Whistler, Aspen, Breck? Why bother?
We asked very leading questions. We warned of long, sweaty waits in the maze at Chair 5 on busy spring Saturdays and the sometimes terrifying Cloud 9 catwalk in Blue Sky Basin.
We mentioned the wide-open spaces at Snowmass and the coziness of Beaver Creek. We brought up the stunningly steep front side of Telluride. We even stooped so low as to rave about every one of Sunlight Ski Resort’s 470 acres of terrain!
“I like Winter Park a lot – it’s friendlier,” says skier Dawna Mattis of Denver. “The people are friendlier. They’re not as arrogant as in Vail, but Vail isn’t known for being friendly.”
“I like Snowmass, I think Snowmass is comparable. Aspen is just different. And I skied Whistler two years ago, but it was too late in the season and the bottom half of the mountain was closed,” says skier Tom Fox from St. Louis. “After the last two days here, I’m going to push friends and others who haven’t been here for awhile to come back.”
“As far as villages go,” Fox adds, “Whistler’s got a great village.”
He says Bridge Street’s a little crooked and the town suffers from the no-man’s land between the Village and Lionshead.
And what ever happened to the idea of re-Bavarian-izing Vail Village? What about heated streets? How about de-volving and making the place look like a real Colorado ski town – like Crested Butte or Keystone?
“I’ve skied every ski area in the west and Vail has the most varied terrain,” says snowboarder and telemark skier Willie McDonald, who divides his time between his West Vail condominium and Ft. Collins.
“If you want steeps you can find them, the powder lasts longer – I like everything about Vail,” McDonald says. “Though I can’t afford to do everything I want here, so I became a gourmet chef.”
So why the picture of Roy Rogers taped to your snowboard?
“It’s Bill Monroe, but most people think it’s Roy Rogers because of the cowboy hat,” McDonald says. “Bill Monroe is my Jimi Hendrix – I play mandolin in a band called the Bluegrass Patriots.”
So it’s the slopes that really matter, right? And the unanimously unrivaled slopes of Vail Mountain are holding up pretty well – amazingly well – during a brown, muddy January that has felt more like May in Martinique.
Meteorologists are still combing the peaks with their high-tech snow-counting gizmos, but it’s estimated 3 1/2 marmots have fallen out of trees since the staggering New Year’s Day dump.
Note: Marmots, though funny looking, are not known to be avid tree-climbers or native to Martinique.
Still, the skiing – from Outer Mongolia Bowl to Kangaroo Cornice, from Blue Ox to Simba, Never to Forever, Ouzo Glade to Whiskey Jack.
– is lots of fun, though skiers and snowboarders should look out for some massive mud patches round about the bottom of Sun Down Bowl.
What about Jackson Hole? Steamboat Springs? Park City?
“Vail’s the hottest thing since sliced cheese,” says local snowboarder Dustin Bass, originally from balmy Ocala, Fla. “I like Vail because you can get a lot more done in one day.”
But none of the restaurants serve Cajun “gator tail, do they?
“They could definitely serve that out here,” Bass says.
We really did try to get folks to trash Vail. We swear!
“There’s nothing like the Back Bowls anywhere,” says Sean Stone, another local Floridian emigre.
So what kind of animal is Goofy?
“Those snow weasels you see running out of the trees are goofy,” says skier Mike Lammert, of Florrisant.
Thanks for reminding us about the marmots, but we didn’t mean goofy, we meant capital-G Goofy – Mickey Mouse’s best friend.
“Oh, he’s a dog,” Lammert says. “He’s got floppy ears.”
Adolph Konieczny has been skiing for 70 years. His brother was in the 10th Mountain Division. In 1948, his ski gear consisted of leather boots, wooden skis, cable bindings and modified mouse traps for ski brakes. He says he’s skied Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin and Whistler.
Wednesday, however, was his first day ever at Vail.
“I am really impressed,” he says. “Breckenridge is nice and I’ve skied Whistler, but you can’t compare Whistler to this.”
“Whistler,” he adds, “has so much wet snow – though coming down that mountain, it’s beautiful, it’s picture perfect.”
So much for the measly old Gore Range.
“With Vail it’s the openness, the grooming, the variety,” Konieczny says. “I don’t ski beyond intermediate anymore, but Vail just has an awful lot of everything and today is perfect.”
Wednesday: blazing blue sky, approximately 55 degrees, no marmots falling out of the trees. .
Leisha Vanderspeck, who snowboards and drives a bus for the town of Vail, says the tourists she drives around town are always raving about the slopes.
“I love Vail, I think it’s huge, I think it’s amazing – but I might just be saying that because it’s easy to get to,” says Vanderspeck, who lives near the Vail golf course.
So what’s the silliest question a tourist has asked you?
“I’ve been asked, “Which bus goes to Mid Vail?'” she says. “I tell people they have to take the Vista Bahn.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.