Travel Agent

Making It Look Easy: The novice-friendly slopes of Beaver Creek     Photo: courtesy, Colorado Ski Country

Q:

Where's the best place in the Rockies to learn how to ski?

I'm new to the alpine scene and want to get my bearings. Where's the best place in the Rockies to learn how to ski? Brett W. Reston, Va

A:First off, congrats for taking on something new—and you're right to consider learning to ski in the Rocky Mountains. The downy white powder there will soothe any sudden impacts as you shift from snowplow to deep-pow turns, especially compared to the ice sheets typical to your neighboring Mid-Atlantic resorts (to say nothing of the dearth in snowfall this year). There are more than 30 major ski resorts sprinkled across the U.S. Rockies and most of them offer lessons, so the quick answer would be that almost any resort would do. But we've zoned in on a few of the more renowned schools—two within the Rockies and one just a bit further south.

Beaver Creek, just ten miles east of Vail, Colorado, is a European-style resort reminiscent of Switzerland's St. Moritz and home to one of the best ski schools in the country. Ski instructors flock here from all over the world and are actively involved with organizations such as the Professional Ski Instructors Association. And with a staff of over 100 teachers, you've got your choice between private and group lessons—try to meet your teacher first to see if you'll get along. Full-day group lessons run $125 (includes lift ticket) to $205 (which includes lift ticket and rental equipment). If you'd like preferential treatment, try private lessons. With a personal video analysis, exclusive access to lift lines, access to the latest ski and snowboard demos, and overnight storage for all your gear, you can't really beat the one-on-one experience. The price for a half day runs $425 and a full-day lesson tops out at $625, but you can bring along up to five friends or family members for the same price. Private lessons do not include lift tickets or rentals.

To combine learning from the best with spa treatments and massages to ease the après pain consider the Park Hyatt Technique Week. Open to all abilities and ages, this $3150 package combines world class instruction and luxe accommodations, from soaking in your room's own marble tub to relaxing beneath a Colorado mountain waterfall in the hotel's Allegria Spa to kicking back in front of the winter fire pits at the lodge after the sun goes down. On the slopes personalized instruction from some of the country's best teachers will help you perfect your technique. Not bad for a beginner, though all this pampering and personal attention comes at a price—around $2,500 (dates vary throughout the year, as do costs). Once you're ready to attack the slopes on your own, Beaver Creek has plenty of novice terrain to explore. With 34% beginner terrain and 1,625 skiable acres, the area receives an average snowfall of 310 inches per year. The resort's three villages—Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch, and Arrowhead—are home to a Ritz Carlton-Hotel and heated escalator access to chair lifts—just a few of many luxuries to ease you into the alpine world. Beaver Creek's unique Village-to-Village skiing makes everything accessible by slope, too. Ski the blue runs of Grouse Mountain, pop down to Bachelor Gulch for lunch and from there, ride the Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lift back up the mountain without ever taking your skis off. And with four skiing areas, there's a lot of ground to cover. Beaver Creek, Talons Challenge, McCoy Park, and Birds of Prey all have plenty of beginner and intermediate runs.

Just south of the Rockies proper you'll find the Taos Ski Valley, a resort just 23 miles from the funky adobe abodes of the eponymous town in a secluded area of north central New Mexico. Tranquillo is how most locals might describe the vibe here. "Terrified" is how a new skier might feel. Looking up at the steep slopes from the parking lot you might think Taos is an expert-only area. Not true. Beginners flock here year after year thanks to the instructors at the Ernie Blake Ski School. Out of 100 instructors, more than ten of them are considered some of the best of the best. If you opt for the private route, you can choose between a one- or two-hour session, and half- or full-day classes. Prices range from $140 to $490 and instructors are matched with your ability. Group lessons last for two hours every morning and afternoon, and average five students per class. This is the super-saver route at $46 per lesson. Then there's the Yellowbird Beginner's Program that includes a half day of lessons, rental equipment, and lift ticket—all for just $77—quite a steal considering lift tickets run $59. And lessons are even better here because the slopes feel decidedly more mellow without snowboarders. An average snowfall of 305 inches per year, along with 300 days of sunshine virtually guarantee a blue-sky powder weekend. A total of 12 lifts, along with 100 percent snowmaking capabilities on all trails keep the possibilities endless for beginners ready to explore easy runs that account for one-quarter of the mountain.

Then there's Big Mountain Resort. This little resort sits just outside the quaint, hip town of Whitefish, Montana, just south of Glacier National Park. Beginners will find sparsely populated slopes and at least three of the mountain's 18 instructors ranked on Ski magazine's Top 100 Instructors of the Year. Private lessons for up to five hours go for $100 to $340. Group lessons might be your best bet at $70 for a full day—although the price does not include lift ticket or rental. All of the area's beginner runs are on the front side of the mountain and a good distance from the advanced and expert terrain, meaning no accidental turns onto a double black. You'll also find two beginner lifts that run a little slower than the rest, just in case your reflex skills still need some improvement. Fly into Glacier Park International Airport and drive 19 miles to Big Mountain. The mountain itself has a summit elevation of 7,000 feet and 91 marked trails. Use some of that cash you saved skimping on the private lessons and treat yourself to a seasonal Snow Ghost chocolate brown lager or a Hell Roaring amber lager at the Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish and toast to all the skiing adventures in your future.
–Amy A. Clark

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