numerous inns and lodges all conform to Santa Fe’s simple adobe style of thick, rounded walls and soothing Southern colors. There is a touch of Mexico here also. Stay at the Santa Fe Hilton for $22 to $32 or at one of Santa Fe’s resort ranches. Bishop’s is the best one for spring skiers and tennis players and is closed in the winter.
Do not miss the town of Santa Fe itself. Take a stroll to the Plaza, the Palace of the Governors, and the chapel of San Miguel. These sights, and many museums, are free. Prices for single hotel rooms are reasonable.
High atop the Wasatch Range, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird is a splendid modern ski resort with impressive ski mountains. Its ease of access—less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City—excellent facilities, and good skiing conditions made it an overnight success with avid skiers. Choose between the luxury of the 160-unit Lodge at Snowbird and the 68-unit Turramurra Lodge with sauna and hot soaking-pool. A couple will easily spend at least $40 a night, without meals, at either place. A 120-passenger tram carries you 2900 vertical feet in six minutes and serves 1000 people an hour. The tram, combined with four double chairlifts, handles 5400 skiers an hour. Lift tickets are cheaper if you invest in three to five days’ worth. An excellent ski school teaches the Graduated Length Method. Stable snow conditions exist from Thanksgiving to May.
This is the ski area where Texans and other flatlanders should not overexert themselves the first day. In the Wasatch National Forest next door to Snowbird and 26 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Alta is at altitudes from 8550 to 10, 300 feet. But after an easy first day, there is Alta’s powder and alpine skiing as well as packed intermediate and beginners’ slopes. The old silver mining town is famous for its deep-snow alpine runs like Wildcat, Sunspot, High Rustler, and Backside which have inspired a rugged, powder-ski technique among its regular skiers. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the average yearly snowfall is 461 inches; it can start tumbling in November and continue intermittently through spring.
Lodging in the canyon is intimate but expensive; the Alta Lodge is a good example at $200 to $275 per person a week. There is little night life; local liquor stores are open only at certain hours and there are no night clubs.
Park City, Utah
Park City is also an old mining town, but it has plenty of après ski life, including all sorts of saloons, bistros, taverns, and hotel bars featuring beer and banjos. Like Snowbird and Alta, it is less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City. The skiing is enhanced by the presence of Stein Eriksen, the most famous of the ski gods, who supervises an outstanding school.
For still more skiing, there are shuttle buses to nearby Park City West which is a smaller area but attracts smaller crowds. Park City’s accommodations are reasonable; typical examples . are the Chateau Lodge or the Silver King Lodge which charge from $18 to $22 per night.
For more information about these areas, write Colorado Ski Country, USA, 1461 Larimer Square, Denver, Colorado 80202; New Mexico Department of Development, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501; and Utah Travel Council, Salt Lake City, Utah 87501.
*Please note that prices are subject to change.