Little snow? No problem: Thanksgiving brings friends, families to valley | VailDaily.com

Little snow? No problem: Thanksgiving brings friends, families to valley

Sergio Rodriguez, Iilana Sanchez, Bruno, 2, and Santiago Rodriguez, 6, of Albequerque, N.M., shop along Bridge Street on Wednesday in Vail. The family is in Vail for their first time and say they've enjoyed themselves so far despite no skiing.

EAGLE COUNTY — Once upon a time, before snowmaking and targeted marketing, Thanksgiving in the Vail Valley was a very different holiday. This weekend may bring back a bit of that old spirit.

Elaine Kelton moved to Vail in its early days, in the 1960s, and worked for Vail Associates — the precursor to Vail Resorts. She remembers Thanksgiving as something of a bonus weekend for the resort — if it snowed.

"We never used to really book Thanksgiving," Kelton said. "Why frustrate yourself or your guests when you can't deliver?"

That meant Thanksgiving was mostly a local holiday, with good food, good friends and good conversation, often followed by a long walk after the meal.

In those days, the guests who did arrive often had friends. Those who came to ski sometimes had great conditions. Other years, there might have been skiing elsewhere.

In an interview with The Vail Trail in the 1990s, Josef Staufer, who owned the Vail Village Inn, recalled that during a dry year in the 1970s, the hotel chartered a bus to take skiers to Keystone, where there were some runs available.

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It's a bigger deal now

As the years passed, resorts installed snowmaking equipment, and, most of the time, were able to provide decent early-season conditions for guests. Events were added to the calendar, and now Thanksgiving is a moderately big deal on the resort calendar.

This year is different. Vail and Beaver Creek open Friday, each with one run, each made largely of man-made snow.

But at Thanksgiving, it's the gathering that's important.

Donae Chramosta and her family have been enjoying Thanksgiving in the valley since the 1980s. She's come almost every year for more than 20 years now.

Even with limited terrain, Chramosta said she's looking forward to Opening Day at Beaver Creek.

"We'll go get all the Opening Day swag," she said. Before that, though, the family will head to the annual Turkey Trot in Eagle-Vail.

"We'll do a little skating, and maybe take a few hikes — we've thought about going to Hanging Lake."

Will MacKenzie and his family are also longtime visitors. Staying in Lionshead Village, MacKenzie said the place is still empty enough that "it feels like we have the place to ourselves."

Despite the limited terrain, MacKenzie said he hopes the oldest of his three kids — a 5-year-old — can get at least a bit of ski school time.

But we're together

Again, though, the gathering is key.

"We're here with friends and family," he said. "Rather than being skiing-driven, this trip is family- and friends-driven. The positive thing is we're spending time with each other."

The group plans to try to ski a bit, but some on-mountain dining is in the mix for this trip, and perhaps a bowling trip to Bol, in Vail Village. And there are plenty of board games in MacKenzie's place.

While Thanksgiving isn't on par with Christmas in terms of resort village bustle, there will be plenty of people in the valley.

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek General Manager Robert Purdy said he doesn't expect that hotel to fill throughout the weekend, but there's plenty to do.

Reservations have been "fantastic" for Thanksgiving brunch, Purdy said, and there's plenty going on elsewhere at the hotel. Ping-pong tables and cornhole boards have been moved inside, and the hotel's outdoor hot tubs and fire pits are always popular.

"We'll have lots of options for guests," Purdy said. "We still expect to be very busy."

On the other hand, Thanksgiving guests at the Hyatt tend to drive from the Front Range, with fewer destination guests — those who fly in from other states.

And, at least for Chramosta and her family, Thanksgiving in the Vail Valley remains a lot like the more low-key holidays Kelton and her family celebrated.

"It's our favorite place in the world," she said. "My husband and I had our first date here, we got married here and our daughter was baptized here." And, as the owners of a busy retail shop, Thanksgiving in the Vail Valley is a chance to recharge before the Christmas season.

"I'll be doing a little work in front of the fireplace, too," she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Plenty to do:

Here’s a short, wildly incomplete, look at some of the activities in the Vail and Beaver Creek resorts this weekend:

Vail: Visitors can ride the Lionshead gondola for on-mountain dining, snowshoe or hiking tours and rides on the mountain’s alpine coaster.

Go to http://www.vail.com to learn more.

Beaver Creek: There’s free ice skating through Nov. 25 in Beaver Creek Village. The 36th annual Christmas tree lighting is set for Nov. 25, featuring fireworks and a visit from Santa. Kids can make gifts in Santa’s workshop.

Go to http://www.beavercreek.com to learn more.