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Vail 2/4-2/8 - First time out west

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

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

 
Got up early and picked up our equipment in Lionshead Village, and walked over to the Gondola. We got there a little after eight, and didn't quite make first chair (first gondola?) but were maybe the 10th group in line just outside the building. Here's the next few folks starting to fill in the maze :
 

 

Riding up the gondola for the first time, looking back at Lionshead Village :
 

 

We got off of the gondola to this scene... and I think I actually said  "holy crap" out loud when I stepped out :eek:D :

 

 

 

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 :

 

 

All in all, I did about 21,000 vertical according to EpicMix (ended up about the same for me all 3 days), and my legs were jelly (in a great way).
 
Friday, February 6th
 
We got up pretty early on Friday, but didn't worry about first chair, and got to the gondola a bit before 9. Today we intended to get to the back bowls.
 
Path today was Game Creek, over to Mid-Vail via Mid-Vail Express, and on up to the top near Henry's hut.
 

 

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

 
Saturday we made a couple of frontside runs, then took Poppyfields to head to Blue Sky Basin via chair 37 (Skyline Express). (And we hit the first real ice of the trip at the bottom of Poppyfields... felt like home :) :rolleyes.)
 
Here's the view from the top looking out of bounds :
 

 

Blue Sky was pretty amazing... I did Cloud 9, Big Rock Park, and then Grand Review 3 or 4 times. I loved the terrain and widely spaced trees (sort of beginner tree skiing I guess) and even found some small hills and jumps to mess around with. 
 
It was a cloudier day, and between that and the shade in Blue Sky, I wished I had brought my lighter goggle lens. (I had it and didn't use it the first two days, and of course didn't have it when I wanted it.)
 
View of Tea Cup Express from the bottom of chair 39 (Pete's Express) :
 

 

We stayed out in Blue Sky for much of the day, then took the usual path across the front side. I took Lost Boy back to Lionshead, including a blue bumped up section, which certainly seemed easier than it would have a couple of days earlier!
 
All in all, I did 21,300 vertical according to EpicMix, and I'm not sure if I could have pushed myself as long if we'd had another day; But sadly, we didn't and I didn't have to think about it.

 

Some other topics/notes....

 

Altitude

 

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). 

 

Weather/Conditions

 

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.

 

Crowds

 

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.

 

Cost/Parking/Food

 

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.

 

Rental Shop

 

We used Vail Ski Base, which was the cheapest in the village we found, and it worked out very well. It was convenient to the Gondola, had good hours, and the equipment and service were good. I expect the shop and new-ness of the equipment weren't as good as some of the other shops, but for my skill level it was fine. 
 
After skiing the first day, I swapped boots at the shop, as the ones I had were comfortable, but I couldn't get them tightened down enough... if I picked up my ski, my entire foot would move up inside so that it seemed there was no contact between the sole of my foot and the boot. I didn't notice it when I first tried them on unfortunately. The second pair (though the same size) seemed to have a much smaller volume and hold much more securely without being uncomfortable. 
 
As I mentioned above, I used Rossignol Experience 88s (172 cm length I think). I really liked them once I got a little bit used to them; They seemed a little squirrelly at first, but I adjusted quickly. I haven't used enough skis, or been good enough and hit enough terrain, to really have too much of an opinion on them, but I liked them. 
 

EpicMix/Ski Tracks

 
EpicMix is the Vail app that tracks what lifts you took and how much vertical you covered. I was also running Ski Tracks all three days. Both had some issues... Ski Tracks was consistently a couple of thousand feet less than EpicMix for some reason. And the third day, Epic Mix must have missed me on a couple of lifts, because my friends that I was with registered much higher on the exact same lifts. Still it was fun to have both and compare with some of our other friends who were off on different parts of the mountain. 
 

Lessons

 

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!

post #2 of 26

Thanks! I feel like I don't ever take this all for granted, but it's still wonderful to see it through the eyes of a first-timer.

post #3 of 26
Nice work! Be careful or you'll want to move here.
post #4 of 26

Nice trip report, sounds like a great time!

post #5 of 26

Very nice trip report. Skiing Vail is a great experience. Wish I were there now.

post #6 of 26

Outstanding.  Can you be my editor?:)

post #7 of 26

Awesome. Thanks for the report, I cant wait to go.

post #8 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamesj View Post
 

Outstanding.  Can you be my editor?:)

 

Sure - but I require lift tickets as payment! ;) 

Quote:
Originally Posted by lonepine View Post
 

Very nice trip report. Skiing Vail is a great experience. Wish I were there now.

 

So do I! :( 

post #9 of 26

Great report!   Our paths must have crossed at some point in time as we were there 2/1-2/7 (me, wife, and two daughters).  Spent most of the time over by Two Elk, China Bowl, etc.   This was our third trip to Vail (wife's favorite), and our daughters first first venture into the Back Bowls. 

 

Wednesday's snow was EPIC, making for great conditions Thu and Fri. 

 

post #10 of 26

I enjoyed your trip report and am glad to hear you had a good experience.

 

Reading thru the report brought back memories of  my similar experiences of a first trip to Vail.

 

May you have many more.

post #11 of 26
Great report. You need to head out west again soon so that we can read another one.
post #12 of 26
Great report. Glad you made your trip!

So stories of Colorado's demise this season are greatly exaggerated. Just today someone was telling me how they heard how bad it was at Vail. Claimed it was 68 degrees, and also how "icy" it was. (hmmm at the same time?) This is on a chairlift in VT. Truly ironic. Though they are getting cold snow. Actual light powder. A bunch.
post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tog View Post

Claimed it was 68 degrees...

 

Total random guess... that's probably someone looking at Denver's weather rather than Vail. I'm sure some folks don't realize how different they are (as I learned researching this trip).

post #14 of 26

Really nice report! My buddy is headed out to Vail in a couple of weeks and I was really curious what that place looked like, thank you.

post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tog View Post

Claimed it was 68 degrees...

Total random guess... that's probably someone looking at Denver's weather rather than Vail. I'm sure some folks don't realize how different they are (as I learned researching this trip).
That's what I thought. They insisted the person was talking about Vail. I pointed out they just had the women's downhill at Beaver Creek and it was 40 deg.
There's lot's of blatantly wrong info. I had another guy mention his wife wanted to go to Tahoe.
post #16 of 26

@Philpug  and I were skiing Vail on Thursday the 5th, our last day in Colorado before heading back to Tahoe.  It was skiing fantastic!. 

 

Great TR. Glad you got a taste of the Rockies!

post #17 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trekchick View Post
 

@Philpug  and I were skiing Vail on Thursday the 5th, our last day in Colorado before heading back to Tahoe.  It was skiing fantastic!. 

 

Great TR. Glad you got a taste of the Rockies!

 

In hindsight, I wish I had tried more of the ungroomed slopes... but given the limited time I had, I didn't want to "waste" a day learning new things. I guess I'll just have to go for longer next time and hope for the same type of snowfall.

 

Too bad we didn't cross paths - would have been great to say hello. Though you two were probably in areas I didn't venture into. :) From some other threads, I think there were quite a few EpicSki folks out there last week.

post #18 of 26

Great report. Vail looks sweet. I have only visited it but, never skied it.  Next year we will get the Epic Pass and give it a shot. 

 

Is China Bowl mainly groomed or un-groomed?

post #19 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ralba View Post
 

Great report. Vail looks sweet. I have only visited it but, never skied it.  Next year we will get the Epic Pass and give it a shot. 

 

Is China Bowl mainly groomed or un-groomed?

 

My understanding is that they almost always groom a wide stripe down Poppyfields and Chopstix - maybe 100-200 feet wide?... the rest is usually ungroomed; So there's plenty of blue terrain ungroomed that can be hopped in and out of if you wish. 

post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post
 

 

My understanding is that they almost always groom a wide stripe down Poppyfields and Chopstix - maybe 100-200 feet wide?... the rest is usually ungroomed; So there's plenty of blue terrain ungroomed that can be hopped in and out of if you wish. 


Correct!  Last week, there was a groomed surface accessible from both sides of the Orient Express Chair lift.  If you choose to access Poppyfields West from the catwalk alongside Two Elk Lodge (going past Dragon's Tooth) you will traverse some ungroomed terrain getting down to the west most groomer.  From the top of Orient Express, turning right off the lift, you will be on Silk Road, and there will be a groomed path (Poppyfields East), to Chopsticks, which will take you into the bowl, and along the catwalk to pickup the Orient Express lift, or following the catwalk further, to pickup the Tea Cup Express, or Chair #37 (Name escapes me at the moment).

post #21 of 26

Great report!

 

I was in Keystone the exact same time you were in Vail. Luckily, I flew in later on Wednesday and I-70 was relatively clear by the time I drove up (~9pm). 

 

About the weather, I live in Wisconsin so I was sweating my tail off in Colorado. I skied in a T-shirt and shell on saturday and had to take my shell off in the lift lines. It was a bummer that the snow was so poor on Saturday (I saw patches of grass/dirt in the middle of some of the more popular runs, such as Mozart).

 

Gatorade was $6 at Keystone ($4 for a Snickers). I packed fruit/sandwich in my pockets each day and so saved a ton of money (at least $100 over the three days).

 

Sounds like you got a great deal on your lift tickets. My three-day pass was over $250 (even purchased 6 weeks in advance).

 

Had lunch outside (in a t-shirt) in Denver on Sunday before flying back to the arctic. It was 8 degrees when I landed in Madison that night.

post #22 of 26
We have skied Vail as a family many times. We usually hit the Super Walmart in Avon, buy big coldcut subs, slice them into normal size slices and individually wrap them for the various days. We also buy cases of Gatorade and water and snacks.

Each day we throw a sandwich, some snacks and a few drinks in our backpacks and head out. We usually eat at one of the many outdoor tables on the mountain. Its obviously much more affordable but it also keeps us out of the food lines and extends our skiing day.
post #23 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by aw82 View Post
 

Great report!

 

I was in Keystone the exact same time you were in Vail. Luckily, I flew in later on Wednesday and I-70 was relatively clear by the time I drove up (~9pm). 

 

About the weather, I live in Wisconsin so I was sweating my tail off in Colorado. I skied in a T-shirt and shell on saturday and had to take my shell off in the lift lines. It was a bummer that the snow was so poor on Saturday (I saw patches of grass/dirt in the middle of some of the more popular runs, such as Mozart).

 

Gatorade was $6 at Keystone ($4 for a Snickers). I packed fruit/sandwich in my pockets each day and so saved a ton of money (at least $100 over the three days).

 

Sounds like you got a great deal on your lift tickets. My three-day pass was over $250 (even purchased 6 weeks in advance).

 

Had lunch outside (in a t-shirt) in Denver on Sunday before flying back to the arctic. It was 8 degrees when I landed in Madison that night.

 

Thanks... I spent a total of about $65 over the three days on food on the mountain. (First lunch detailed above; second was pasta, bread, banana, drink at Two Elk; third was chili, chips, drink at Dawg Haus.)

 

As far as the lift tickets go, Vail guarantees the lowest rate buying through them, as long as you buy 7 days in advance - there are no discounts to be had. So everyone gets the same rate, which I like - no hunting for where to get coupons or which shop to visit before going there. I'm not sure if Keystone or the other Vail properties follow the same model.

post #24 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Coach13 View Post

We have skied Vail as a family many times. We usually hit the Super Walmart in Avon, buy big coldcut subs, slice them into normal size slices and individually wrap them for the various days. We also buy cases of Gatorade and water and snacks.

 

 

If you are a Sam's Club or Costco member and driving to the resorts from Denver International Airport you drive right past both of these.  When I am going to Colorado for a week or more I usually stop at one of these and buy supplies - granola bars, wine, chips/snacks, etc.  They are located across the street from one another on Wadsworth Blvd. (in Arvada) at the first stop light right off of I-70. If I have a rental car to return at the airport this is where I fill up with gas on the way back, too.

post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post
 

 

As far as the lift tickets go, Vail guarantees the lowest rate buying through them, as long as you buy 7 days in advance - there are no discounts to be had. So everyone gets the same rate, which I like - no hunting for where to get coupons or which shop to visit before going there. I'm not sure if Keystone or the other Vail properties follow the same model.

Oh, I see you said "$112 per day for a three day pass." I thought you had said $112 for a three day pass and I was incredibly jealous!

post #26 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Coach13 View Post

We have skied Vail as a family many times. We usually hit the Super Walmart in Avon, buy big coldcut subs, slice them into normal size slices and individually wrap them for the various days. We also buy cases of Gatorade and water and snacks.

Each day we throw a sandwich, some snacks and a few drinks in our backpacks and head out. We usually eat at one of the many outdoor tables on the mountain. Its obviously much more affordable but it also keeps us out of the food lines and extends our skiing day.


This was a fourth trip to Vail/BC, we stay at the Sheraton property in Avon... like you the food at the Mountain is a bit pricey.  With my wife, and two daughters... we generally hit the Safeway (West side of Vail on Frontage Road on our trip in, or the City Market in Avon.... get a couple rotisserie chix, veggie tray, fruit tray, drinks, quick breakfasts, etc. We generally eat two or three meals out during the week (we like Coyote Café in BC), so we can keep the food budget fairly reasonable.  Pack sandwiches (kids love PBJ with potato chips) cuties, apples, and Gatorade.  Works for us. 

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