Why fly half way round the world to go skiing?
25th October 2011
Well here are six reasons; Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Heavenly, Keystone and Northstar. We look at the attractions in this sponsored feature on Vail Resorts. If you haven’t been to the USA now may be the time to change that.
To some skiers and snowboarders in Europe The Alps are the ultimate winter playground but until you have experienced the USA then perhaps you don’t have the full facts to make a judgement.
Many people put off a trip to the USA but when they do cross The Atlantic they are hooked for life.
They argue that the snow is better, the lift systems more efficient, the service superior, the accommodation larger and for families it is exactly how it should be.
The ski and snowboard schools are first-rate, lessons come in English with the emphasis on customer-care and the slopes are less-crowded with no-queues for the lifts.
A lift queue in the USA is a place to chat, not do battle.The downside for many is the long flight and then the associated jet lag, but it is not that bad. For some it is a great feeling to be skiing on another continent across the world and trans-Atlantic travel adds a certain glamour.
If you are worried about the flight times and different time zones our advice at PlanetSKI is bite the bullet as it does not effect your ski trip too much.
Vail Resorts has a growing portfolio of ski areas with each offering something different for everyone.
We start at the resort that is the most popular with skiers and snowboarders from the UK, Breckenridge.
Or Breck as the locals name it.
It has a Wild West feel to it with its mining heritage and the town has a huge choice of bars and restaurants. It is, quite simply, nothing like a resort in The Alps.
As you drive down Main Street you know you are in the USA with the neon lights and double swing doors. Its gold mining heritage is everywhere to be seen and creates a unique atmosphere. Out on the slopes there is a huge variety of terrain with some fabulous beginner slopes at the bottom, wide open groomers that will flatter your skiing and some seriously challenging terrain.
It goes high and the resort has the highest lift in North America with skiing and snowboarding going up to 3,914m. But be warned the air is thin at this point and it is best not to head up the Imperial Express until you are acclimatised.
This year Breck celebrates its 50th birthday as the resort opened for business on December 16th 1961, but it goes back 150 years with its gold rush heritage.
It is little surprise that Breckenridge is the most popular US resort with British skiers.
For more information about Breckenridge then see here.
This is the jewel in the crown and attracts a more up-market clientele. Just after our visit last winter the First Lady, Michelle Obama, was in town as we reported at the time.
The town lies 10 miles on from Breckenridge and is very different with a distinctly alpine feel to the architecture as the buildings are constructed in the Tirolean style. Some used to the Austrian Alps may feel they prefer the genuine article but up on the mountain the skiing does not disappoint.
When, here at PlanetSKI, we skied the back bowls last season it was some of the best skiing we have experienced in the USA and with the off piste safe and patrolled we just skied fresh tracks all day long.
It is the largest single mountain ski area in America and stretches for seven miles from west to east.
It lays claim to be one of the finest ski resorts in North America and is known the world over.
For more information about Vail then see here.
This is where the seriously rich and powerful come to spend their time in the winter. The grooming is some of the best in the world and the resort’s moto is “Not exactly roughing it”.
On the lift you are more likely to share a chair with an oil billionaire than a gnarly ski bum though there is some very challenging skiing including the legendary Birds of Prey downhill ski course and the soft powder in among the apsen trees.
But the resort is renouned for its wide open pistes that are rarely bothered by crowds or lift queues and skiing on the expertly groomed slopes is an experience every skier should sample at least once.
In town there are escalators to the ski slopes and the whole of the village area has heated pavements.
It is the ultimate in luxury skiing.
For more information about Beaver Creek then see here.
This is another Colorado resort in the Vail Resorts stable and gives access to three different mountains.
It doesn’t have a single centre in the way Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Vail do but Keystone has accommodation, much of it condos, spread out on the picturesque valley floor at River Run Village, Lakeside Village and West Keystone.
The three mountains are linked by very efficient lifts and for advanced skiers there are some un-groomed steep bowls, tree skiing and cat sking too.
For intermediate skiers there is an excellent variety of terrain with some superb grooming.
The terrain park comes recommended and the A51 Terrain Park has been named as one of Transworld Snowboarding’s Top 10 Parks twice. Keystone offers night skiing too.
The ski school surpasses itself in customer care and the nursery slopes are what nursery slopes should be, wide, safe and easy to learn on.
For more information on Keystone then see here.
If you want a truly American resort, and one poles apart from the chocolate box image of The Alps, then try Heavenly. It is one of the USA’s biggest mountains and has breath-taking views across the lake and into the desert beyond.
As it straddles the border with Nevada, where gambling is legal, it also has some tacky but truly authentic casinos. Its resort atmosphere is like no other and it is a somewhat bizarre experience walking through the hotel in your ski clothing and picking your way through the slot machines.
Up on the slopes it has a vertical descent of 1,060m and goes up to 3,060m with terrain to suit all standards. There is a clear distinction between the Californian side and the Nevada area but if you do get stuck on the wrong one at the end of the day then there is a quick and reliable shuttle bus service.
Like many US resorts the slopes are uncrowded and the grooming first rate. It averages 9m of snow per season.
For more information about Heavenly then see here.
This is the latest addition to the Vail Resorts portfolio and is in the process of a massive $30m upgrade, some of which is ready for the season of 2011/12.
The ski area has expanded with a further 170 acres of skiing and for this winter cat skiing and backcountry guiding have been introduced for advanced skiers. It has given an additional 1,000m of vertical descent.
Northstar has a good base village and ski runs aplenty with many cut through the thick forests that make it a traditional US ski resort.
There are 97 runs spread over 3,170 acres of terrain.
For this winter the snowboarding superstar, Shaun White, is making Northstar his home resort for training and has helped with the design of the halfpipe.
“This feels like a homecoming because I have spent so much time riding at most of Vail Resorts’ mountains. With Northstar as my home mountain, I now have the ideal place to train and continue to grow as an athlete and I am looking forward to all the possibilities this partnership brings,” said Shaun White when the partnership was announced.
Vail Resorts has big plans for Northstar and the future looks exciting as the resorts around Lake Tahoe are set to rival those in Colorado and Utah.
For more information about Northstar then see here.
Here at PlanetSKI our content editor, James Cove, visited some of the resorts in Colorado last winter and blogged about his experiences. After some initial scepticism on crossing the Atlantic, he soon changed his mind especially as fresh snow was in plentiful supply and by the end of his trip he was converted.
Last season saw record snowfalls across the USA and all of the Vail Resorts ski areas reported huge falls. Breckenridge had a record-breaking 13.2m.
This year the weather forecasters predict another La Nina winter with plentiful snow. If you want to check out what La Nina is and what it may bring then see this related news story on PlanetSKI.
The early signs are encouraging as the picture below show.
We will be in the resorts of Heavenly and Northstar this season and we look forward to sending in reports, pictures and videos next February.
One gripe for some who ski in the USA is the cost of a lift pass.
The Epic Pass, on sale at the moment, costs $649 (£405) allows unlimited skiing in all six resorts for the whole season.
One of the major new innovations for this winter is the EpicMix Photo where you can have your picture taken by a professional photographer out on the slopes.
It is then uploaded to your EpicMix account and you can share it with your friends on social media; we will bring you news of it later on PlanetSKI but in the meantime here is a promotional video explaining it all.
So, are you tempted to try some of the Vail Resorts?
You shouldn’t be disappointed.
For the spirit of the mountains