10 perfect runs in the Vail Valley
VAIL, Colorado ” If you could collapse your entire ski season into one day, what would it look like?
Well, of course, there would be powder days, lots of big, bottomless, sunny powder days, with champagne powder spraying your face with each enormous, carving turn.
But there would be other days, too. There would be no-new-snow-days when you just want to ski bumps. There would be spring days when you’re wearing a T-shirt, lathering up with sunscreen and enjoying the corn snow. There would be days when you’d serendipitously locate a gaggle of snowcats and have corduroy all to yourself.
They wouldn’t all be at Vail. Not when you have a ski mountain like Beaver Creek a few miles away.
It would not be five runs ” that would hardly get you warmed up. It would not be 20 runs ” that would kill your legs beyond anything a hot tub could cure. ¶ It would be 10 perfect runs, and they might look like this:
When there’s a lot of snow, head to this signature Back Bowl run just off Chair 5. The trail is kind of flat as you meander through a glade at the top of the run, but then you’ll pop out into the wide-open spaces of Sun Down Bowl. If you’re there at the right time, there will be nothing but powder in front of you, to your right and to your left. And if you’re truly ripping, somebody observing you from the lift above will excitedly cheer you on.
RED SQUARE, Vail
At the risk of sounding like the Vail Mountain marketing department, Vail has the luxury of having not one, not two, but seven bowls. As the masses are pouring into Sun Down and Sun Up bowls, Siberia Bowl stays relatively untracked. You’ll get some great powder turns at the top of Red Square, and you can find some little cliffs, too, if you want. Make sure you ski hard right as you approach the bottom of the run so you can make it to the catwalk with some speed and get back to the lift.
Vail can get somewhat busy, especially on Saturdays. The weird thing about the Simba chair is that it’s never busy. Even on holidays. And what’s even weirder is that it’s great terrain. But alongside the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin, it’s often forgotten. Simba is a long, wide run that’s great for lower intermediates and above. For snowboarders and twin-tippers, there are lots of natural jumps on the left and right of the trail.
IRON MASK, Vail
Let’s talk some snow science. The windward side of a ridge gets scraped bare by the prevailing winds. The snow is blown to the leeward side of the ridge and circulates back under, collecting below. The result? A sick cornice, dude! Iron Mask in Blue Sky Basin is a good example of that. Of course, it’s most fun on a powder day. Sidle up to the edge, look down, count to three, and launch yourself out. In some places, you’ll have a nice 10-foot drop. You’ll get three or four great turns before things flatten out.
This is Vail’s signature bump run, and it never gets groomed. A new, high-speed quad lift will allow people to ski twice as many runs in the same amount of time. But do you really think anyone can handle twice as many Highlines in a day? In mid-season form, the bumps are big ” Volkswagen big. If you’re Toby Dawson or a former member of the defunct, Vail-based pro moguls tour, you can ride the zipper line. If you’re a mere mortal, take your time and try to get in a groove.
RIVA RIDGE, Vail
Riva Ridge is the longest run on Vail Mountain, and when you’re talking about the largest ski resort in North America, that’s pretty long ” four miles from top to bottom. It’s an ideal route to end your day if you’re returning from the Back Bowls and heading back to the village. It’s wide, it’s steep in places, and the snow stays good. If you want to keep it mellow, skip Tourist Trap face by taking the Compromise catwalk at skier’s right. Riva Ridge is groomed frequently, and if it’s on the daily grooming report, it’s worthy of a first run of the day.
Lodgepole is a gem among the popular groomers off of Vail’s front-side Chair 2. It starts with a sheer face where you can gather some speed and then pretend you’re Julia Mancuso as you launch off the roller below. Pop into the trees if you get bored as the trail flattens out. A bunch of trails converge halfway down the trail, so be careful. Lodgepole steepens again in Part 2 of the trail before it again converges with other trails.
GOLDEN EAGLE, Beaver Creek
In early December, Bode Miller and Hermann Maier scream down this run at 85 mph. It’s the Birds of Prey downhill course, and it’s basically a 45-degree ice rink. The rest of the year, it’s a steep mogul run that’s one of the longest trails on Beaver Creek Mountain. If it hasn’t been groomed for a while, the moguls will be big. At the top, you can pop into the Zoom Room terrain park for a quick hit on a kicker or rail. Golden Eagle funnels down to Red Tail Camp, where you can grab a hot chocolate or a bite to eat.
RED BUFFALO, Beaver Creek
Red Buffalo is a long, mellow run at the top of Beaver Creek. It’s groomed often, and is nice for beginners. Practice your turns on the gentle slope, where there probably won’t be a lot of people around to bother you. If you’re an intermediate, it’s a good place to practice riding switch (backwards). The snow stays great on the run because it’s at the top of the mountain.
MOONSHINE TERRAIN PARK, Beaver Creek
Don’t forget the terrain park. Find your flow in Beaver Creek’s Moonshine park. Start with some jibs ” rainbows and kinked rails. Then gather some speed and get air on the ginormous kickers. Finish strong on the quarterpipe. Or you can leave it to the bros, save your ACL and just watch. It might be a better idea to start at Park 101 or the Zoom Room higher up the mountain, which feature smaller jumps and easier rails.