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Credit must be given to whoever arranged for access to the Stone Creek Chutes off of a trail called Cinch. Very funny, we like your sense of humor. The chutes, of course, by their very nature as chutes, are no cinch. But glide past the rustic wooden plaques identifying the extreme terrain beyond, and it’s a little like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. From the two access points on Cinch and Red Buffalo, the squiggly path to the chutes wends through low branches and thick woods to a swath of steep, tricky terrain characterized by narrow couloirs, tree-lined chutes, and mandatory air. It’s a veritable playground for expert skiers.
The Stone Creek Chutes are not new. But the 180-acre parcel is not widely skied. “You can’t really see it on the map, and I think that’s part of the reason,” says 20-year Beaver Creek patroller Jeff Thompson, my guide through Stone Creek. He knows it well: He spends much of the summer clearing tree stumps and other natural hazards here.
Stone Creek has always been part of the resort’s permitted area, but it didn’t become patrolled terrain until December 2006. Before that, says Thompson, it was the patrollers’ private stash. But no worries, he chuckles. They’ve moved on to a new parcel. Where? Not telling, natch.
It’s the first week of April and the snowpack is surprisingly solid. The chutes, which usually open at the end of January or early February, got the green light on Jan. 8, and the getting has been good ever since. We enter through the top gates and make our way gently through the evergreen forest. Thompson peers down the first chute and waves us past. “Let’s go a little farther,” he says.
We drop into Last Chance, a wide, steep chute with nice soft snow. The trees are well spaced, making it easy to choose a line. We pause at the bottom and look back up. Thompson identifies the surrounding chutes like a loving parent. “First Chance. Second Chance,” he points out. I see a theme here. As I catch my breath, he tells me how the boulders back here are the size of cars in the summer. We ski out, stopping again as Thompson points out Diving Board, a 25-foot cliff drop. Patrol gets called to help skiers down from here a few times every season, he says.
If this isn’t the image you have of Beaver Creek, you’re not alone. For many skiers, the resort is all about wide, well-groomed runs, high-speed express lifts, gourmet on-mountain dining in quaint cabins, a village served by escalators and white-gloved ambassadors, and, of course, fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies passed out at 3 p.m. on the nose. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a little more there.
You probably already know that Beaver Creek has the only U.S. venue on the men’s World Cup. This season the resort added a singular distinction to its résumé with the new Raptor women’s racecourse, that was run in February—along with Birds of Prey—at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships. It’s the only women’s race on U.S. soil this season.
At Raptor’s run-out sits another new Beaver Creek amenity: The Euro-inspired 500-seat Talons Restaurant, which opened last Thanksgiving, replaces the cramped Red Tail Camp. The beautiful 17,000-square-foot addition with soaring windows and an elegant, two-story dining space finally offers the capacity needed on this part of the mountain. And the menu? It’s different—and delicious. Take the signature dish, Kasseler Rippchen, a casserole of smoked pork loin, sauerkraut, home fries, and baked apples. “We’re developing our own style,” explains Chris Darrohn, Talons’ general manager.
This season enjoys its own share of capital improvements, including a new combination lift that replaces the heavily trafficked Centennial Express quad at the base village. Centennial is the main route up the mountain, and this new lift, which will intersperse six-passenger express chairs with 10-person gondola cabins, will increase uphill capacity by 35 percent. There will be two separate lines, and skiers can choose their ride. “We liked the flexibility of this format,” says Jen Brown, Beaver Creek’s public-relations manager. “The gondola option is great when the weather is rough.”
Ah, there’s the Beaver Creek we know and love, pampering skiers with gondolas (and escalators, warm cookies, beautiful hotels, friendly resort ambassadors…). But it’s also nice to know this place can kick butt if you know where to look.
Sleep >> The beautiful Ralph Lauren–decorated villas at SaddleRidge are spacious and secluded, with an on-mountain location that makes a stay here feel like a private retreat. The roomy two-bedroom townhomes have full kitchens, garages, access to a hot tub, and shuttles to the village. For a more central location, the Osprey at Beaver Creek is steps from the Strawberry Park Express and all the village dining and shopping.
Eat >> Remodeled Toscanini, across from the village ice rink, serves family-friendly Italian in a new and improved space. Snag a high-top in the bar for après apps and happy-hour beverages. We wouldn’t keep writing about Beano’s if it weren’t worth the ink. With kids in tow, opt for one of the four early sleighs between 5 and 5:45 for the special children’s menu.
Drink >> Check out the vibe at the new Powder 8’s Kitchen and Tap Room at the Hyatt Beaver Creek. There’s live music and drink specials most nights. The Enomatic dispenser at the Metropolitan features 80 different wines, and the café’s menu serves up a great selection of tapas to accompany them.
Annual snowfall >> 325 inches
Skiable acres >> 1,832
Summit elevation >> 11,440 feet
[Photos from top: Courtesy Kimberly Gavin/Vail Resorts, Courtesy Jack Affleck/Vail Resorts (3)]