#3: Vail/Beaver Creek, Colorado

adventure guide: vail

Despite everything you think you know about Vail/Beaver Creek, this place can still surprise. One minute you're eating a $14 salad niçoise surrounded by stylish Euros. The next minute you're alone, hesitating on the cornice above Siberia Bowl's Red Square or slipping through a gate into untracked powder on Beaver Creek's Grouse Mountain.

Head to Vail's Back Bowls, and you'll feel small, perhaps awestruck by the views of the Gore Range, but most of all, you'll shiver at the possibilities before you. With terrain that ranges from the far reaches of Blue Sky Basin's rolling glades to the bumps off Chair 10 to Beaver Creek's variety of cruisers and steeps, these sibling resorts have it all.

Making the most of Vail's 5,289 skiable acres requires a strategy. On a powder day, start early in Game Creek Bowl, then move east into the Back Bowls. Hit the ever-popular China Bowl around lunchtime; later, you may find blankets of untracked in Outer Mongolia Bowl well into the afternoon. If it's crowded, get over to Blue Sky Basin -- or go to Beaver Creek. When the snow's hard, there's no better groomer than top-to-bottom Centennial.

Play: Amid Vail's faux-Old World trappings and Beaver Creek's genteel grandeur are world-class restaurants, Bavarian bierstubes, even a smattering of low-key locals' hangouts. Campo de Fiori in Vail has northern Italian food in an eclectic setting. In Beaver Creek, try the Chophouse. La Cantina in the Vail Transportation Center serves monster burritos for cheap. Quench your thirst at the Tap Room or Vendetta's in Vail. In Beaver Creek, the Dusty Boot is famous for its 40-ounce margaritas. If you're short on cash, check out the free Wednesday-night concerts on the streets of Vail Village.

Stay: Splurge and stay slopeside at the newly renovated Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Or call Vail Central Reservations (800-404-3535) and ask about the early-season buy-one-get-one-free offer and other packages.

Save the Date: Top skiers compete in slopestyle, skiercross, and big air at the U.S. Freeskiing Open in Vail, Jan. 24-27.

800-427-8308; www.vail.com; www.beavercreek.com


Andrew Couperthwait came to Vail and all he got was this lousy face shot.


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