Our fearless reporter takes a warts and all look at some of the biggest ski resorts in the world, starting with the most expensive one of them all: Beaver Creek
Imagine that you have decided to surprise your parents, by heading home for the weekend (most likely with a full laundry basket), in the hope of getting some much-needed family time, R&R and a taste of your Mum’s meat-loaf (that’s not a euphemism, sicko).
When you walk into the living room, rather than finding your Dad listening to Radio 4 and checking the premium bond numbers, and your Mum diligently polishing the family silver; you instead find them quaffing champagne and smearing their gums with caviar, naked, laughing raucously and engaged in a 4 way swinging sex act with the new best friends Trevor and Lynette that they met at the golf club last week.
That’s what it is like arriving in Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek is money, unashamedly and overtly enjoying itself.
There are certain resorts, Fernie or Mount Baker for example, which make you want to jack everything in, buy several rolls of duct tape, live a simple life and just enjoy the rudimentary pleasures of snowboarding for the rest of your days, eking out a living in a tin hut insulated with egg boxes and old socks, surviving on stale baked beans and leftover beef jerky trimmings. A happy and homely existence, fuelled by the pleasure of powder turns and the happy vibe of being a local.
Beaver Creek on the other hand makes you want to work your ass off, get a better job, a bigger bonus, leverage your portfolio into tax efficient investment structures and then lavishly unleash the fruits of your corporate labour on pimped-out hotels and high-end on-mountain dining experiences.
The resort has a strapline: “Not exactly roughing it", which is somewhat grotesque in its self-satisfied I’ve-made-it smugness, but it captures the Beaver Creek spirit perfectly.
The resort has a strapline: “Not exactly roughing it", which is somewhat grotesque in its self-satisfied I’ve-made-it smugness, but it captures the Beaver Creek spirit perfectly. This is a place where they hand out free perfectly-squidgy cookies on the mountain, you can get free cocoa at the top of the main lift (Centennial Express) in the morning, you can get free taxis around the resort, they will send your postcards from Beaver Creek to anywhere in the world for free and small purple-coloured people with squeaky voices will come and pay you obsequious compliments and hold a tissue whilst you blow your nose if you click your fingers within 100 yards of a chairlift.
What’s more, Mariah Carey would love this place because there are no stairs. To avoid the unseemly bother of walking up and downhill, there are strategically placed escalators throughout the village. And if you don't want to wear your ski boots (whilst perusing the shops for some some expensive mountain-themed artwork), you can swap your them (again, for free) for a snuggly pair of ever-so comfortable Pakems shoes.
This all seems amazing, but when you realise that the lift pass is $160 per day (yes, in traditional vidi-printer style, that is one hundred and sixty U.S. dollars per day, and I am even speaking slowly as I write this as if you were foreigners/old people, to be certain that you have understood properly), it all starts to make sense.
You will however also have access to some of the best groomer runs on which I have ever been fortunate enough to lay down a euro-carve. My god, if you like corduroy (which I do, I learned to ride in hard boots), you will love Beaver Creek. My left glove was nearly worn away by the 72 Vitelli turns that I did in a row on my first descent, having snaffled the first chairlift up in the morning. I hooted and hollered like a Frenchman discovering the delights of a new mistress, as I lay down some of the highest-speed and most horizontal turns that I have executed in the 25 years that I have been guffing about on a snowboard. Truly incredible. The piste-bashers really take pride in their grooming, and it shows. What Beaver Creek lacks in the extremities of steeps/couloirs/XL terrain parks, it more than makes up for in this corduroy perfection. Many of the pistes are excellent, but the standout area for me was Arrowhead mountain, serviced by the Arrow Bahn lift. The Cresta and Golden Bear runs are as good as any pistes I have ever ridden. Rolling, undulating terrain, the licence to go absolutely balls-out fast, but without ever finding yourself having to slam on the brakes - as is often the case on steeper runs/euro resorts (I am thinking of St. Anton) where you are constantly having to navigate cat-tracks (or a string of beginner skiers) cutting across the pistes.
The resort isn't massive, but benefits from being just a 15 minute drive from Vail, which is massive. But even without the proximity to the extensive terrain of Vail, Beaver Creek would be plenty entertaining for a week’s holiday, and if conditions were right (-5 degrees celsius, 6 centimetres of snow overnight, groomed every morning) then you could have an absolute euro-carving blast.
Alternatively, if you were here with children or as beginnners, then it really couldn't be much better. No nasty surprises on the hill, and with all the cossetting service culture, the experience would be akin to having someone gently bathe your feet in warm milk whilst playing the Morcheeba back catalogue and feeding you slightly molten Lindt chocolate.
Just make sure that you wear a watch worth at least £5K, your wife looks just the right side of miserable/dissatisfied with her life, your kids are smothered in expensive Gore-tex gear and have at least three separate iOS devices with them at all times, and you will fit right in.
One particular encounter stands out for me - when I met one American guy on the lift who, within about 30 seconds had told me how he made $400,000 by selling “cheap shit to dumb tourists" at the London Olympics (having realised I was a Brit). He took great pride in telling me how he was a “f*cking capitalist pig", wearing his filthy lucre like a badge of honour. Naturally, he had a condo in Beaver Creek.
That all said, I would love to go back one day, once I get my off-shore investments in order, in the slightly upsetting way that if I was being completely honest with myself, I would also quite like to own an Audi RS6 with full leather trim. Beaver Creek’s attention to detail is so seductive, it Gollums you into believing that is what all ski resorts should be like: super high-end customer service, all perfectly organised around your needs and devoid of bothersome plebeians who don’t observe the lift line rules. Holidaying here could pull you into the rat-race for thirty years and you could find yourself justifying a lifetime of corporate-whoring, just to pay for the feeling of laying out turns on the perfect corduroy…and the free postcard posting thing.
So that’s what is great about the place, but also problematic. Its pursuit of perfection means that it appeals to a certain strata of society, and thus by definition it isn't really the sort of place you will ever really belong as a snowboarder. We are supposed to be anti-establishment, not part of it. And whilst that counter-cultural myth has long since been debunked, or at least diluted, we should still try to maintain our differences from the tight-butted elite who prefer to slide down snowy hills facing forwards on two bits of wood.
But those groomers. Oh lord, what fun.