A view from the VIP tent in Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

A view from the VIP tent in Beaver Creek

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO, Colorado
AE VIP at BOP1 KA 11-29-07

BEAVER CREEK, COLORADO ” At night clubs, VIPs are the players who sashay past the velvet rope, leaving the throngs of very unimportant people to wait in line.

Here on Beaver Creek, we have our own breed of VIPs.

They congregate in a tent at the base of the Birds of Prey ski-racing course, sheltered from the cowbell-ringing masses.

The tent is heated. It’s stocked with gourmet food and it features an Austrian band clad in lederhosen.

Just what does a Very Important Person need to gain entry to the tent’s hallowed flaps?

A badge helps.

So does an Olympic medal.

Tennis legend Andre Agassi, who lays claim to eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold, swung by the tent Thursday. He was in town because of his connections with Longines, a Swiss watch company sponsoring the event.

For the VIPs of B.O.P., the tent is the epicenter of hobnobbing ” a place to broker deals and reunite with friends.

NBC analyst and former Canadian ski racer Todd Brooker dined with pals from the TV circuit, including former U.S. ski team coach Bob Beattie.

“It’s a great place to meet all your buddies from years ago,” Brooker said. “I mean, everybody’s here. This is the center of mingling.”

Just a few tables away, Vail Valley Medical Center C.E.O. Greg Repetti sampled the hot chocolate and delivered a business presentation from his laptop.

“They make us feel so comfortable,” he said in reference to the Vail Valley Foundation, which organized the tent. “It’s a great experience.”

For those who clear security, a feast awaits. Thursday’s spread included marinated flank steak, three salads and a dessert buffet, but nothing generated more buzz than the elk chili.

Brooker raved that the caterers make “the best soup anywhere” and even Agassi commented on the chili.

“My impressions (of the tent) would have been a lot better if they didn’t run out of chili but I was too slow,” he said, jokingly.

The chefs certainly didn’t skimp on elk chili; they brought in 30 gallons. In fact, feeding the tent’s roughly 1,500 visitors each day proved a hulking task.

A team of 30 cooks woke up at 3:30 a.m. to prepare the food at mountainside restaurant Beano’s Cabin, said Tim McCaw, a chef at Zach’s Cabin who was involved in the effort. They used a snowcat to haul the food from the restaurant to a makeshift kitchen in the tent.

And we’re talking food: 250 pounds of flank steak on Thursday and 400 pounds of strip loin on Friday, McCaw said.

Along with different food spreads each day, a new gourmet burger stand delighted tent-goers this year, said Beth Howard, director of mountain dining for Vail Resorts.

Each year, tent hopefuls flood the Vail Valley Foundation with requests for VIP status, especially in the days leading up to event. About 2,000 people garnered VIP credentials this year, including donors and event sponsors.

“That’s where it gets tricky: Who’s a VIP and who’s not?” Vail Valley Foundation president Cecilia Folz said. “Everybody’s a VIP to us, but we have to figure out: Who’s critical to this particular event? That’s tough.”

In past years, some people without creds have tried to sneak in. They hopped a gate surrounding the tent or borrowed badges from friends.

The foundation cracked down by inserting a five-foot mound of snow beneath the tent, making it harder for renegades to hop the gate, and by requiring both a VIP badge and a bracelet.

“Our security guards are like the secret service,” Folz said. “They’re pretty much all over it.”

Operating the tent cost $300,000 this year, including $60,000 to rent the tent itself. Corporate sponsorships covered those expenses.

For skiing enthusiasts who return to the tent year after year, “it’s kind of a homecoming,” Folz said. The tent also has symbolic value.

“Pretty much every major event in the world, they have a VIP tent,” Folz said.

Despite the event’s six-figure price tag and celebrity guests, tent visitors said the mood was low key.

Jonathan Castner, a photographer with Longines, stopped by the tent to hydrate, snack on bread and, of course, sample the elk chili.

The atmosphere is “surprisingly not snobby,” he said. “It’s not like going to the country club where there’s automatically this air of superiority.”

Arts and Entertainment Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism