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First and Last days at Vail
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Updated 2 months ago
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3 months ago

Hello DC SKI.  I took a little trip to Vail last week and thought I might tell you about it.  Long text follows or skip straight to photos.  

TEXT:
I had a business trip to Denver and I decided to add a few days.  I had never skied Vail and the late season prices and snow were good.  The truth is I had not skied in 25 months, I’m not getting younger or stronger, and had not done a ski trip by myself, so this excursion had multiple facets.  On with the show.

Wednesday after work I rented a Jeep Renegade, a buzzy little workhorse, and joined the familiar I-70.  It was still daylight so I drove around Vail, through Minturn, and to the top of Battle Mountain Pass where virtually no snow was found.  Bad sign I thought. Dinner was beers and a loaded burrito in the Red Lion, a proper ski bum bar in the middle of Vail.   The town was largely empty.  I went for a walk and met Bob Lazier, famed sports car racer and original and current owner of the Tivoli Lodge where I was staying.   Great guy.  Good sign.  

The skiing was all about location and elevation.  I logged 40 lift rides and 55k vertical over two days.  Plus a near death experience.  Vail was “53%” open, meaning no China Bowl and no Blue Sky Basin.  You can probably stop reading now.  

Thursday morning I rented Blizzard Bonafides from Troy’s ski shop, both highly recommended.  I was about 10th on the gondi and started at the top in Game Creek bowl - bad idea.  Rock hard ungroomed or groomed - either way it was bad.  Went down to Avanti lift where the snow was better.  Worked up to easy blacks by 10am.  Back to the top of lifts 3 and 4, trying to not repeat any runs.  Got a tip from a guide from Hendersonville, NC and headed over to Northwoods (11) where the runs are a longer and lonelier.  Lunch at Buffalos at the top of the mountain and met some more interesting folks.   Back onto the slopes headed down Sun Up bowl - several times.  All I can say is wow!  The scale of that bowl is amazing. That alone makes Vail worthwhile. Go if you can. I then went into Sun Down Bowl, steeper, less groomed, worse snow, but still great.  I took a line roughly above Forever.  Really Bad Idea.  Hard, mangled, grippy, mushy deep snow.  Lonely.  Took me about a half an hour of hard work to make it down about 1000 vertical to where the snow improved and I could return to normal exhausted skiing.  Not life threatening, but certainly embarrassing.  A few more runs and the lifts were closing.  Back to the Red Lion.  My legs were dead.  Great day #1.

Friday morning it is snowing, wicked windy, bone cold.  9am up to Game Creek bowl.  Bad idea.  Now we have hard choppy grippy moguls covered by 3 inches of fairy dust.  Lets go down in elevation again - all they way to Lionshead.  Really bad idea.  Back to Game Creek and made several laps in the middle where the snow was blowing and accumulating.  Very good idea.  Tired and cold by 10 am so I go into Buffalos for coffee and a Danish.  Great idea.  Back out and suddenly I feel like iron man.  Lapped lifts 3, 4, and 11.  I learn where the stashes are accumulating.  Quick lunch break at 2 then back at it.  Four pm and I take the famed Riva Ridge down 4 miles top to bottom.  Back to the Red Lion, love that place.  Starting to love Vail.  Truly dead tired in the Avon Comfort Inn by 9pm.    Went out for beer and bbq.  Awesome day #2.  

Saturday back to flatland.  That’s my entire season.  Last week at Vail is a great time to visit.  Nearly all crowds gone, zero liftlines, casual vibe, and reasonable prices.  I’d go again in a heartbeat.
 

PHOTOS:
A familiar landmark - good times ahead.

A familiar landmark

Uh oh, no snow above Minturn.

No snow above minturn - rut oh.
 

Not too shabby view from my room.  I have to say that Tivoli is a really great lodge if you can book it.  

Nice view
Sun up Bowl.  I am half way down and needed a breather, so I pretended to stop for photos.  After the path turns right, there is another mile or so run out to the end.  

Sun Up Bowl

lower

Top left of this photo is where I met my ski-maker.  Fortunately survived.

met my maker

 

Totally empty Vail in the evening.  Fake, Kitschy, but not damn bad.  

Vail not ugly
Game Creek Bowl in the morning snow and howling wind.  This is getting good.   Btw, that is still a long way down, I needed two breathers on the way.  
game creek snow

Northwoods some slope about half way down in the afternoon snow - this is getting really good.  Note skier density.  

northwoods

One last shot at lift 4 - Christmas slope, a good blue, hard and ungroomed for several days, but had great wind loading and no other skiers.  weird.  Mid-Vail area below, at the top of the gondi.

christmas

Riva Ridge at the end of the day, looking up at the ‘tourist trap’.  Finally, looking back at me - tired and happy.  Rookie sunburn setting in.
Riva up

Me

3 months ago

Very nice Dave that you could take advantage of the biz trip and get in some epic skiing.  Hopefully, life cooperates and the Vail days are a prelude to a nice season for you next winter!  I first skied those back bowls in 1976 on a solo trip during spring break of my senior year in college.  I didn’t ski them again until 2015 and 2017.  They are still one of the most distinctive experiences in American skiing.  But I agree, while awesome in good snow, they can be a real slog when the snow isn’t cooperating.

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

JimK wrote:

Very nice Dave that you could take advantage of the biz trip and get in some epic skiing.  Hopefully, life cooperates and the Vail days are a prelude to a nice season for you next winter!  I first skied those back bowls in 1976 on a solo trip during spring break of my senior year in college.  I didn’t ski them again until 2015 and 2017.  They are still one of the most distinctive experiences in American skiing.  But I agree, while awesome in good snow, they can be a real slog when the snow isn’t cooperating.

Is that because of which way they face or because there is a fair amount of flat terrain towards the bottom?

Now Supreme starts at Alf’s at Alta, the runout can become an issue when it’s warm during late season.  Especially for intermediates are aren’t comfortable with straight lining the last section before things flatten out.

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

Glad you could get in a little skiing, Dave!  I remember your first time at Brighton and Solitude very clearly.  Thinking of spending a week staying in SLC again.  Haven’t skied Alta in mid-season for a while.

3 months ago

Vail’s back bowls are really expansive, maybe five miles wide with approx. 2000’ vertical.  If the snow is dry and fluffy or fresh pow, then the world is your oyster.  But 90% of that is acreage is not groomed and they face south for less than ideal snow preservation.  If you start down a large ungroomed face of one of the bowls and the snow is crusty or frozen chicken heads or mashed potatoes, you might have a long slog ahead of you before you get to a friendly surface.

3 months ago

JimK wrote:

Vail’s back bowls are really expansive, maybe five miles wide with approx. 2000’ vertical.  If the snow is dry and fluffy or fresh pow, then the world is your oyster.  But 90% of that is acreage is not groomed and they face south for less than ideal snow preservation.  If you start down a large ungroomed face of one of the bowls and the snow is crusty or frozen chicken heads or mashed potatoes, you might have a long slog ahead of you before you get to a friendly surface.

Thanks Jim - after my two days I say your description is spot on.  OTOH, I don’t know where else I could find one single HSQ covering that much terrain. 

BTW - your big adventure this year was inspiring, thanks for the push. 

Marz - If i get time to go anywhere, Alta and Solitude are at the top of my lists.  

 

3 months ago

JimK wrote:

Vail’s back bowls are really expansive, maybe five miles wide with approx. 2000’ vertical.  If the snow is dry and fluffy or fresh pow, then the world is your oyster.  But 90% of that is acreage is not groomed and they face south for less than ideal snow preservation.  If you start down a large ungroomed face of one of the bowls and the snow is crusty or frozen chicken heads or mashed potatoes, you might have a long slog ahead of you before you get to a friendly surface.

This.  The bowls are massive, but get a lot of sun, have very little shade, and mostly face south.  Even though they’re relatively high (compared to other terrain at Vail), the surface can get crusty when other parts of the mountain is skiing well.  And you get zero help from groomers to refinish the surface.  

Like most people, I adore the bowls when conditions are good.  But the rest of the time, I generally stay away and head to Blue Sky (which has great gladed skiing).

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
2 months ago

Thanks for the comments about the Vail back bowls.  Makes a lot of sense.  I fully appreciate the difference that aspect makes after learning how to navigate Alta and Snowbird during late season.

2 months ago

The Back Bowls is where I first experienced breakable crust over about a foot of fluff. We spent the run making craters down the face. We couldn’t even ski powder on our pencil skis back then let alone breakable crust. I recall a ski report from my first late March visit to Jackson Hole. They called it sun crusted snow. I just love marketing speak. That particular day the reported frozen granular turned out to be like frozen grapes and golf balls.

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