Colorado's Cinderella ski village, Vail has come of age swiftly since it was staked out in 1962. German hoteliers, French restaurateurs, and celebrity skiers have transformed it from a one-industry town into a year-round international resort. Beaver Creek, Vail's young and glitzy sister resort 10 miles west, sprang up in 1980, but simple mountain life is alive and well in the other valley towns of Minturn, Edwards, and Eagle. Until recently, locals claimed there were two seasons in the Vail Valley: winter and construction. Now, with new resorts, biking trails, and golf courses, the secret is out. Summer-- with blissful weather and a list of activities that far outnumber winter's snowy occupations-- is stealing the show.Where to Stay
Lodge at Vail 174 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 800/331-5634 or 970/476-5011, fax 970/476-7425; doubles from $215. Vail's only hotel in 1962, the 118-room Lodge was constructed as a dorm for workers building the ski area. It has come a long way since that time, when it offered $10 summer weekend packages (with meals thrown in) to attract off-season business. Now it's the top crash pad in town.
Sonnenalp Resort 20 Vail Rd., Vail; 800/654-8312 or 970/476-5656, fax 970/476-1639; doubles from $150. Sonnenalp's Bavaria Haus spa is reason enough to come to Vail. Try a Moor mud treatment or the Turkish steam room. Then dip into a pot of raclette fondue at the Swiss Chalet, one of three restaurants in the 150-room resort.
Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek 136 E. Thomas Place, Beaver Creek; 800/233-1234 or 970/949-1234, fax 970/949-4164; doubles from $205. The 275-room Hyatt is one of the loveliest addresses in Beaver Creek, a vacation town full of resort one-upmanship. In the evening, sit by the fireplace in the soaring, lodge-like lobby and listen to tall tales by resident historian Frank Doll.
Pines Lodge at Beaver Creek 141 Scott Hill Rd., Beaver Creek; 800/859-8242 or 970/845-7900, fax 970/845-7809; doubles from $110. In winter the service here is so attentive your skis are waxed while you sleep. But in summer, the place feels deserted; you may wait in an empty lobby for a quarter of an hour before a valet appears with your car keys. Once you're ensconced in one of the 60 cushy rooms, all is forgiven. Ask for a room facing east for a view of Beaver Creek Village.
Eagle River Inn 145 N. Main St., Minturn; 800/344-1750 or 970/827-5761, fax 970/827-4020; doubles from $98. Twenty years ago, this 12-room inn was a run-down $12-a-night flophouse. The back yard-- lined with weeping willows and bordered by the Eagle River-- is a tranquil place to try your hand at croquet.
Minturn Inn 442 Main St., Minturn; 800/646-8876 or 970/827-9647, fax 970/827-5590; doubles from $65. When Mick Kelly and Tom and Cathy Sullivan bought this 10-room log house, they stripped away linoleum and wall-to-wall shag and discovered mining shaft braces, testimony to Minturn's vibrant mining town days.
Lodge at Cordillera 2205 Cordillera Way, Edwards; 800/877-3529 or 970/926-2200, fax 970/926-2486; doubles from $280. This 6,500-acre mountaintop estate houses 56 guest rooms, most with fireplaces and private decks, all with unobstructed vistas.Where to Eat
Blu's 193 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 970/476-3113; breakfast for two $18. Vailites ease into the day with blueberry French toast, omelettes, and granola, served on a patio next to Gore Creek. Don't worry: you're far enough back that you won't get snagged by someone learning to cast a fly rod in a morning session. Great spot for lunch, but it fills up fast.
Cucina Rustica 174 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 970/476-5011; breakfast for two $30. At 2 a.m., Dino DeBell and his staff begin baking pastries and breads. By the time you emerge from under the covers, you'll think you're still dreaming: a copper-and-stone buffet is lined with smoked fish and a half-dozen varieties of wild berries. Sit in oak-and-leather chairs designed by Bob Zimmer, who worked with Robert Redford on Sundance. Or eat on the patio, amid snapdragons, petunias, and field poppies.
Daily Grind 288 Bridge St., Vail; 970/476-5856. A quintessential coffeehouse, with espresso drinks, fruit juices, and Birkenstock fare: fresh muffins, vegetable soups, and sandwiches bursting with alfalfa sprouts.
Clark's Market 141 E. Meadow Dr., Vail; 970/476-1199. Perhaps the state's best-known grocery store for fresh organic fruits and vegetables, locally baked breads and desserts, and the healthiest, heartiest picnic makings available: vegetarian sushi, hummus sandwiches.
Cougar Ridge Café 132 Main St., Minturn; 970/827-5609; lunch for two $18. Just the place to take a load off after biking the summit. Cougar Ridge serves pizza, deli sandwiches, and microbrews; you can also eyeball the regular crowd of brawny mountaineers.
Sweet Basil 193 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 970/476-0125; lunch for two $40. Dinner is just as good, but lunch is half the price, nothing sacrificed. Chef Thomas Salamunovich creates such surprises as a soup of duck broth and wild mushrooms topped with crisp tofu.
The Gashouse Rte. 6 (four miles west of Beaver Creek), Edwards; 970/926-2896; dinner for two $45. Locals pack this 50-year-old log cabin to devour some of the best grilled dishes around, under the watchful eyes of the animal heads lining the walls. Start with Rocky Mountain oysters, that most delicate of offal offerings. But don't feel guilty about making your main dish the New York strip.
The Saloon 146 N. Main St., Minturn; 970/827-5954; dinner for two $30. Two barn-size rooms are crammed with odes to every legend who's passed through these doors since 1897: Wayne Gretzky's hockey stick, photos of Tom Brokaw and skiers Tommy Moe and Picabo Street, and whole booths devoted to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Start with the quail, even if it's an odd preface to chicken enchiladas with green chili.
Terra Bistro 352 East Meadow Dr., Vail; 970/476-6836; dinner for two $75. After perusing one of the longest and most affordable wine and champagne lists in town, it's on to a dish of wheat crackers and the chef's own version of dal. Then ahi rolls with wasabi and basil, drunken pork chops (rum-soaked, wrapped in rice paper, and set on a bed of cabbage), or tequila-marinated halibut baked in a corn husk.
Wildflower 174 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 970/476-5011; dinner for two $75. Residents were worried that the departure of chef Jim Cohen would mark the end of Wildflower. Not so, with hotshot Thomas Gay whipping up roasted Western Slope tomato soup and Hudson Valley foie gras, with a sauce of peaches and balsamic vinegar. You can also eat under the stars; if it's chilly, the staff provides blankets.Thin Air Ahead
How to avoid the headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath associated with altitude sickness?According to Igor Gamow, an expert on high-altitude physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder:
- Spend a day in Denver and then drive to Vail.
- Drink a lot of water and avoid alcohol.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Take it easy for the first day or two in the mountains.
Before I actually did it, the idea of llama trekking brought to mind animal-skin-clad riders on the backs of Dr. Seuss creatures-- and no water to drink for miles on dusty trails.
On a day trek with Paragon Guides, I discovered that my expectations were askew. The animals do have cartoonish faces: rounded snouts, big grins, and wistful eyes with long, thick lashes. My guide, Don Shefchik, told me that well-trained llamas are docile and dependable, and, contrary to popular belief, they don't spit. He was right. The two we took out, Whoopsie and Dante, were the oldest and youngest of Paragon's team. They had apparently seen Miss Manners-- there was not a single sputter.
I also learned that one does not ride llamas. They carry your load while you hike, unbridled by heavy packs. Their feet have two soft "toes" that provide traction yet don't tear up the trail like horses' hooves. They proved to be sensitive listeners, alerting us to elk and other game along the way.
The standard Paragon trek lasts several days, and hikers sleep each night in the 10th Mountain Division huts within the 300-square-mile region between Vail, Aspen, and Leadville. Paragon will also take climbers on ascents of many of Colorado's fourteeners (the state's 54 peaks higher than 14,000 feet). "But those have become crowded," says Shefchik. "I like to take people up the thirteeners, because nobody's there."
I had just one afternoon and not enough stamina for a thirteener, so we loaded up the animals with a blanket, picnic, and extra jackets for a mere 3,000-foot hike up Uneva Peak. Don prepped our furry porters: "It's going to be a buffet for you."
As grazers, llamas eat at every stop. They loved me; I needed quite a few breathers. They respectfully avoided most of the wildflowers-- corn lilies, delphiniums, and yarrow-- to find edible thistles, fir needles, and grass. I led Dante with a slack rope, turning often to see if he was still there. Llamas are nearly silent on the trail, though they're known to hum gently when they're having a good time.
From Uneva Peak we had a spectacular 360-degree view of the Gore and Sawatch mountain ranges, Collegiate Peaks, and the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. In the thin air, I felt like a willowy balloon. We paused on top over a lunch of smoked trout and cheese, apples and chocolate, while the llamas munched and rested and hummed. Decidedly rejuvenated, the four of us descended in double time, and I wished I'd packed a sleeping bag and signed on for the next three days.
Paragon Guides Box 130, Vail, CO 81658; 970/926-5299, fax 970/926-5298; day treks from $350 for two, including lunch.High Art
Beaver Creek Vilar Center for the Arts 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek; 970/845-8497. Shows at this new 530-seat theater range from the Moscow Chamber Orchestra to the Afro-Cuban jazz of Pancho Sanchez & Latin Big Band.
May Gallery 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek; 970/949-4997. In its first summer season, this loftlike space largely showcases private collections of photography, Western painting, and contemporary art.
Bravo! Colorado Vail Valley Music Festival Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail; 970/827-5700. Chamber and orchestral music, jazz, and pop concerts. A space on the lawn costs $10, or you can fork over $26 to $35 if you want to sit closer to Mr. and Mrs. Former President.
Vail International Dance Festival Various locations; 970/949-1999. Summer host of the Russian Bolshoi Ballet Academy and the New York City Ensemble.
Jammin' Jazz Nights Lionshead Lawn, Vail; 970/476-1000. Free outdoor performances by musicians such as Ellyn Rucker, Kenneth Walker, and the Clayton Brothers, on Thursdays in August.Over the Hills
Hard-core cyclists say it's cheating to take a chairlift to the top of Vail Mountain and bike down. But if you've just breezed in from someplace smoggy and closer to sea level, consider conquering the first 1,000 feet by lift. A hundred miles of trails and roads, from single-track to Hummer-width, amount to double the biking terrain Vail had five years ago when the town first hosted World Cup mountain bike races.
Countless trail options offer challenging inclines and welcome stretches on which to catch one's breath and take in the view.
The most accessible trails start in Lionshead. Hop onto the Eagle Bahn Gondola ($20 with bike) and catch a ride to Eagle's Nest. From there, pedal Kloser's Klimb up to Patrol Headquarters, then over to the Back Bowls on Grand Traverse. Then Ptarmigan Loop takes you back around to Eagle's Nest. Head home via Lion Down to Bad Simba or the Village Loop. Maps are available at the gondola ticket window.
Starting from Beaver Creek, one option is to take the Centennial Express Lift ($18 with bike) to Spruce Saddle and pedal to the top of the Beaver Creek PHQ (Patrol Headquarters) Hillclimb. From here, there's nowhere to go but down.
Outfitters include Shrine Mountain Adventure (800/261-5364 or 970/827-5363), which offers guided bike rides through backcountry terrain on dirt roads, jeep trails, and rugged single-track, or over Vail Pass and Shrine Pass. Adventure Ridge (970/476-9090) organizes invigorating full- and half-day excursions with experts who can help hone your mountain biking skills.
Single Track Sports rents bikes on Vail Mountain at Eagle's Nest (970/479-4421) and on Beaver Creek Mountain at Spruce Saddle (970/845-5410).Lazy Days
Watch for roaming chickens, peacocks, and Pork Chop the pig as you pull up the gravel road leading to Linda and Buddy Calhoun's classic slice of Western life, Lazy Ranch (0057 Lake Creek Rd., Edwards; phone and fax 970/926-3876; doubles from $60).
Guests can wander the 60-acre ranch, fish, and hike through the forest. Best of all, the Calhouns have exclusive horseback riding permits for the Flat Top Wilderness Area. The Calhouns have won a National Trust Award for their restored barn, which operates as an equestrian center and boarding stable.
In the century-old farmhouse, Buddy's former bedroom contains an heirloom trunk, pantaloons, and a Victorian hat. Next door, the Cowboy Room is filled with his leatherwork: chaps, a canteen, and an elaborate gun holster. Don't leave without a visit to Buddy's art studio (Michael Landon was an avid collector of his work), where he carves exquisite knife handles out of bear and coyote jawbones found in the woods.
As you would expect in ranching country, Linda spares nothing on breakfast. At her brick-and-iron stove she turns out biscuits and gravy, sausages, eggs, and pancakes. "We feed every mouth around," she says, as evening grosbeaks chirp over seeds placed outside the window.Casting About
Though I come from a long line of fishermen who have provided the family with enough silly jokes to last a hundred Christmases (my great-grandfather tied flies with his wife's gray hair so he could tease her by saying, "Toss her in"), I'm no expert. So when I went fly-fishing on Gore Creek, I brought along my dad, hoping he'd lend me a little credibility with the fish.
Our guide was Scott Willoughby of Fly-Fishing Outfitters. He gave us pointers in navigating the fast, late-afternoon waters of Gore Creek and refreshed us on how to mend a line (keep the fly from dragging and giving itself up as a fake) and use an indicator (a mini-fly tied to the standard line to act as a bobber when you can't feel a fish strike). The fish were nibbling on Green Drakes and Sparkle Princes, Parachute Adams and Beadhead Zug Bugs. Give me a Sparkle Prince any day-- but a Beadhead Zug Bug?
We waded up and down the river chasing promising pools. The sun was sinking fast, but we were having a great time and weren't quite ready to reel it in for the day. Scott took us to a "secret" spot for night fishing.
"I didn't know these kinds of unfished waters still existed so close to town," said my dad, a Colorado native. "I'm back in my boyhood, except for my sixty-year-old body." Nothing piques his attention like a stream full of wary fish.
By the light of our leader's headlamp we bushwhacked our way down to a rocky riverbed and waded into the moonlit water. Bats darted overhead, trying to catch my fly as I back-cast. We could barely see the fish jumping, but they were everywhere. As my eyes adjusted, I glimpsed a flash of rainbow trout. A fish tugged. I yanked back my rod to set the hook and held on while he played himself to exhaustion. Fishing has become mostly catch-and-release since the Colorado Division of Wildlife declared fish populations in Gore Creek and Snake River dangerously low, thanks to 10 years of development in the region. So I reeled in my catch, removed the hook, and watched him disappear into the black water.
Fly-Fishing Outfitters 1060 W. Beaver Creek Blvd., Avon; 800/595-8090 or 970/476-3474; half-day packages for two from $185.