August 2003: Vail

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SNOW is a science. If you thought those fluffy six-sided crystals that fall out of the sky are the same wherever they land, ask a skier. They will tell you why Colorado is king.

“The altitude means that this is very dry and makes the snow powdery,” Ian Douglas International Sales Rep for Vail Resorts says. “The moisture comes over the deserts and has dried out by the time it reaches us. The only place that compares with it is Utah where the clouds pass over the Salt Lake.”

This being the good old US, you factor in the sort of colossal investment which would build all of Ireland’s sporting infrastructre, and you have another reason why Vail is so attractive to the European skier.

The resort makes its first appearane on Irish brochures this year, served through London to Denver, a destination that will become more accessible should Aer Lingus’s ambition of a direct service eventually reach fruition next season.

The renowned Black Bowls and Blue Sky Basin have seen investment of  $55m in the past few years. There is a planned investment of $200m in Lionshead, concentrating on leisure facilities.

The investment is concentrated on different things, according to John Grudnowski. “The idea is to make Lionshead a big centre for après-ski over the next five years, in Beaver Creek the investment is on grooming the slopes and making them more luxurious.”

Beaver Creek was built in 1980, having originally been considered for the 1976 Olympics. It is purpose built and laid out around the ice rink, and it is a short walk to the slopes from everywhere

It is Vail which has the biggest skiing area. It is laid out so that the experienced and inexperienced alike can cover miles on their excursions. Americans measure their ski areas in acerage, rather than length.

And afterwards there are pubs to check out such as the Red Lion, where Phil Long has bought his own pub having played music for 14 years. You can still find him in action at his own pub in the afternoons, doing covers of Dire Straits, Led Zeppelin and Don McLean. At this altitude, one beer does the job of three.

People occasionally suffer because Vail checks in at higher altitudes than we are used to in Europe, even for veterans of Val Thorens.  A series of dry winters in Europe in the 1980s sent skiers across the Atlantic in search of a Promised Land of powder. They discovered Colorado, a revelation in user-friendly skiing.  Instructors didn’t say: “line up, follow me”, but “what would you like to learn, sir?” and “hey! – you’re a great skier”. More importantly, on Colorado’s combed corduroy, skiing was easier than in Europe.

The internet has changed the business, Andy Daly President of Vail Resorts says. “There has been a dramatic change in the booking curve.”

A decade ago winter holiday-makers booked a year in advance. Five years ago the lead in time fell to six month. Two years ago it was three months and nowadays a growing number of people are “chasing the snow”, waiting for forecasts before booking, had increased.

But long term booking still makes sense. And remember  that April is the month with the second most snow, March is the snowiest, followed by January then February. Contact your local travel agent or Crystal 1850 201167.

 

Red Lion: www.redlion.co. Bar owner plays guitar.

Los Amigos: Friendly place.

Hubcap Brewery:  microbrewery and restaurant

Platz: Neatly positioned right by covered bridge and bus stop

Mickey’s Piano Bar upmarket place to hang about after skiing.

Sports Bar in Evergreen Lodge pool table and good drinking.

 

SUN: According to ski instructor Lee Sky the reflection at altitude means the skin is exposed to 225pc of its normal ultra violet exposure. Factor 25 won’t do. Use sun block

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