Rocky Mountain High Life

The village at Beaver Creek is all aglow for the holidays.

The village at Beaver Creek is all aglow for the holidays.

The village at Beaver Creek is all aglow for the holidays.

Beaver Creek’s Pines Lodge has spectacular views of the ski mountain above and the snow-covered valley below.

The hotel, right, is located at the base of the mountain, for ski-in, ski-out access.

At the Osprey in Beaver Creek, skiers can end a day on the slopes with a soak in the outdoor hot tub or a splash in the pool.

The Arrabelle’s amenities include the inviting Great Room, with its view of the Vail slopes, and a sumptuous spa

No skiing destination mixes powder and pampering better than the neigh-boring Colorado resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek. Vail Village, the older and vastly larger of the two mountain villages, was built from scratch to resemble an Alpine retreat, with narrow walking streets lined with restaurants, shops, hotels and condo clusters. Beaver Creek has a similar storybook appeal, although with a more modern motif and on a reduced scale.

Both villages are thoroughly romantic—yet family friendly. Both boast dozens of dining options, from Southwestern casual to Continental chic, and a plethora of hotel choices—many with “ski-in, ski-out” access to the respective mountains.

For all the amenities, the mountains are the main attractions. Spread along a series of peaks, Vail has a mind-boggling array of terrain for all skier types. Those seeking the ultimate in western skiing swoon for Vail’s famed Back Bowls—seemingly endless miles of wide-open back-country terrain and gladed runs (through the trees) with breathtaking views of the neighboring snow-capped ridges. The skiing at Beaver Creek is impressive on a smaller scale, though no less challenging and diverse—and far more spectacular than anything found in the East. Lift tickets are interchangeable between the two resorts; wherever you stay, plan to ski both. Depending on the week, single-day tickets are about $64 for children and $99 for adults, but most tickets are purchased in multi-day packages. Both areas offer excellent and creative on-mountain dining options. You’ll never go hungry at these resorts.

Ski Tip

If you’re accustomed to skiing in the East, the vastness and array of skiing at Vail and Beaver Creek might seem mind-boggling at first. Whatever level you ski, take advantage of the free on-mountain tours offered at Vail and Beaver Creek. Check in at the base for daily meeting places and then put yourself in the hands of an experienced guide. You’ll quickly learn how to get around the mountains, including Vail’s awesome Back Bowls. And you might meet some new ski buddies in the bargain.

There’s also plenty to see and do at night. A premier Beaver Creek experience is dinner at Beano’s Cabin, a large, log building nestled partway up the mountain. Getting there via Sno-Cat-drawn sled is half the fun. What could be better than huddling together with family and friends under the blankets beneath a perfect starry sky, entertained for the 15-minute ride through the Colorado woods by an ebullient, banjo-picking host? Beano’s serves a five-course, prix-fixe menu (with locally inspired entrees like elk Wellington and buffalo steak), accompanied by a spectacular wine list. It’s a pricey experience—but unforgettable.

The village of Beaver Creek tends to be cozy and quiet after hours; Vail, on the other hand comes alive at night. The streets teem with activity, even on the coldest nights, and hot spots like the Red Lion, Pepi’s and Bully Ranch are packed with skiers sharing stories of the day’s downhill glories.

As remote as it seems, the area is easy to reach. There are daily non-stops from Newark to Eagle Airport, 35 miles to the west, or you can fly into Denver and take the scenic 2-1/2 hour van ride ($89 round trip with Colorado Mountain Express).

The two villages have dozens of hotels and condos to choose from; here are three favorite boutique-style options and one larger hotel, each a member of the Rock Resorts chain, a sister company of Vail Resorts:

The Arrabelle is one of Vail’s newest luxury hotels and is the focal point of the newly developed Lionshead section, just west of Vail Village. With 36 guest rooms and 66 residences available for rent, Arrabelle combines the intimacy of a boutique hotel with the perks of a full-service resort. Stucco walls, vaulted ceilings, arched hallways and dark-wood accents give Arrabelle the feel of a medieval Alpine castle, but with all the modern comforts. Rooms range from a premier double queen with balcony and mountain view ($688 per night during most winter weeks), up to the king suite, with two bathrooms and a large sitting area.

Arrabelle doesn’t skimp on the details. Every bed has a canopy over the headboard, bathroom floors are heated, each room has a gas fireplace and most have a Jacuzzi. The hotel has a luxury spa, heated outdoor pool and two hot tubs for unwinding after a day on the slopes (or whatever). The plaza below is filled with shops—even an ice rink. The hotel’s dining options include the elegant Centre V for breakfast and dinner, and the more casual Tavern on the Square for lunch, dinner and that après-ski toddy. The hotel is a true ski-in, ski-out location right at the base of Vail mountain; a valet will store your skis overnight and have them ready for you each morning. There’s nothing medieval about that.

A larger option is the Lodge at Vail, a full-service Alpine-style hotel located at the base of the main mountain, right in the middle of Vail Village. The Lodge has 165 guest rooms (with mountain or village views) and 46 suites  (each with wood-burning fireplace and walk-out balcony). The Lodge boasts a luxury spa, exercise room (as if you’d need it!), outdoor pool and cozy piano bar. New this winter is Elway’s Vail, the first location outside of Denver for former NFL star John Elway’s group of Colorado steakhouses. Guest rooms at the Lodge start at about $335.

In Beaver Creek, the Osprey has a unique “Alpine chic” ambience—it’s modern mountain luxury with plenty of warm, woodsy touches. All 45 guest rooms were renovated in 2008 and include 42-inch flat screen TVs and MP3 docking stations; many have gas fireplaces. The hotel also has a pair of two-bedroom penthouse condos available for guests. This is also a ski-in, ski-out location, literally steps from the base of the Strawberry Park Express lift. For après ski, there is a small pool and hot tub area and an attractive lounge and restaurant with a creative tapas menu. (The sweet potato and cheese enchilada and the grilled ribeye and cheese quesadilla are favorites.) Rooms here start at $315.

The Pines Lodge is a wallet-pleasing option, but no less comfortable. The Pines has 60 hotel rooms, most with spectacular views down the valley and to the Gore Range beyond. Every room has a 42-inch flat screen TV, plenty of pine trim and whimsical piney touches, including the pinecone do-not-disturb signs. For skiers, there’s a row of cubbies in each room’s entry hall for stowing gloves, helmets and other paraphernalia. The fourth floor has an array of spacious duplex condos, many available for guest stays. After skiing, guests return to complimentary fresh-baked cookies and hot drinks in the lobby. Fine dining is offered at Grouse Mountain Grill. (Don’t miss the pretzel-crusted pork chop, the restaurant’s signature dish.) The Pines
is easy to ski into, but in the morning most skiers opt for a shuttle to the base of Beaver. It’s a small compromise, considering that rooms start at $207.

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