On a bright, bluebird day in January, I slalomed through an evergreen forest at high speed, madly chasing my husband as he pushed his own gear to its limits. Every muscle burned as we flew through Beaver Creek Resort's Royal Elk Glades, an expert-only zone that demands tight turns, the occasional jump off a boulder and speed.
We were killing time between dropping off our kids at ski school and meeting with our instructor, and we'd decided - without discussion - to pummel ourselves in the trees.
Maybe we secretly chafed at hiring an instructor, which we had talked ourselves into because a tuneup couldn't hurt. Or maybe we couldn't pass up snow so good - 8 inches of fresh powder that hadn't been touched by other skiers.
But by the end of our second lap, I slid into the lift line sweaty, panting and slobbering. I was a hot mess, the antithesis of Beaver Creek's tagline: "Not exactly roughing it."
Beaver Creek is by far the most luxurious of Vail Resorts' mountain destinations. It was built in 1980 in Avon, about 15 miles west of Vail off Interstate 70, for the luxury traveler. Guests find heated sidewalks, "ambassadors" to carry gear to the lifts, escalators adjacent to staircases and homemade chocolate chip cookies - which are passed out regularly around 3 p.m. If Vail, the company's flagship resort, is famous for its rowdy terrain, expansive back bowls and rocking nightlife, Beaver Creek is more like a country club golf course - impeccably designed, appreciated by experts, but on the sleepy side.
Except that's not the entire story.
Beaver Creek has some of the better tree skiing in Colorado. Aspens cover much of the mountain, and skiing through these well-spaced stands feels magical. Better yet, few people venture off the slopes, leaving powder lingering for days. On last winter's trip, I discovered a trove of tree stashes simply by looking around and finding one or two tracks leading into a thicket. My favorite quickly became Three Tree Glades, just off the Larkspur Express - a short, steep and challenging shot that demanded attentive skiing.
Beaver Creek also has an incredible dining scene. Saddle Ridge restaurant, accessible only by skis or snowcat, was designed by Ralph Lauren and feels like a museum of Western art and artifacts. It's interesting to discover at a ski area - hardly your typical, crowded ski-lodge cafeteria.
Eating our elk and bison chili amid saddles, fringed chaps, peace pipes, tomahawks and feathered headdresses gave us a sense of how wild this place once was.
One night, we took a sleigh ride up the slopes to Zach's Cabin for a three-course meal served at a beautiful table next to a massive river-rock fireplace. The elk tenderloin and beef short ribs exceeded our expectations. The sommelier stopped by to help decode the inch-thick wine menu.
Despite the decadent meal, it was the ride up that stuck with my family. Watching the sunset paint the sky a mosaic of pink, blood red, orange and dusty rose from beneath heavy blankets was like starring in our own movie. (My kids preferred the crepe shop at the base and insisted the on-mountain Candy Cabin was the best ski-in/ski-out "dining.")
Customer service is top-notch at Beaver Creek. A cynic might be skeptical of all the smiles and courtesy, but I found it refreshing. Ski towns are itinerant places, and that often translates into rude servers, lift operators, even instructors.
Not so at Beaver Creek. Most of the instructors are veterans who offer deep institutional knowledge and an easy friendliness. After seeing the state-of-the-art Ranch school, a short gondola ride from the base, I understood why it's dubbed the "Ivy League of Ski Schools," even if the nickname is a bit self-satisfied.
But after a day with guide Coker Baldwin, I didn't care what the school called itself. It took Coker all of 10 minutes at the beginning of our day to point out my biggest weakness (getting off-balance and leaning too far back) and explain its consequence (quads on fire). Throughout the day, Coker gave me instructions to center my balance and initiate turns through the tips of my skis. In theory, skiing with Coker let us skip the lift lines (instructors get priority boarding), but Beaver Creek rarely has lines. Still, it was worth the hefty price to get the fine tuning and insight into the mountain's secret stashes.
We discovered so much more: a nearly 20-mile mountaintop Nordic area, McCoy Park, accessed via chairlift; plenty of spas at the resort hotels; world-class acts at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, a 535-seat theater in Beaver Creek Village; Thursday Night Lights fireworks; and free shuttles around the village.
So the resort's tagline is accurate, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
There's more to Beaver Creek than posh trappings, and there seems to be something for everyone, even that sweaty, overeager, middle-aged mom trying to cram as much ski action into her day as possible before picking the kids up from ski school.