Celebrity extreme skier Chris Anthony has been living outside of Vail even longer than the nineteen years he's been appearing in Warren Miller movies. Though his home is actually by the base of Beaver Creek, he can't deny that Vail is, well, Vail. Its name is big for a reason: It's one of the best ski resorts in the world. "It's such a tremendously large mountain that there are areas that no one knows about," he says. But that can also make it overwhelming and hard to navigate. "If you're doing it wrong, you're going to be trapped in a lift line," he says. "If you're doing it right, it's huge."
So how do you make sure you're doing it right?
You could hire a guide or find a local to ski with, Anthony says. But if you're determined to go it alone, here's some advice: Swim against the current. "People who come to Vail literally travel around in a pack," he says. "They're like herds of cattle that move around the mountain. You need to not think like the mainstream and approach the mountain differently." The first mistake people make is to head straight for the back bowls, because they're passing by some great steep pitches on the expert side of the mountain. "A lot of chutes get ignored," he says. "Like Prima Cornice, Mudslide. Those offer some amazing challenging terrain, in the trees and north-facing."
So instead of taking the Vista Bahn Express to Chair 4 to the bowls, take the chair up from Lionshead and drop into Game Creek Bowl on the other side. Or take Chair 6 all the way to the top and get back to Blue Sky Basin for a couple of runs, then move into China Bowl and move back toward the main back bowls. You'll go to the same place, but via a different route that's going to get you there faster.
Then, at the end of the day, go to Vendettas, which is the patrol hangout, or the Tap Room, and buy somebody a beer. "Be humble," Anthony says. "You might end up in the right place at the right time." Because if that somebody is a local who offers to take you up the next morning, you'll definitely be humbled by the terrain you never knew existed.
But with big spaces comes big development. Last season, the Lions-head base area was transformed by the opening of the luxury Arrabelle at Vail Square, a European-style hotel with fine dining and shopping. Work on the upcoming Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton continues. The new SKImmersion program, meanwhile, is targeted not at beginners, but at training skiers of all levels to perform like athletes.
Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 173, 176 or 180.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-476-4888.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 5,289 acres with 193 trails; 18 percent beginner, 29 percent intermediate, 53 percent expert/advanced. Base is 8,120', with a 3,450' vertical rise; summit: 11,570'.
Beaver Creek Resort
As much as Chris Anthony appreciates Vail, he knows it already gets a lot of credit. It's Beaver Creek, right in his back yard, that goes unnoticed, and nobody takes more advantage of that fact than he does. "People want to ski Vail because it's Vail," he says. "So while Vail is pummeled with more traffic, Beaver Creek sits to the side with a reputation for being gated, beginner, intermediate, with some advanced. The beauty of that is it has incredibly challenging terrain and longer, steeper pitches than Vail and doesn't get as much traffic. It has amazing stashes...I definitely had a couple of my top-ten best on-resort powder days ever last year in Beaver Creek while my friends were standing in line at another ski area."
The biggest secret — "and one you need to find out" — is Grouse Mountain, Anthony says. It's completely powder. Two and a half hours and you're exhausted. From there, you can go through an access gate into glades. "A lot of the population that comes to Beaver Creek doesn't really go after that stuff," he says. "They stick to the incredible groomers on the front side." Opposite from Grouse Mountain is the Rose Bowl lift, with its Stone Creek Chutes and backcountry access. "There are a lot of secret stashes that get ignored there as well, very difficult mushroom drop and obstacle-ridden terrain that you would never know was Beaver Creek if you saw a picture of it."
Beaver Creek also has the Birds of Prey trail, which is one of the most difficult downhills on the World Cup circuit. In fact, Anthony says the week of the Birds of Prey World Cup is the most fun time to come to Beaver Creek. "It's an incredible party," he says. "Beaver Creek definitely puts on a new face for that. It becomes party central."