You don’t need to be a devout snowbunny to enjoy a mountain ski vacation, as a trip to Beaver Creek, Colo., proves
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost everyone can enjoy a summer by the beach: Even if you can’t swim, you can still look good in a Speedo by the pool or on the sand, thread your toes through the surf, sip cocktails and slather on the cocoa butter while working on your tan.
Yet those who can’t ski (or can’t ski well — and trust me, I’m in that category) tend to avoid the mountains during the winter. Add to that the proliferation of gay ski weeks out there, and the cold months can seem lonely, too.
But the winter deserves equal time for the talentless athletes among us. A snow-topped crag isn’t just for skiing down — it can be a social setting as easily as a pool party. So forget about skiing — it’s après skiing that we’re looking forward to this season.
Colorado’s Beaver Creek is an excellent location for doing ski-ish stuff without actual ski-ing. Just down the road from Vail (and accessible through a direct flight from DFW), this is a lesser-known Rocky Mountain resort, but it offers countless opportunities for a winter wonderland vacation. And leave those bulky boots at home.
Like most ski resort areas, Beaver Creek is centered around a base of lift chairs clogged with hotels, boutiques and restaurants. Just walking around the village requires you to bundle up and you can sweat up a storm, but you can plan your exercise, too. Have the hotel concierge set you up at the Beaver Creek Nordic Center, where you can book cross-country skiing adventures or better yet, a guided tour on snowshoes.
Don’t be fooled: Snowshoeing is an exhausting workout; going from an elevation of 9,800 to 10,000 feet on foot takes a lot out of you, but the exercise and scenery are both incomparable. Guide Alex Spaeth makes the trek fun and educational and will stop to allow photos and let you blaze your own trail. Halfway through the tour, you can take a breather at a yurt for a big lunch in totally unfancy digs but with awesome views of the Gore Range Mountains.
Tubing is less physically taxing than snowshoeing, but just as much fun. The staff here place you in an inner tube and hurl you down a bunny slope at surprising speeds. In Vail, about 45 minutes away, you can also rent a snowmobile for a few hours and tour the backwoods, which works out a lot of muscles as well.
Even if you don’t want exercise, you can always buy a lift ticket just to enjoy a 10-minute ride to the top of the mountain (it’s prosaically majestic) and there’s a complimentary Riverfront Express lift for some bird’s-eye viewing of the town. In fact, the Centennial Express Lift is accessible to non-skiers who just wanna go to lunch at the huge cafeteria Spruce Saddle, which you can follow with a performance at the Crystal Grotto. This unique concert hall is remade every year, carved entirely out of ice: The seats, the ceiling, even the musical instruments. Talk about cool jazz.
You might not think to bring a bathing suit to the mountains, but you should: The Westin Riverfront Resort at the foot of the mountain is a fabulous, modern facility that offers an outdoor Olympic-size, heated swimming pool and hot tubs.
You can stay inside at the Westin, too, especially if you want to squeeze in a workout. The trainers at the Riverfront Club (a well-equipped co-ed gym) will tailor a regimen to suit your needs (and adjust it to the thinner atmosphere), then give you a written assessment to continue your exercise on your own. That can help you justify a therapeutic sports massage at the hotel’s Spa Anjali, a soothing, full-service day spa that cocoons you in comfort away from the snow.
Of course, just walking up stairs can leave you short of breath and that altitude plays havoc with your sleep patterns and digestion — especially when you partake in alcohol and rich food. And you’ll want to partake at the Westin’s Avondale restaurant. It enjoyed a $2 million renovation, with more than half spent on the spacious modern kitchen. The style of cooking is reminiscent of Craft — fresh, local/organic cuisine in a cozy setting. The foie gras torchon on gingerbread with blood orange was lovely, as was the falls-off-the-bone lamb shank and totally yummy apple croissant bread pudding.
There are other great places in town to eat, as well. Vin 48 is a buzzy restaurant and wine bar with tons of by-the-glass options. The antipasti platter, at only $11, is a steal, with selections composed by the chef daily: cheese, dates, chutneys, raisins, salmon on potato galettes, chicken confit on a risotto cake and could this be the best carrot cake ever? Yeah, pretty much. The space is dark and romantic but bristling with conversation.
For more affordable mountainside accommodations, The Osprey is convenient, clean and cozy with a nightly happy hour and breakfast buffet but no in-house restaurant. That’s a perfect excuse to combine your dining with some adventure with a trip to Beano’s Cabin. Open only during the winter, this spacious lodge at 9,500 feet is accessible only by a snowcat trip up the darkened mountain in 18-degree chill. For that kind of suffering, the food better be worth it. It is.
Kick off the meal with a copper pot filled with tomato-basil soup, followed by a bite-sized salad, before the chef lets loose with seared tuna, rabbit liver wrapped in pancetta with tomato coulis and an exquisite duck confit with huckleberry gastrique. The meats are fantastic and earthy: Elk, buffalo and of course Colorado lamb, but the New York strip kobe is heavenly (and very expensive).
8100 Mountainside Grill at the Park Hyatt is also just off a major redo. Its six-foot grill in the open-air kitchen looks out on the slopes and serves surprisingly good Colorado wines paired with a roasted beet salad, scallops (wow!) and filet mignon and buffalo strip.
The Park Hyatt is a mammoth facility and positively gorgeous with luxe rooms and services. A treatment at the Allegria Spa is accompanied by a beverage and a relaxing tour of the baths and relaxation rooms. Try the foot relief massage — even for non-skiers, your dogs will thank you for it. Who knew sitting inside a lodge drinking alpines could be so exhausting?
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.