The first stop on Chris Madoc-Jones' ski tour of North America took him to Beaver Creek, one of Colorado's top ski resorts. After eight days and having skied with lots of locals, here's the insider's view.

After arriving at the start of our 5-month North American expedition to a thick blizzard after a heavily delayed 22-hour journey from the UK, we didn’t quite know what to expect of Beaver Creek. We’d heard it was exclusive, the levels of service were supposed to be as good as they get anywhere and we knew they hosted the 2015 Alpine Ski World Championships. But apart from that, the next eight days would be a voyage of discovery as we experienced skiing Stateside for the first time.

The Skiing – click here for piste map

From the moment we hopped off the free shuttle bus from our Air BnB apartment, it was clear things were done differently at Beaver Creek. Greeted by exceptionally friendly volunteers in red Beaver Creek jackets, we were handed a grooming map (click here for the online version) and were wished a great day – something that had never happened to me in 20 years of skiing in Europe! At the top of the Centennial Express access lift they even handed out free hot chocolate each morning – it was clear that every little detail was important at Beaver Creek.

Chris Madoc-Jones
And the groomers (as the locals call them) were in incredible shape. The amount of fresh snow definitely helped – we had almost two feet of snow in just over a week – but smooth, packed powder was the order of the day even at 3pm. Our favourites included Larkspur, Ripsaw, Harrier and Centennial, but make sure you try out the runs at Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead as these can get overlooked for those further up the mountain. Just watch out for the well-policed Slow Zones at the bottom of most lifts and on selected beginner trails.

The amount of fresh snow meant that despite being relatively early in the season, the off piste was fantastic and most of the main routes were open. Skiing with locals, we tackled the steeps under the Birds of Prey Express in 30cm of fresh powder and also ventured into the Stone Creek Chutes for a seriously steep challenge. The trees to the left of Yarrow and either side of Gold Dust were also great after fresh snow but as with all resorts in the USA, don’t duck any ropes – you will lose your pass if caught by ski patrol. However, if fresh snow is lacking then the off piste is likely to be limited due to the thick forest cover, but this is when the bump runs of Grouse Mountain come into their own.
Chris Madoc-Jones

The Resort

We stayed in the budget option of Avon, just down in the valley and off the I-70 highway. There was a good range of self-catered condominiums and several larger hotels, as well as some good bars (such as Bob’s Place) and restaurants (such as Pazzo’s Pizza and Loaded Joe’s). The best part however was the free, regular shuttle bus to the base of the Centennial Express, coupled with the option of taking the two Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts up via Bachelor Gulch.
Chris Madoc-Jones

Beaver Creek itself was only built in 1980 and remains fairly compact, save for the huge luxury chalets lining the access road. Some of these were on sale for well in excess of $20 million and new builds must designed to a minimum size, rather than the usual maximum! The centre of the town was full of top restaurants (expect to pay $100/person) but there were some great deals to be had during Happy Hour – one of the best things about skiing in the USA. Our favourite was the locals’ watering hole, the ‘Yote (Coyote Café), where $3.50 beers were perfect for washing down their Happy Hour special tacos.

Top 5 Insider Tips

  • Make sure you’re at the top of the Centennial Express at 9.30am for free hot chocolate and at the bottom for 3pm for free, fresh baked cookies
  • Happy Hour generally runs from 3 – 6pm, the best food and drinks deals can be found then and it makes Beaver Creek affordable
  • Skip the popular Redtail run and ski Harrier followed by Dally instead
  • Pre-book your lift tickets online to save money (a day ticket is $189...) or consider booking a package with passes included
  • Even if you’re not staying there, ski down to Avon to see the huge chalets on the McCoy’s and Elkhorn Skiways

Practical Information

  • Beaver Creek sits around five miles west of Vail and can be reached in around 2 ½ hours by car from Denver Airport. Full details can be found here.
  • Bustang and Greyhound run regular, daily bus services from Denver to Avon, starting at $17 each way.
  • Private transfers can be arranged with Colorado Mountain Express (CME), with regular airport pick-ups and lodging drop offs starting at $65/person. Pre-book for the cheapest prices and they will run even in the worst weather.
  • Lift passes are expensive, so pre-book online. Or if you’re staying for more than a week and fancy trips to nearby resorts (such as Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone), then consider buying an Epic Pass before they sell out in December – as you can ski at all these resorts for no extra cost.