As a few folks here might know, I joined Epic Ski earlier this season because I was looking for information on my first trip out west... and it finally happened, so pardon me for going long on this one!
My friends and I settled on Vail, as we're intermediates and mainly groomer skiers, and got a lot of Vail recommendations, including from one of the folks on the trip who's been out west several times. (I know, that's counter to the prevailing wisdom of a lot of folks here, but I'm not at that kind of skill level yet!)
To summarize the whole trip and skiing - phenomenal!
Just to level set, I hit a lot of firsts along with first time out west... first time in Colorado, first time skiing a mountain taller than 1100 feet, first time being above 6500 feet altitude, first time skiing ungroomed trails, first time on skis wider than 80mm underfoot, first time skiing 2 or more days in a row, first time on a gondola.... and on and on.
Anyway, on to the day-by-day... unfortunately, I didn't take many pics of actual skiing, as I was too busy doing it myself. But I'll post what I did get...
Wednesday, February 4th
We landed in Denver around 11 AM, and got a rental SUV... which definitely turned out to be the right call after thinking about getting a car a couple of weeks earlier based on the weather. We hit a lot of snow on the way to Vail. This is the scene on the I-70 about a mile before the Eisenhower tunnel :
The tunnel was closed for something like 45 minutes while we sat, until the left lane was eventually cleared of accidents and stuck tractor trailers, and we were able to go. We got into Vail and proceeded to set up our rental equipment for the next 3 days of skiing. I got some comfortable boots (overly comfortable as it turned out) and Rossignol Experience 88s, which seemed like barges compared to what I'm used to, but turned out great.
The snow report that night on the Vail website said they received 7 inches.
Thursday, February 5th
We got off of the gondola to this scene... and I think I actually said "holy crap" out loud when I stepped out :
Anyway, we were finally onto the skiing... and dropped into Game Creek Bowl, as we wound up doing each morning to start the day :
Game Creek bowl was pretty amazing as a first experience. Just that bowl alone is larger than any place I had skied before (in vertical, though maybe not acreage) and we wound up doing 2 or 3 runs on the groomers there to start the day. Since it was early after the snowfall, a couple of the easier (blue) ungroomed runs weren't too tracked or bumped up yet, so next I got my first taste of off-piste skiing....
And it's tough... I've been working on form and being forward and having patience and good shape in turns this year (with a couple of lessons), and it certainly helped. It was a lot of fun and some of the pow was around calf deep, but it was a lot of work to keep balanced and make (or try to make) good turns through the tracks that were there from the day before. I'm glad I did it, but didn't do it much more the rest of the time - but it does make me want to get better, especially after watching some of the other folks there.
View from the top of Game Creek Bowl - the top of Eagle's Nest Ridge :
We spent the entire day on the front side, knowing we had a lot more mountain and two more days to go. After Game Creek, we went for several runs around chair 2 (Avanti), and I continued to be amazed at the variety of terrain. Going fast, slow, over rollers, everything was great. (Well except accidentally taking a black bump section on one run - that was tiring!)
Heading toward Avanti from Game Creek :
We also hit the Mid-Vail area and did a bunch of the blues off of chair 4 (Mountaintop Express). I was getting pretty wiped out at this point unfortunately, and headed back down some of the green/blues and cat tracks (Born Free area) to Lionshead about an hour early.
Taking a break in Mid-Vail :
From there we headed down into Sun Up Bowl. Headwall had a groomed strip (you can sort of see it in the background above, just left of the overlook sign-post). which let us take some steeper territory and try out a bit more difficult area and it turned out to be a great run. We never managed to make it back there though, and just took chair 17 (Sun Up Lift) back up.
That put us at the top between Sun Up and China Bowl, so we hoofed it over to near the Two Elks lodge to head into the easier part of China Bowl. That section is pretty long and flat, and a really pain in the butt, but I didn't think I could handle the near side of China Bowl in the condition it was in.
From there we dove into China Bowl and did Poppyfields quite a few times. It was some of my favorite skiing of the trip... very long groomers with some variety, and the cat track back to the lift wasn't too bad. I did try going off-piste a bit more here, and took a pretty good fall when I hit some shin-deep stuff suddenly and came to a sudden halt. Still fun though!
After some Poppyfields runs, we took chair 36 (Tea Cup Express) to try Emporer's Choice, which also had some groomed area. Unfortunately we lost our bearings and hit the cat track way too high, and wound up winding around the entire way back to the bottom of China Bowl - that was the worst! It took forever, was actually tiring, and I can see why people hate long cat tracks now.
Here's China Bowl from the top of Emporer's Choice :
Me (middle) and a couple of friends at the top of Emporer's Choice :
After all that and lunch we worked our way back across the front side, and finished with a top to bottom run on Simba/Cheetah back to Lionshead, getting back just before the lifts stopped.
Again we hit about 21,000 vertical according to EpicMix, and I was tired, but not quite as much as the day before - I think some time at altitude helped.
Saturday, February 7th
Some other topics/notes....
I did not deal with this very well. I tried to really hydrate for a couple of days before the trip, but I still had a bad headache and some nausea the first evening. (I did have a single beer at lunch in Idaho Springs, which may have contributed - I didn't touch alcohol the rest of the trip.) Thankfully it was gone by the next morning. The rest of the time, I slept pretty fitfully, and didn't have any appetite and had to force myself to eat. Certainly didn't hurt the trip really, but I felt like I was just adjusting the evening before we left (appetite back, slept better).
Getting the snow as we drove up probably helped a lot. It was very warm (hit 57 one day in the village) and I think might have hit 50 every day (Saturday might have been a little cooler). Still the snow was in pretty amazing shape in my opinion - mornings were excellent, and afternoons were what I'm used to as good conditions in the east. I don't think it lived up to the hype I've heard from friends who have been west before, but it was still terrific in my book; I could ski those conditions forever.
We didn't really encounter any. The only significant lift line waits were on Northwoods, Avanti, and Mid-Vail toward the end of the day when there were some lift stoppages and lots of people heading back down the front. These were probably 10 minute waits, otherwise we had anything from skiing right back onto the lift, to a minute or two wait.
Everything was as expensive as I expected - so no surprise, but it is something to deal with. We ate at Buffalo's, Two Elks, and the Dawg Haus. My first lunch was $33 (sandwich, banana, dessert, and 2 Gatorades). The drinks are particularly expensive (Gatorades are $5.75 I think!), so I made sure to bring more the second two days and keep the cost down a bit. The food was, I thought, good though, so at least you got something for the expense.
We parked each day in the Lionshead garage which is $25 a day. Splitting it several ways meant it wasn't too expensive, and was more convenient than the bus. Some of the others I was with did use the bus too, and found it convenient, though they needed to time the walk to the bus stop right. (We were in the Cascade Village area of West Vail.) Unfortunately, we didn't find out until the last day that you can park on Frontage road, or we probably would have done that - there wasn't a car there the first couple of days, so we didn't even realize it was parking! Felt kind of stupid when we saw some cars and read the signs there while leaving on Saturday.
As far as the lift tickets go, they were $112 a day for a three day pass. That seems high, but I've been paying $60 weekday, and $71 on weekends for the "local" hills, which are smaller than a single area of Vail. From that standpoint, it's not that bad a value.
I didn't take any lessons at Vail, but I have taken two intermediate lessons at Whitetail in PA prior to the trip. So lastly, I wanted to thank @TheRusty (and his colleague Anne - give her my thanks when you see her Rusty!) for some great lessons and tips. I think my trip was a lot more fun thanks to their help and expertise!