Vail Colorado / Beaver Creek
March 10th - March 13th 2013
Blue Moose Pizza
Click each picture to make it bigger, then back to return here.
Preface - In December of 2002, our family visited Vail for a ski trip. We didn't know the secrets I know today, and the trip was horrible. I had a cold when we left, and didn't know about altitude sickness or drinking the water. So I was miserable, sick, breathing heavy, and had a headache. The wife and I had since been to Breckenridge in 2010, and that trip was much better, but the horrible memory of being sick in Vail still haunted me. This trip was designed to fix that memory and make it right. In summary, I succeded., didn't get altitude sick, no headache. I came alone on this trip. The wife, daughter, her BF, and myself had recently been to 7 Springs, so this trip was for me. This web page will give a ton of info about what I did to avoid getting sick. I'm also very frugal and like to save money. Did I stay in the fancy resorts? No, I stayed in dive hotels that go for $100 a night. A few years ago, there was a great web page called Econovail.com That page has since disappeared, and there's really no pages that document saving money like that, so I'll try to give some tips and pay it forward in the spirit of Econovail.
First tip to avoid altitude sickness. Take a Bayer aspirin each
night before bed a week before your trip. Buy a tiny bottle,
leave it on your night stand, and take the aspirin.
Tip #2. Drinking water at bedtime and when you wake up has been documented to be good. Therefore, I leave an insulated coolie cup on my night stand and drink the water.
Tip #3. Get in shape. Before my trip, I went roller skating, bike riding, and did leg exercies (wall squats). I worked out real hard to increase my cardio capacity.
Day 1 - Sunday March 10th. Flying from Ft. Lauderdale to Denver on Southwest. Have you ever wondered what those circles are on the ground? You can see hundreds of them in the Southeast corner of Colorado where it boarders Kansas. They are farms. Why are there circles? The irrigation system has a well in the middle with pipes that extend out. The entire rig slowly rotates in a circle. The outer corners are not planted or watered. No, they are not crop circles from aliens, but many think that while flying over them.
Arrived Denver around noon, got my rental car from Thrifty, and headed out to
Sams #3 in Aurora. This restaurant has been featured on Diners,
Drive-ins, and Dives. The place was full with people waiting outside.
I sat at the bar and ordered onion rings and 2 Chili Relleno.
I also asked for water, which they gave me an entire carafe. This is
very important, to avoid altitude sickness when arriving Denver, you must DRINK
WATER, and that's exactly what I did. I drank the entire
carafe. What did the food taste like? As good as they
say on the TV show. I wanted to take some with me for later,
but couldn't stop eating and finished the entire thing. This was a
Man V. Food moment, I was stuffed. Click the next link for
their web site.
I headed over to Whole Foods at I-70 and exit 263. I made a salad and took it to go. I ate this later that evening. Eating healthy is important, and the salad is a good idea.
At exit 205 in Silverthorne, is Dillion Ridge Liquors, and next to it is a City Market grocery store. I bought some beer and a gallon of water. On the way to Vail, I sipped on the water. It's a big no no to drink alcohol the day you arrive into Denver, you must drink the water instead, and that's exactly what I did.
This is where I rented my ski equipment, Virgin Island.
Their rental prices are half that of Vail, and they have great service.
I rented demo skis from last year, ended up with Volkl 161s which were great,
boots, poles, and the helmet.
Just past Silverthorne, is a scenic spot to take pictures. With a view like that, it's worth stopping to snap a few.
After driving another hour, I arrived Vail Village and parked in the garage (for free after 3pm). From Denver to Vail is approximately 100 miles. Stopping in Silverthorne to shop is a good idea because it's basically the half way point. In picture 1 is the covered bridge, seen in the web cams and many pictures on the web. In picture 2 is the ski trooper. I picture 3 is a shot of the village. In picture 4 is the gondola after it shut down for the day. In picture 5 is the ski hills leading to the goldola, these are black diamonds. In picture 6 is the creek that runs under the bridge. Picture 7 is the top of the transportation center looking down at the covered bridge. Everyone is leaving at this point heading to the parking garage because I arrived here at about 4pm. The lifts run from 09:00am to 04:00pm, then everything shuts down and people apres ski (which means "to party" or "Socialize"). I wanted to make sure my lift ticket was activated, but the ticket office had shut down for the day, so I headed out to Beaver Creek and my hotel.
In picture 1 is a horsie statue leading into Avon Village. I stayed at the Comfort Inn to save money. This hotel is worn, the carpets were tracked, but the beds were clean, the breakfast area was nice, and I saved a ton of money.
Pictures of the room. Would I stay here again?
Maybe, they didn't have a fridge in the room, you have to pay extra for that. I
had to put my beers in the sink full of ice. You can see the carpet
and walls are dated. But I saved approximately $100 a night by
staying here, and the village bus system stopped right outsdie the main door.
At the time of this writing, this was one of the lowest priced hotels in either
Vail or Beaver Creek village. For a single person looking to
ski, this was the best deal.
I ate the salad bought earlier at Whole Foods, drank more water, and went to bed.
Day 2 - Monday March 11th. The Comfort Inn has a nice breakfast bar in the lobby as shown up above. Had a banana, yogurt, and waffle. I headed out to Vail, there's a parking garage, but it's only free for the first 2 hours. I was staying longer and didn't want to pay, so that meant parking on the side of the road and taking a bus. I'm really not happy about the parking situation at Vail. They force people to park in the garage, or far away and take a bus. Their web site talks about the free parking, but it's very vague where the free lots are located and how they work. There's buses that will take you to the transportation center, but again, it's vague which ones to take. Once you are in Vail, you will learn how they work and which one to take.
Look at picture #1, if you want to park for free, this is where you end up.
Does that look inviting? Is it clearly marked this is the free
parking for Vail? No. You park directly across the
street from Safeway at exit 173. Do not park in the Safeway lot, or
at the Holiday Inn. You must park across the street in the designated
area, or your car will be towed. In picture #2 is the Safeway
parking lot. In picture 3 is what the bus looks like, there
are 2 colors that transport people from this area, Red and Green.
Most of the people riding these buses are workers. Vail doesn't even
have a parking lot for their employees, they make them park wherever and ride
the bus system. Here's a little secret if you arrive the parking lot
at exit 173. Get there at 7am. The Red West Vail bus
will arrive at 07:40am and head around the back of Safeway to the Holiday Inn
stop. A Green bus will arrive the Holiday Inn stop at the same time.
You can exit the Red bus, and board the green bus which will arrive Vail Village
15 minutes earlier. When traveling to Vail, you want to ride
the Green bus which picks up at the Holiday Inn stop. When traveling
back, you want to ride the Red bus to the West Vail Mall stop. The
schedules could change, but at the time of this writing, that's the secret the
workers told me and it saves a bunch of time. I rode this bus two
mornings in a row at the same time, and saw the same people (workers).
Here's a map of the bus system in PDF format.
One more thing about the parking, someone mentioned the Donavon lot. I went there, only to find a nasty sign saying there was an event and no skiier parking, even though the web site said there was. Park in the Nordic center? It's on the east side of the resort, and I was coming from Beaver Creek. Maybe that's another secret, the Nordic center.
I arrived Vail Village and made the walk to the gondola. Here's another secret I found out. Instead of wearing their ski boots, people wear their regular shoes and carry their equipment. Where do they put their shoes once at the Village. They either rent the locker for $5, or some people put their shoes on top of the lockers and take a chance they won't be stolen. I talked to someone on the bus who told me about this trick. It's a long walk from the transportation center to the village. The brochures say it's 3 minutes, but it's more like 5 and a very tiring walk after skiing all day. They really need a chair system that will take people from the transportation center, to the main gondola. Of coarse they won't do this, because they want people walking through the Village. This is similar to what Vegas does with all their hotels, making people walk through shopping malls and the casino before reaching the free attraction or the check in desk. The other reason it's a bummer to walk in the Village, is because people are smoking. You'd think they would have some courtesy, but no, they're puffing away. They really need to move the designated areas away from the main paths.
I'm an intermediate skier, groomed blue squares and greens. If you're looking for a report of someone going through trees on the blacks, you may be bored reading this because I'm going to show pictures of the blue runs. I find the blues are fun, and don't get caught up in riding the blacks like most people.
The Gondola opened at 9am. I had done some research before
coming. Most people want to hit the back bowls and Blue Sky Basin.
The chair lifts are refered to by their number. So to get
there, start out of the left side of the trail map in Vail Village, take the #1
to #4, to Sleepy Time, to #37. In the first
pictures is the Gondola #1. In the 2nd and 3rd pictures is the #4
lift. Yes, it's called Mountain Top, but that doesn't
matter, call it #4. In the fourth picture is the overlook of
Blue Sky Basin.
In picture #1 is the overlook. In picture #2 is the sign that leads to the Sleepy Time trail which leads to the #21 chair lift, or the entrance to Blue Sky Basin. I rode the #21 chair lift and came down a blue trail called silk road. No one was on this trail, I basically had the entire mountain to myself since it was so early in the morning. In picture #3 is the top of the #37 chair lift, this is where a blue trail called Cloud 9 starts at the top of Blue Sky Basin. After all that work, I had finally made it to the top. There's no magical sign saying you made it. There's a bulding that looks like a farm house, and there are some bathrooms, along with a restaurant that opens later in the day at 2pm.
A couple shots on the Cloud 9 trail. This is a junction point where you can decide to head down to the #39 chair lift, or continue down the mountain to the #21 chair that leads out of Blue Sky Basin and to the back bowls. Continue heading down the junction to the #39 chair lift and that leads to the far left side of the map to the Summit, which has an elevation of 11,570.
Here I am at the summit, can't go any higher than this. About the only clue you've made it is a sign in the lift operator booth that says, "Welcome To The Top." A blue trail call Grand Review heads off to the right, and most people take it. There's also a couple black diamond trails to the left. Grand Review is amazing, it starts out with a wide open area, quickly builds speed, and heads through the trees. I enjoyed this run so much, I came back and did it a few more times.
In pictures 1-3 are more shots of Grand Review heading through the trees. The 4th picture is on the main mountian heading back to the Village. It was snowing on this day, powder anyone? I was whipped after a few runs down Grand Review, and decided to head back to Vail Village.
La Cantina, that's right, it's located on the 3rd Floor in the Transportation
center. Don't let that fool you, they have great food, it's
cheap, and they're ranked high on Trip Advisor. They'll even give you free chips and salsa.
I had a bean taco, and an open faced bean taco. What did they taste
like? Really great with the chips and sauces and it only
costed $5. This hit the spot after a busy morning on the
I went to the fourth floor of the transportation center and caught the Red West Vail bus that took me back to my rental car. I had to walk across the street about 100 yards. This is the bummer with the parking system at Vail. I changed out of my ski boots, drove back to the hotel, and drank some more water. Then I headed out to Beaver Creek, it was about 1pm. There is a bus that will take people from the Comfort Inn directly to the ski drop off area, but I missed it, and decided to drive to the Beaver Creek parking lot.
For Beaver Creek, they have a free parking lot that is clearly marked, it's called the "Bear" lot. They also have a free parking lot for their employees. This is a much different situation than Vail, even though both resorts are owned by the same company. I parked my rental car in the Bear lot and caught the bus, which took me to the village. This bus was full of skiers, there was a different feel about it, more upbeat.
I had never been to Beaver Creek, this was all new to me. I got off the bus, and there was a covered bridge. The walk to the lift was much shorter, in fact, I didn't have to walk through a long Village. Just past the covered bridge to the right, are escalators that take people to the lift, Centennial Express. Here the lifts are referred to by their names. There was a large crowd, because everyone needs to ride Centennial to get out of the village. In picture 5 is the Cinch Express lift which is also crowded. Lucky for me, I was alone and used the single rider line.
What were the runs like up here? Incredible. I had a great time. I wanted to head over to the right side of the mountain, but ran out of time. I started heading over that way on the Primrose trail, but then heard a siren going off and knew it was time to head back. The siren was obviously giving people a 30 minute warning.
More shots of the blue trails. I basically took Red Tail, to Primrose, and was going to continue heading over to the right side of the map, but the siren went off, so I headed back to the left. I went up the Grouse Mountain Express lift which leads to only black diamonds. I came down a black diamond trial called Raven Ridge, which was groomed at this time. Didn't go very fast, but I did make it down without wiping out. I continued on to the Birds of Prey lift and the worker was looking at his watch saying I just made it and to enjoy my last run of the day. I went up the Birds of Prey lift one more time and took the cat walks back to Cinch, which took me back to the Village. I also rode a blue trail call Gold Dust along the way. It was an amazing run to finish the day. I rode the shuttle bus back to the parking lot. The bus driver asked if anyone brought him free cookies. They give out free cookies at 3pm, so if you get some, be sure to give them to your bus driver. The bus was completely full of skiers, the driver was joking, and there was an upbeat feel to it.
I went back to the hotel, showered, took a Bayer aspirin, changed back into regular cloths, and drank a few beers. I caught a "restaurant bus" that boarded right outside the Comfort Inn and went back to the Village. This is a great advantage to staying at the Comfort Inn. Not only is it cheap, they also have complete access to the bus system, which means you can apres in your room before heading out to the village.
Here I am at Beaver Creek Village after a long day of skiing. In picture 1 are the lifts after closing. In pictures 2-4 are the village and skating rink.
More shots of the village and skating rink.
This is what I came to the village for, Blue Moose Pizza. Voted
highly on Trip Advisor. There was a bunch of people crowding around,
but I saw a table that had no seat and they brought in a chair from outside.
I had to wait 45 minutes for my pizza. The server let me know this.
I surfed the internet on my phone. Finally, my pizza came out,
Mediterranean Salad Pizza. Roasted Red Pepper, Pesto Hummus, Light
Mozzarella, Onions, Artichoke, Feta Cheese, Topped with Spinach, Tomatoes and
Basil Vinaigrette. Was it worth the wait? You bet,
and I took half of it back to the room.
This location has a large crowd during the evening hours, which is a nice problem to have. Could they do anything to fix it? I doubt it. I once wrote to Outback Steak House asking if they could make their restaurants bigger. A manager called me back saying the kitchen would have to increase in size, which would cost a lot of money. So I'm sure Blue Moose Pizza suffers from the same fate at peak hours. Plus these restaurants benefit from the "Mistique" of people waiting outside in line. If you're staying in the village, you may want to call and get your food to go during peak hours. At least that way, you can Apres ski (party) in your hotel room while waiting. Otherwise, expect to wait for a table, then wait 45 minutes for your food to come out.
What a long day, 2 ski resorts, 3 bus systems, 2 great restaurants on the cheap, but look at how much I did.
Day 3 - Tuesday March 12th. The plan for this day was to ride the Game Creek bowl on the right side of the Vail map. I ate the banana, yogurt, and waffle for breakfast, and checked out of the Comfort Inn. I drove the rental car across the street from Safeway, boarded the bus at 07:40, and the same workers were there with me. We got off at the Holiday Inn stop and switched to the Green Bus, just like we had done yesterday. This bus had a "quiet" feel to it, mostly workers heading into the village. The bus arrived the transportation center, I went down to the first floor, and caught a Village bus to Lionshead.
Here I am at Lionshead Village, which is the west side of Vail. The #19 gondola takes riders to the Game Creek bowl.
Powder anyone? It was snowing again, almost white out conditions at some times. In picture 1 is a shot of the bowl, which leads to the #7 express. In pictures 3 and 4, is a trail called Lost Boy. An easy green trail with wide open spaces. This early in the morning, there was fresh powder, I was "making tracks" as they say. I had so much fun on this trail, I rode it twice before moving on. The bottom of this trail picks up speed and has some hairpin turns like a race track. On the lift back up to the top, I talked with someone from the St. Pete area of Florida. So while I was alone on the trip, I talked to people who knew were I lived, it's a small world.
White out conditions in picture 1, I'm going down a trail called Hunky Dory. I couldn't see anything and wiped out when I lost an edge. I skidded to a stop and was fine. My skis stayed on, I pushed myself back up and kept going. I went down to the bottom of the mountain after this and took a break. I checked into my Southwest flight using my cell phone and it worked. The problm was, I still ended with a boarding pass of B37, which I couldn't believe. Apparently, everyone booking flights on Southwest pays the extra money to get an "A" boarding pass, or they are "A-List." I asked people in line how they checked in, and the people around me said they hit the button at the exact moment they could (exactly 24 hours before the flight), just like I did. That's ok, since I was single, I ended up with a window seat on each flight in the 7th row.
After checking in on Southwest, I went back up the Gondola, and came down a few runs. In the picture above is the Timberline Catwalk which starts at the top of the #4 chair lift. People can head over to the back bowls and Blue Sky Basin as you see them doing here, or they can stay on this trail to the left and reach it another way, heading into the Poppy Fields West trail. I was whipped at this point and had no desire to head to Blue Sky Basin. I skied a few more trails on the left side of the map and headed back to Vail Village.
I made the slow walk through the village, my body was very tired. I caught the Red West Vail bus back to the mall,
walked the hundred yards to my rental car, and said goodbye to Vail.
I drove back to Silverthorne, turned in my rental equipment. I had
thoughts of visiting Keystone, because it's at the same exit at Virgin Island
(#205), but my legs were so tired, I couldn't do it. After turning in my
equipment, I visited the liquor store to buy a few beers, and drove back into
Denver. I stopped at Whole Foods (exit 263) and had
another salad. As I exited the rental car, I was dizzy from the altitude
difference. I was breating heavy at this point, but the Bayer
aspirin definately helped the entire trip. I never got altitude
sick, never had a bad headache. Was breathing heavy at the end,
probably from being so tired. I planned it this way, to head back to
Denver after skiing. After eating the salad, I
filled up the rental car with gas, and headed to La Quinta Inn next to the
I checked into the hotel, unpacked the rental car into my room, returned the rental car to Thrifty, took a shuttle to the airport, and caught the hotel shuttle back to La Quinta. I also printed my boarding pass at the airport. Everything went like clock work. The shuttle driver arrived 10 minutes after I called the main hotel number, which is 1-303-371-0888 and press #6 for the front desk. The shuttle stops at Island #3 near the Frontier airlines side of the terminal (east). Each hotel has their own shuttle. It was funny, because the driver stopped on the west side of the terminal and asked if anyone else was gong to La Quinta. Someone said, "The Sheraton" and the driver told them the Sheraton doesn't have their own shuttle. This person would have waited a long time if the driver didn't say anything. Each hotel has their own shuttle bus, or you have to take a taxi. This is one reason I chose La Quinta, I knew they had the shuttle bus from reading the Trip Advisor reviews.
Day 4 - Wednesday March 13th. Ate the banana, yogurt, and waffle in the breakfast area pictured above. Checked out of the hotel, took the shuttle back to the airport, no problems getting through security. Made it to my gate with an hour to spare, plane took off on time and landed early, Thanks Southwest.
Observations: The trip was a success. I replaced a bad memory with a good one. No altitude sickness, didn't hurt myself on the mountan, saw a lot, and know the area well for a return trip. 2 visits to Vail, and one to Beaver Creek. Which resort did I like better based on skiing? Beaver Creek. Why? Probably because it was new to me. Believe it or not, I remembered some of the trails I had skied 10 years ago at Vail. The other reason, the parking situation. I can't believe what Vail does to make people park for free. Yes, they have a garage, but people have to pay after 2 hours, and they complain about this on Trip Advisor. Stay in the Village? Are you kidding me? I'd rather use that money for food or my lift ticket. Vail is shooting themselves in the foot, because I stayed in the Beaver Creek village instead and went there to eat. Maybe Vail wants it this way, only rich people who can afford to stay in the village, but if you ask me, I think they're losing out on the average crowd. It's like Vegas looking to attract "whales" and ignoring the average gambler. I've heard some people can get greats rates in Vail if they use discount web sites and call the hotel directly. But this is luck to get those rates. For example, someone got a great rate at the Cascades by calling the hotel, and posted about it on Trip Advisor. Great if you can bicker with the hotel and make it happen. They say Vail is the "Disney World" of skiing, and I believe this to be true.
The cons of the Beaver Creek resort, is that everyone takes the Centennial Express lift to Chich Express, and this causes long lines. But if you're a single rider, you can use the sngle rider line. I don't understand why people feel the need to ride together on the lift, when your friend would be one or two chairs behind you, but that leaves the single rider line empty for me. The pros of Beaver Creek are the amazing trails and the upbeat feel of the village. Vail Village had people who were smoking in the main pathways, and it felt like I wasn't supposed to be there. And it's weird that both resorts are run by the same company, with each village having a skating rink, and the same restaurants. Yet there's a big difference in the "feel" of each village, and the parking situation is different between the two.
So what are my tips if you're looking to visit Vail and Beaver Creek on the cheap? Use Trip Advisor to find your hotel. I spend hours sorting the hotels by price and reading the reviews. You'll find the hotels cost less in Beaver Creek, and there really aren't any dive hotels in Vail other than the Holiday Inn (which is more expensive than Comfort Inn in Beaver Creek). The Holiday Inn isn't even in the Village, but they do have a bus stop right there. In the future I'd probably stay at La Quinta again, and visit Beaver Creek for 2 days and Vail for 1. That would be my future visit, to completely explore the right side of Beaver Creek, because I never made it over to that side of the mountain. And I'm sure the locals would tell me to visit the other mountains in the area that you see when driving to Vail.
What's the answer at both resorts to do away with the tedious bus system for parking? Install a people mover like they have at The Canyons in Park City. They have a big parking lot for free, a short walk to a standing lift that takes people to the main ticket area. When finished skiing, it's a short walk to the people mover, which takes people back to the parkng lot. All the Vail resorts need to look into the people mover system used at The Canyons.
Tips to avoid altitude sickness. Take the Bayer Aspirin every night 1 week before arriving, and take it each night you are there. I also took the aspirin each morning while skiing, and one in the afternoon while taking a break. I believe this helped, especially with my knee pain (I have worn out knees from running, 2 surgeries on each). DRINK THE WATER every chance you get. You'll see people on the mountain with a tube coming out of their jacket they sip on. It connects to a water bottle in their back pack. Get in shape before arriving.
Buy your lift tickets more than one week in advance from the web site to get the best deal. Buy your groceries, liquor, and rent your ski equipment in Silverthorne (exit 205). Eat at a Denver restaurant when you arrive. Visit Whole Foods and buy the big salad to go. You can take it with you when driving out to the resorts and have it for dinner the first night. The car temperature will be like a fridge, the salad will not go bad on the drive to your hotel.
Now we have to compare the overall experience of Denver to that of Park City, 7 Springs, Camelback, Smuggs, and Heavenly. It's obviously going to be between SLC and DEN, althought it costs less to visit the east coast resorts (lift tickets and lessons). Tough call, both cities have ther pros and cons. Now that I didn't get alttude sick, that means I can visit the Denver resorts for a couple days, and that's all I need. The Park City resorts are incredible, there's cheap hotels nearby, and I can park my car slopeside for free. I'm going to call it a TIE between Denver and Salt Lake City as the place I want to visit the most. Both cities have great food, friendly people, great hotels, and incredible skiing. I hope this page helps you book a trip on the cheap in the spirit of EconoVail.
End of Report. Thanks for reading.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.