Plan ahead and explore the American ski experience next season
Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge recently enjoyed a ski break in the beautiful surroundings of the Trois Vallees. Kate was accompanied by her parents and sister, Pippa Middleton, who brought along her new rumoured suitor, George Pearcy.
As the Spring ski season draws to a close, it is time to look ahead to next year and consider your favourite winter sports destination. This year, The Sloaney reviewed both the European and American ski experience. Natasha Eddery visited the chic Swiss resort of Verbier (read her review here), whilst our editor, Laura Toogood, recently returned from upmarket Vail in Colorado, where some of The Sloaney team ventured further afield to Heavenly in California.
Here Laura shares her experience of skiing Stateside…
I am not a skilled skier by any means and only took up this thrill-seeking sport four seasons ago. After previously visiting Val d’Isere and Killington in Vermont, last month I enjoyed my first trip to the Rockies to spend a week in the plush resort of Vail.
Modelled on an Austrian village, Vail boasts all the charm of a European ski resort, mixed with an American charisma that makes it a welcoming and stylish destination. It regularly hosts A-list celebrities who are attracted by the discreet atmosphere and the likes of Michelle Obama and Cameron Diaz were spotted on the slopes this season.
A 10 hour flight from London Heathrow to Denver encompasses the majority of travelling time and once you step off the plane, it is just over two hours in a car until you reach the resort. However, every minute you travel means you are climbing greater heights and even before you reach the resort, you will find yourself a mile above sea level at Denver. With this in mind, it is essential that you take precautions to prevent succumbing to Altitude Sickness. I was able to fight it off simply by consuming significantly more water than usual and one member of our party bought Diamox with them, which will guarantee prevention and also treat it. However, if you swallow this pill you should be prepared for the well known side affect of tingly fingers!
Located just off the highway, visitors to Vail are greeted by beautiful, tall fir trees that are adorned with pretty white twinkle-lights. The American lodging experience is more similar to a hotel than traditional European chalets. On arriving at Manor Vail Lodge, which is billed as offering a premier experience, a roaring fire greets guests in the reception area. With a vast range of self contained condos, this large complex boasts two swimming pools and four hot tubs. Our apartment was very spacious and included a fire, en-suite bathroom, large living area and balcony – complete with a BBQ – that overlooked the stunning Vail Mountain.
Manor Vail Lodge is as close to ‘ski in, ski out’ accommodation that you will find in the resort and is located within a stone’s throw from the foot of the mountain. In fact, everything at Vail is within walking distance, which means you can leave your hire car in the parking garage for the duration of your trip – this comes in particularly handy for evenings out!
As dawn arrives, skiers can explore the beautifully groomed pistes, which wend their way through giant pine trees. The more skilled and adventurous amongst you may prefer to tackle the famous back bowls and Blue Sky Basin; both offer a real off-piste challenge.
Admittedly, the on-mountain cuisine is not comparable to the likes of Val d’Isere and although the dining options would probably not be the first option for European clientele, the price is reasonable. However, the foot of the mountain tells a different story and offers a plethora of up-market and sophisticated restaurants. Sweet Basil is a popular choice amongst the well-heeled Americans who make regular weekend trips to the resort and the Lord Gore presents diners with a beautiful view of the Rockies.
Apres-ski usually starts from 2pm and most venues have an extensive cocktail list that is served alongside local ales that are typically double the volume of alcohol we are used to this side of the pond. Regardless of the alcohol content, due to being at high altitude, you will find yourself getting tipsy rather more quickly than normal during the early days of your trip. As dusk falls, grilling on your balcony is another popular dining choice and the local supermarket has lovely steak, along with a vast selection of Californian wine.
For those who like to shop, Vail has a large selection of bespoke boutiques that showcase the latest fashions and you can also update your ski attire in the numerous sportswear shops.
If you want to treat yourself to some pampering after a hard day on the slopes, then you must book a treatment at the Four Seasons Spa. The luxurious facilities include no less than 13 treatment rooms, two couple suites and a relaxation garden. Open every day from 8am to 9pm, you can take some time out to restore your wellbeing in this luxurious mountain hideaway.
Ladies can avail of a variety of beauty treatments, but experiencing one of the Four Seasons’ famous massages should be a priority. The Skier’s Massage is particularly appealing and sport therapy techniques, along with special massage oils are used to relieve sore, tired or stressed muscles. Not only will you leave feeling incredibly relaxed, but you will notice an increase in your range of motion, circulation and a general reduction of tension.
The Four Seasons Spa offers a multitude of inviting treatments and after your relaxation session, you can take advantage of their Roman inspired bathing area. The warm pools, steam rooms and saunas are single sex only, evoking an ancient classical theme. To complete your indulgent experience, you can pop up to the bar area to sip a glass of Louis Roederer Champagne.
One of the overriding plus points of visiting Vail is that Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone are within a short and accessible drive and your ski pass will be valid at all. This adds a unique sense of variety to your ski trip and you will never become bored of one venue. A trip to Beaver Creek and a stab at the World Cup run is a must; those who make it down will be rewarded by discovering a lovely sunspot where a bar and terrace will provide you with a little light relief.
Vail also owns the ski resorts of Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood; these all being nestled in the Sierra Nevada. After a week in Vail why not hop on a South West Airline shuttle service from Denver to Reno to sample this unique destination. South Lake Tahoe is an hour and a half from Reno and a three hour drive from San Francisco.
This area really is a gem. All three resorts are set high above Lake Tahoe, which is the largest alpine lake in North America. The town of South Shore Tahoe, California merges into Stateline, Nevada and the Marriott Resort, at the base of the Gondola, is the place to stay if location is a priority.
A 50mt walk in the morning brings you to the Gondola, which whisks you high above the lake to see breathtaking views. With Lake Tahoe and California to your left and the desert landscape of Nevada to your right, nothing can prepare you for the astonishing scenic contrasts. Once high above the lake, the ski conditions are perfect and without the added high altitude that is found in Vail. The pistes flow one way into Nevada and the other into California. On the Californian side you can find the Umbrella Bar bathed in day-long sunshine, where a variety of hot dogs can be sampled, as well as numerous cocktails, while listening to local DJs. You don’t even have to ski home as this bar is situated at the top of Patsy’s and Gunbarrel lifts, which take you back down the mountainside. This is the perfect place to finish your day on the slopes.
If gambling takes your fancy then just a few meters down the road is Stateline, Nevada with its 4 large casinos: Harrahs; Harveys; Embassy and Montbleau. This is a mini Las Vegas on your doorstep where smoking within the premises is still permitted.
At the base of the Gondola you will find the popular Fire and Ice Après Ski bar with it’s roaring fire pits to warm your toes before sampling the fresh grilled food, which you can watch being cooked for you.
So, with your Easter ski memories still at the forefront of your mind, now is not the time to let the melting snow add to your post-holiday blues. Think ahead to next season and look further afield to America. Base yourself at Vail, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary and you are guaranteed wonderful hospitality as well a magnificent ski experience, with many other resorts on your doorstep.