Vail Valley Voices: Far from roughing it at Vail, Beaver Creek |

Vail Valley Voices: Far from roughing it at Vail, Beaver Creek

Sarah Eccleston
Vail, CO, Colorado

Every winter, tens of thousands of Britons head to Europe for their annual ski vacations.

Why do they do this? Have they not heard about the splendor and luxury that is Vail? Do they never wonder why Goldie Hawn chose to live in Aspen, not Tignes? Were the travels of Christopher Columbus a total waste of time where winter vacations are concerned?

I used to be one of those Britons. Technically speaking, I still am British. I just no longer choose to spend my ski holiday anywhere other than the United States, having done so for most of my adult life only to then fly the extra distance to Colorado and realize that my last 20 years of holiday-making have been a complete and utter mistake.

Let’s take, for instance, skiing in France. It’s a great place to start because the only thing the French hate more than the Americans are the British.

And yet they gladly take our money in exchange for food and lodgings in a supposedly four-star hotel that turns out to be circa 1970 and last had a new lick of paint when The Beatles were at the top of the charts. They serve a continental breakfast of dry bread rolls, bircher muesli and a cup of coffee you could stand your ski poles in, which is actually quite handy as that’s about the only kind of ski valet you’re going to get in this part of the world.

Ah, the ski valet. My dear Americans, please know that the treasure of a man who takes your skis at the end of a long day on the slopes, puts them away neatly, files your Salomons on the heated boot rack and then remembers your name the next morning when you go to collect them from him again is as American an invention as hamburgers and Budweiser and, in my opinion, as necessary an element of your trip.

In Europe ” even in the top-end resorts like St. Moritz and Val D’Isere ” we are all trudging our skis and poles ourselves down to a ski room, where we leave them overnight and pray they are still there the next morning.

On the occasions that those prayers aren’t answered, we run to the hotel manager in hope of sympathy, assistance and a new pair of skis as compensation.

Ah, but we are forgetting that he, too, is Le Francais, and so we are greeted instead with the French national gesture: the shrug of the shoulders. (Sidenote: Do they have shoulder-shrugging lessons at school, I wonder, or does it just come naturally to the French, like being able to cook the perfect creme brulee and perfectly accessorizing a Chanel suit?)

You can argue with him all you like. He will simply, at that precise moment, forget every word of the English language he has ever spoken and won’t learn it again until the end of the week, when he presents you with the bill with multiple extra charges and won’t give you back your luggage until you’ve paid it.

As much fun as it is, though, we can’t only pick on the French. If we are going to discuss the difference between skiing in the states and skiing in Europe, we’re going to have to bring up the issue of waiting in line for the lifts. To do the topic any justice at all, sooner or later, someone is going to mention Germany.

Waiting in line is a cultural movement of politeness that, although merely a matter of nothing more than good manners to most countries, has entirely eluded our German peers.

How is it that a country so smart, so adept at mathematics and logical perfection that they can bring to the world a feat of engineering as immaculate as the BMW, will see a 3-inch gap between you and your partner while waiting in line for the gondola and start pushing their 12-inch-wide snowboard through it?

Their neighbors in Austria aren’t much better at waiting in line, but we’ve got bigger problems on our hands when skiing there ” namely, the food.

There is no day of skiing in the world that is made better by a lunch of goulash with boiled cabbage, and there is only so much apple strudel a girl can eat before officially swearing herself off filo pastry for life.

Finally we come to Italy. The hotels here are certainly no more modern, but they have the additional drawback that everyone in Italy smokes everywhere, all the time, including the previous guests who stayed in your room and the people sitting next to you at breakfast. If you manage to leave a week skiing in the Dolomites without becoming a passive chain smoker, then give yourself a good pat on the back.

You know you’re skiing in Italy when people have more gold and diamante on their Descente jackets than you have in your entire jewelry box back home, and when they can’t fit any more sparkles on their all-in-one skisuits, they add fur trim and Versace sunglasses.

Italians have no belief in “less is more” and even less tolerance for the “natural look.” Rare is the Italian woman on the slopes of Souze D’oux without full makeup and styled hair.

Is it any wonder, then, that each year I return to Colorado? It’s a wonderful state of magnificent Rocky Mountain scenery, husky dogs, excellent restaurants, cute bookstores and friendly, effective customer service.

This year, I stayed at Beaver Creek for 10 days. As I wandered around the village, I asked myself, “Do these millionaires think that all ski resorts are like this?”

Do they think that all resorts have heated sidewalks and escalators? That all ski towns have an ice rink and fires for toasting marshmallows? Could anyone really appreciate how truly spectacular Vail and Beaver Creek are until they’ve spent a week in Chamonix?

One morning, my husband and I caught the first lifts of the day, having had fresh snow overnight. It was a cold morning on that chairlift, and I was just starting to regret our decision not to stay in bed for an extra hour and have a leisurely breakfast when, as we reached the top of the mountain, there was a man holding a tray of complimentary hot chocolate!

I nearly cried. I loved that man almost as much as his colleagues who wait at the bottom of the Beaver Creek slopes each day at 3 p.m., giving complimentary, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that are still warm.

Do you know what you would have to do to get a freshly baked cookie in Klosters? You would have to buy an oven and freshly bake one.

Of course, Europe has its merits, or at least one merit: the apres ski. I will admit that in St. Anton, there is a slopeside bar called The Mooserwirt that is open from 3 till 8 p.m., serves beer, plays very loud music and becomes incredibly full of incredibly drunken skiers, all of whom then have to ski the remaining 300 feet down the intermediate run in order to get home. It’s incredible fun and could never exist in the United States.

In Europe, people regularly get alcohol-related ski injuries on the way down from that bar and pass it off as a great ski-holiday story to tell their grandchildren one day. In the United States, the lawyers would be on speed dial, and the place would get shut down within the first week.

But like all good things, the age at which you can still enjoy The Mooserwirt comes to an end. And then there really is nothing to beat a ski trip to Vail and Beaver Creek.

While on my most recent trip, the lifts had been oiled, and as it rained (note: the weather remains an element that Vail Resorts can’t control no matter how well it manages to do everything else), black drops of oil spilled on my white ski jacket.

Not only did Vail Resorts insist upon dry-cleaning my jacket and shipping it back to England for me; they actually paid the import duties and taxes for me when customs in the U.K. charged me in error.

I thought of how the same event would have played out in France. Firstly, would they bother oiling the lifts? Secondly, would they admit fault when my jacket was stained? Would they pay for cleaning and shipment? And most importantly, would they have done it in such a reassuring and friendly manner as the wonderful team at the lift office in Beaver Creek?

The answer to all these questions, I fear, is “no”.

Beaver Creek brands itself as “Not exactly roughing it.”

They have no idea.

We suspect Sarah Eccleston will visit again.

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