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Stowe - The Gateway to Vail Resorts (Part Two)

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JimK    9

Stowe - The Gateway to Vail Resorts

By Jim Kenney
 

Part Two

Arapahoe Basin, CO

My discussion in Part One covered Stowe and the major resorts owned by Vail in the state of Colorado.  The last, but not least, Epic Pass eligible ski area in Colorado is Arapahoe Basin.  It’s included on the season pass by a long standing agreement, but it is not owned by Vail.  In fact, it’s almost the anti-Vail in vibe and terrain.  A higher percentage of guests at Arapahoe Basin are locals, rather than the typical destination vacationers that predominate at many other Vail Resorts.  The base lodge at Arapahoe Basin is seriously old school and will appeal to you if you like the Mansfield Lodge at Stowe.  They are almost the same vintage.  Just as the scenery around Stowe is beautifully rugged and unlike anything else in Vermont, so is the scenery especially scraggy and spectacular around Arapahoe Basin compared to some of the other nearby ski areas.  But it is the informality that I really like.  It’s the kind of place where on a mild day you can ski back to your car for a lunch or après ski cookout.  Management doesn’t mind if you bring your BBQ grill, cooler, and lawn chairs to party for hours at their slopeside parking lot “beach”.  There is no lodging at the base, but Keystone has plenty and is only about five miles down the road.

Old schoolers and the East Wall at Arapahoe Basin, CO, photo by Jim Kenney

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The terrain at Arapahoe Basin is well…epic. :P  It includes the hike-to extreme chutes of the precipitous 13,000’ East Wall and world class bump runs in the Pallavicini trail pod.  If your favorite lift to ski at Stowe is the Fourrunner Quad, then you’re gonna love the Pallavicini Chair.  There are also wide open ridges in Montezuma Bowl and ego-soothing corduroy cruisers on the Lenawee and Norway Faces. Lift served skiing takes place between approximately 10,800 and 12,500’.  Hiking the East Wall can add another 500’ vertical.  Total skiable acreage at Arapahoe Basin is about 950, smallish for Colorado, but an expert would never tire of this place. Bring your “A” game to A-Basin… and your lungs. 

Magnificent spring conditions at A-Basin, photo by Jim Kenney

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Park City, UT

Westward Ho!  The next stop on the grand Vail Resorts tour is Park City, UT.  The Park City I’m referring to is the now lift-linked 300+ trails/41 lifts/7300 acres of the formerly separate Park City and Canyons ski areas.  I suppose confounding mega-resort might describe the unified Park City, but it actually skis a lot like Killington or Sunday River.  If you know how to mine the good stuff at those horizontally huge resorts, then you can employ the same mindset to get the best out of Park City.  It can be fun to try to sample the entire scope of this mountain in one wide-ranging day – skiing as exploring. But after chasing this wanderlust my first few visits to Park City I now think it’s more rewarding to select a half dozen good trail pods and concentrate on those for a day. My favorite lifts for advanced terrain at Park City from left to right on the trail map include the bumps of McConkey’s, the chutes of Jupiter, the trees of Peak 5, the bowls of Ninety-Nine 90, the glades of Tombstone, and the offpiste from Super Condor.  You’ll find moderate to miniscule lift lines at all of these lifts most days.

McConkey's Bowl left and Jupiter Peak right, photo by Jim Kenney

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The town of Park City is as welcoming to medium-budget guests as Breckenridge and shares a similar Victorian-mining heritage.  If you want to go really low budget, in February 2015 I slept 150 yards from the Payday Express Chair in the men’s dorm of the Chateau Après Lodge for $40 per night.  For scenic on-hill lunches I think the patio of Summit House above the Motherlode Chair is Park City’s answer to the Octagon at Stowe.  Between the moderate base elevation (6500’) and the easy 32 mile drive from SLC International Airport, Park City is a fine choice for flatlanders who only have time for a two or three day visit to the Rockies. For those staying longer Park City is a lively base to explore much good skiing outside the Vail Resorts empire.  Park City is within 10 minutes of Deer Valley and under an hour to the snowy resorts of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.  I often utilize the large, free parking lot at the base of the Cabriolet lift on the Canyons-side of the resort.

The Town lift at Park City, photo by Jim Kenney

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Heavenly, CA

My knowledge of Heavenly is probably my weakest of the major Vail Resorts in North America.  I have only two days there in recent years and I never got to explore the renowned advanced terrain of Killebrew and Motts Canyons.  There is super scenic intermediate terrain off the Sky Express from the 10,000’ summit of the California side. Beginners can enjoy the views from the mid-mountain green circle terrain served by the Big Easy Chair. It’s accessed by the Heavenly Village Gondola.  The resort draws a very international clientele and on a clear day it’s easy to see why.  Do you want views of the cobalt blue Lake Tahoe or the checkerboard sepia desert of Nevada?  You can alternate all day between numerous groomers for great scenes in both directions. 

The views of Lake Tahoe from Heavenly will blow you away, photo by Jim Kenney 

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Two of the most noteworthy attributes of Heavenly’s lodging situation are the slopeside casinos in the village base at Stateline, NV and the cheap motels of South Lake Tahoe, CA. What you lose on gambling, you can make up by staying at one of the many mom & pop motels within a mile or two of the California base and Aerial Tramway for under $100 per night. 

Heavenly Aerial Tram, photo by Jim Kenney

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Kirkwood, CA

I’ve got about ten days in recent years at Kirkwood.  I love it.  At 2300 skiable acres it’s a little smaller than some of the other Vail Resorts, but it offers reasonably affordable slopeside accommodations if you go with an older condo.  The advanced terrain is bada$$ and on the order of the more celebrated steeps at Squaw and Mammoth.  It has been the site of many freeride/extreme ski competitions (The Cirque) and is home to some of the most renowned cliff hucking junkies in the High Sierras.  The inbounds terrain for advanced/expert recreational skiers is highlighted by Wagon Wheel Bowl featuring a steep headwall known as The Wall and a terrific array of chutes, slots, drains (large natural halfpipes), and the aforementioned cliffs.  To the looker’s right of Wagon Wheel Bowl is more similarly fine advanced terrain beside the Cornice Express Chair.  It’s slightly less steep and includes a tasty mix of groomers, moguls, trees, and a remote area called Palisades Bowl.  All you have to do at Kirkwood to get a fun side country feel is keep traversing from the top of the higher lifts. The “backside” of the mountain is served by the Sunrise Chair and offers nice intermediate-friendly terrain including The Wave, a big cornice drop with a fairly mild apron that sets up every winter near the top of the chair.

Wagon Wheel Bowl, photo by Jim Kenney

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The location of Kirkwood is somewhat isolated, about 35 mountainous miles south of Lake Tahoe and Heavenly.  In good weather it’s not difficult to day trip over to Heavenly or vice versa and I highly recommend a visit to both if in the area.  In snowy weather be prepared because when the Tahoe tire-chain law goes into effect the police are out to enforce it.  Kirkwood’s base is primarily a condo village.  One of the fun dining-out opportunities there is to make the two mile drive for a meal at the historic Kirkwood Saloon originally founded as a ranch and way station by pioneer Zachary Kirkwood in 1864.  Kirkwood has a relatively high base (7800’) compared to other ski areas in the Tahoe region and typically retains better snow because of it.

View from Cornice Bowl, photo by Jim Kenney

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Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada

Besides Stowe, the other huge recent acquisition by Vail Resorts has been the purchase of Whistler-Blackcomb in Western Canada’s province of British Columbia.  I made my first ever visit to Whistler (and British Columbia) for a week in early March 2017.  My wife joined me on this trip.  If you think a day in Burlington, VT is a fun thing to do on an extended visit to Stowe (and I do), then check-out Vancouver on the way to or from Whistler.  Before we made the 75 mile drive to the resort we spent a day seeing touristy sights in Vancouver including a performance of Coastal First Nations dancers and tour at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia followed by a sampling of the enormous variety of foods and produce at the Granville Island Public Market.  Once at Whistler Village we did some fun snow shoeing together and plenty of shopping.

Whistler Bowl, photo by Jim Kenney 

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My ski days at Whistler were a mix of epic-ness and whiteout-ness.  Each day was comprised of moments of great fun in excellent snow and terrain, but also moments of poor visibility.  I suppose this variability comes with the territory when skiing in the Pacific Ranges of British Columbia’s beautiful Coast Mountains.  Some of my favorite advanced terrain were the trees off the Symphony and Harmony express chairs, beautiful Whistler Bowl, and the great steep faces in Blackcomb Glacier.  My advice is to try to latch onto some locals or at least take one of the free daily mountain orientation tours to help maximize your chances of finding the best snow conditions and your preferred terrain.  Whistler-Blackcomb is huge in every respect including vertical drop (5280‘) and skiable acres (8171).  You can and will ski through multiple types of snow conditions on a single top to bottom run.

Like Stowe, Whistler-Blackcomb has an inter-mountain transfer lift, but it's a bit higher off the ground.  The Peak to Peak Gondola, photo by Jim Kenney 

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Conclusion

If you are going to be a Stowe passholder next year and you’re thinking about skiing western mountains to take advantage of your new season pass, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.  If I have to pick a handful of favorite terrain experiences among the greater family of Vail Resorts, here are five in no particular order.

-       The steepness and scope of Blackcomb Glacier

-       Bogeying the bumps off A-Basin’s Pallavicini Chair

-       Checking out all the slots, chutes and drains of Kirkwood

-       Pointing ‘em downhill in the vastness of Vail’s Back Bowls

-       Exploring the varied and bodacious upper mountain terrain at Breckenridge

Blackcomb Glacier, photo by Jim Kenney

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Every one of the mountains I’ve discussed in this piece is worthy of an extended visit.  Whistler-Blackcomb and Breckenridge have it all.  Vail, Beaver Creek, Park City, Keystone and Heavenly are excellent all-around mountains and especially pleasing for intermediates.  A-Basin, Kirkwood, and yes, Stowe, qualify as little bada$$es in the grand scheme of Vail Resorts. Familiarity breeds fondness at all these places in my humble opinion.  If you have an EpicPass next winter, to paraphrase Shakespeare, why then the ski world’s thine oyster, which with skis thou may open!


 

Edited by JimK
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Well this epic pass holder is excited to try some of the non Colorado resorts you mention and return to all five Colorado resorts too. BTW, your description of A Basin is once again spot on. A Basin had the best spring skiing i have ever experienced right into mid June and we have been lucky for two years in a row. Ever think of writing reviews?

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