Reviewed by Sam Bass
Nov 06, 2008
Mary Jane—named for a mining-era lady of the night—and its sister area, Winter Park, offer plenty of prospects for good skiing, including bumps and powder-filled bowls. Forming one of the closest major resorts to Denver, the two areas spread across five mountains and 3,078 acres. Add 3,060 feet of vertical, 30 feet of snowfall, and a direct train from Denver and it’s no wonder why the Front Range packs the place on Saturdays.
The term “champagne powder” was coined in Steamboat Springs, and the town boasts more Winter Olympians (63) than anywhere else in the country. Coincidence? No, sirree. The two big hills (Mount Werner and Storm Peak) gather some of the fluffiest, most consistent snowfall in the state, like this year’s 105 inches in 11 days.
Keystone’s 2,870 acres and three peaks offer everything from the tame to the teeth-rattling.
Last year, more than a million people skied Vail. Most came for the miles of consistent groomers, but those in the know headed to Prima Cornice, Lover’s Leap, and the dozens of 35-degree shots for steep untracked powder. How can there be powder with all those skiers? Simple: Vail is enormous. The Back Bowls encompass 3,000 acres, and you can spend a week exploring the trees. Throw in a rowdy party scene and a snowfall advantage over most Colorado resorts (hello, cloud seeding) and you’ll see why the place has such a huge following.
MARQUEE ROUTE: Below Chair 10, and as bumpy as a Mini Cooper lot, HIGHLINE is a Western mogul classic. Too jarring? Take Chair 4 from Mid Vail and drop off the back side onto knee-friendly FOREVER, in Sun Down Bowl.
OFF BROADWAY: Head to Two Elks Lodge from Chair 14 and drop into DRAGON’S TEETH, where cliff bands range from five to 20 feet.
FRONTSIDE FIRST: Vail’s Frontside is 1,600 acres of mostly intermediate terrain. But don’t let that fool you: Sprinkled throughout are plenty of expert chutes, gullies, and bumps.
POWDER DAY: Take the 8:30 A.M. Vista Bahn chair to Chair 3, and burn a 30-degree warmup lap down Game Creek Bowl. Then head east, farming the 3,000 acre that compose Vail’s seven back bowls. You’ll hit Blue Sky Basin—645 acres of gullies, rock drops, and glades—by 10 o’clock, right when they ring the bell.
THREE DAYS LATER: Three words: Blue Sky Basin. Prevailing westerlies wind-load a long, corniced ridge in Pete’s Bowl. Ski Steep & Deep, a treedotted
chute near the top. Or head farther down the ridge, drop the six- to 10-foot cornice on Iron Mask, and sniff out powder stashes that load in the trees below.
PARK AND PIPE: Accessible via Chair 6, the Golden Peak Super Park packs tabletops, rails, tree
stashes, log jibs, and a superpipe with 18-foot walls into 1,000 vertical feet.
BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS: A run down the Minturn Mile (it’s actually about five miles) will dump you on the doorstep of the Saloon Bar, eight miles
west of Vail. You’ll only rack up 850 vertical, but the treedotted powder fields and creek-luge make up for the teensy drop. (Avy info: csac.org)
WEATHER: Westerly and northwesterly storms favor Vail, which averages nearly 68 inches in March—its snowiest month— and 311 inches between November and late February.
APRÈS: Grab a Tecate on Los Amigos’ sunny trailside deck and watch end-of-day gaper carnage on Pepi’s Face. At Vendetta’s, Bud and Fat Tire
are always flowing.
FUEL: Down an egg, meat, and cheese Mountain Stuffer at Blizzard’s (in Vail Village) and you won’t need lunch till midafternoon.
UP ALL NIGHT: If it’s a mixed-drink night, head to Samana, on Bridge Street, where DJs and a dance floor coexist with Miamilounge
DIGS: Single beds at the no-frills Roost Lodge in West Vail run between $59 and $129. Vail.com has four-day ski-and stay
deals for cheap. Or check vailsale.com