In February, I was able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Once I had the appointment for the second shot, I immediately began planning a ski trip to occur at least 10 days after the second dose. Last year, since I had purchased lift tickets for two days at Heavenly, and because they wanted people to buy passes despite the unknown situation with the pandemic, Vail resorts sent me an offer I couldn’t refuse: $150 off the purchase of a a 20-21 season pass. I opted for a 4-Day Pass which also includes 3 days at my local practice hill, Wilmot (on IL/WI border.) So, up to 7 days of skiing for $250?! Yeah, I took a chance on that!
That ski pass was burning a hole in my pocket, though. The instant I felt it would be safe enough for me to travel (post-vaccination) I began planning a trip. My first choice was Tahoe, but the dearth of nonstop flights to Reno from Chicago squelched that idea. I looked at a combination of airline deals, snow conditions, online trail maps, and lodging options, and came up with a plan to spend 4 days in Beaver Creek, CO, flying directly into Vail (Eagle County Airport) and taking a shuttle to a hotel, rather than rent a car. After a year of mostly online/app-based shopping for household items, I had plenty of airline miles saved up from my credit cards. As it turned out, at the time I booked my trip, I needed very, very few miles to grab a round trip, nonstop flight in priority seating. That is helpful when checking bulky ski gear and a huge suitcase, because the baggage fees are included.
I had booked lodging at The Pines Lodge (a Rock Resort, owned by Vail Resorts) which is semi-slopeside: totally ski-in, a short hike to ski-out. It was for a single hotel room (versus a condo/kitchenette setup) but it did have a fridge and there was a possibility of requesting a microwave, so I guessed it would suit my needs, meal-wise. After my booking through a 3rd party website, I received a text from Vail Resorts regarding a “96-hour sale” and some really great pricing on lodging. After some calculations, I realized that as a pass holder (additional 20% discount) I could save more booking with the sale promotion plus the pass discount. My 3rd party travel site allowed me to easily cancel my reservations with them, and then I called EPIC to book directly.
I also booked a shuttle to/from airport directly through EPIC (Epic Express.)
Despite a cacophonous, disorganized mess at O’Hare (too few airline agents, no curbside check-in, long TSA lines, no TSA Pre-check in priority boarding area, and what felt like a zillion families leaving town for Spring Break ) once on board, everything for this trip flowed smoothly. I was nervous flying directly into a mountainous area, and didn’t know what to expect. The flight was smooth, and I was relieved once back on the ground.
The shuttle van I booked made only a few stops before dropping me off. Even more exciting though: as the shuttle began driving to the hotel, it began to SNOW.
I knew I would likely not be able to get into my room upon arrival, as my flight landed around noon. However, I packed a backpack with cold weather hiking clothes and had it as the first item found after opening my checked bag. The hotel directed me towards the ladies’ room to change, and then valet/bellman took my bags to storage. All set for some snow day fun, I hiked over toward the Nordic Center (I planned this out ahead of time) to rent snowshoes and obtain a special lift pass to get up to an area called McCoy Park that has groomed snowshoe and Nordic ski trails.
After clomping around on the trail, I downloaded back to the base on the Strawberry Park Express lift, returned my gear and made the short hike back to the hotel to check into my room.
The sole disappointment for me was that I couldn’t get either restaurant or grocery delivery at that time (had to have ordered the day before.) Luckily I packed utensils, a bowl, and some microwavable food so I was able to prepare a satisfying meal in the room.
I am a competent skier. I did one day post-vax at my local hill (Wilmot, WI) with zero issues. For whatever reason, I had a lot of anxiety before and during this trip. Day one skiing was fine, actually. Since I was familiar with the Strawberry Park Express chair I started there and more or less planned to just noodle around wherever a trail took me. That side of the resort is mostly easier terrain ALTHOUGH the trails are SO LONG, the issue isn’t skill level but fitness level. After a few trails, I popped out over by the Bachelor Gulch chair and stopped for a slopeside refreshment. A mid-morning Moscow Mule definitely helped buoy my spirits!
As the sun finally came out for the day, I made my way over to the other side of the mountain (Beaver Creek Village) around lunchtime and enjoyed a delicious spinach-cheese croissant and some filled beignets as a treat. I decided to spend an hour or two exploring the area around the Centennial lift. Ended up on some steeper terrain than I planned but it was no big deal. At that point in the day, after day one of snowshoeing, and a lot of mileage covered that morning, my legs were starting to burn. I didn’t think I had it in me but I finished well and left to head BACK to the Strawberry Park chair to catch the skiway back to my hotel. Of the three days skiing at Beaver Creek, this end-of-day-run was one of my favorites! I captured most of it in two videos:
Due to the pandemic, The Pines instituted a reservation system for their wonderful outdoor hot tub. I knew this ahead of time and made my block of reservations. It was great, actually, because it meant I had the spa to myself for 30 minutes. No kids splashing me, no dudes chugging beers, just solitude and welcome muscle relief.
For dinner, I prepared some simple rice and beans in the microwave from the meal prep package I brought with me.