Tom Clyde: The Epic journey through Colorado skiing
Ever since the Epic Pass came to Park City, my friends have said we should take a trip to Colorado and explore those resorts.
What we all meant is that if somebody else did all the organization, we’d be happy to go along for the ride. The conversation has gone on for 5 years, and finally Larry decided to make the plans. We ended up on a quick trip to Breckenridge, Vail and Beaver Creek.
I’ve visited in the summer and biked a lot of the area, but had never skied Colorado. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard horror stories about Colorado lift lines, traffic, parking and prices. Those were offset by descriptions of huge mountains, steep runs and incredible scenery. It turns out that all of it was true.
Their mountains are more impressive than ours. Lifts with 2,000 feet of vertical were common, and the runs were generally without the long run-outs that we have here. We topped out at just under 13,000 feet in Breckenridge. That’s enough higher to matter. The idea of skiing a run top-to-bottom without stopping was quickly abandoned, and not entirely because we were always getting lost.
The Colorado resorts are huge. There were places at Vail where there were clusters of on-mountain restaurants, each bigger than Miners Camp (except for the ones that are identical to Miners Camp). We ate on the mountain. The food was very good, seemed creative and appealing, and was priced like it is here. Vacations do a strange things to economics. Lunch at Vail was a bargain; I refuse to pay the same price here. Actually, it’s the same situation — if you are somewhat judicious in what you eat, you can keep it within reason.
Everybody here has been whining about the problems at the base areas of the local resorts. There’s no place to park, the lodges are jammed in the morning if you need a bathroom, and it’s hard to find enough room to put your skis on. I don’t like what’s happened to local skiing, but compared to Colorado, we have nothing to complain about. We paid to park in a city lot in Breckenridge and took a gondola up. That worked well, but it was a tiny lot and we got there early. With the carpool discount, it cost us $7, which seemed like a bargain compared to parking several miles away and having to decipher their bus system.
It pays to have friends in high places, and the priest among us arranged rock star parking at the church in Vail. We still had to do a shuttle bus, but it was direct and quick. At Beaver Creek we went up through what felt like their answer to Deer Crest. It was easy getting up, but put us a long way out of the action. The cat track to get home felt like several miles. All of those options were simplified by the fact that I-70 was closed on the Denver side by a series of wrecks, blizzards and avalanches. So we had the place to ourselves. On a busy day, you could spend hours just getting on the mountain.
Because of the road closures, the longest line we encountered was shorter than some of the lines around here last weekend. Like here, once you get one lift above the jammed up base area, the mountains are big enough to spread the crowd. We mostly skied right into the chair, and the runs were almost empty.
We stayed in Avon, which has all the dysfunction of Kimball Junction with none of the charm. For the three-resort trip, it didn’t make sense to stay slope-side. The resort towns were very distinctive. Breckenridge felt like a real town despite a very touristy Main Street. It felt like Park City 15 years ago, though bigger. There were several jerky stores. Vail was polished to the point of discomfort, with stores selling $900 men’s boots that would be weird anywhere other than a fur trapper’s rendezvous in 1820. It would have benefited from a prominently placed tattoo parlor with neon signs.
We shopped like tourists, blocking the aisle in the grocery store to debate between Count Chocula and some kind of granola. Eventually, we concluded that for $4, we could each buy the cereal of our choice, and take the left overs home. It was more complicated deciding what proof the milk should be. We drove like tourists. They love roundabouts in Colorado. There were roundabouts with roundabouts inside them that led to more roundabouts. We got in the habit of aggressively merging into roundabouts then stopping to decide which exit we wanted, and forgot that some intersections are 4-way stops. This late in the season, the locals refrained from honking.
All three of these Vail resorts maintained a distinct feel and flavor, and Park City remains distinct from them. It was good to get a look at the others, and, like every time I visit another ski town, things always look better when I get back home.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”