Crashing the High Life

Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Crashing the High Life

Because sometimes only a tri-level condo and saut‰ed elk medallions will do
By Ron C. Judd

Don't be fooled by the first impressions when you hook up with the Miss Clairol girls of North American ski towns. Beneath that bleached-blonde outer layer of undulating snow, towering trees, and soaring cliffs, every bona fide glamour ski town has distinctively lead-crystal roots. Watch for the telltale signs: an extremely high Range-Rover-to-microbus ration. Skis, snowboards, hips, and lips shaped to agile perfection by different doses of the same high-tech plastics. Frightening fur-bearing creatures waiting in line for scraps behind the local four-star eatery — and waiting in line for the table in front of it. Personal ski tuners who will grind, file wax, and serve the divorce papers.
Reason to go in for lunch, never come out: Sun Valley Day Lodges
Try the resort's sprawling, warm, log-cabin-style wonder at Seattle Ridge, where the mean is always mesquite-grilled, the service always first-class. Seattle Ridge skiers will almost feel guilty clomping into the restroom and slushing up all that exquisite granite — it's the same shade of pink as the sunset shining through the front window. — R.C.J.
Not than any of this should scare away the average Middle American bloke with a tarp-blue parka, Gart Bros. tag still affixed. It's your right as an American taxpaying snowslider to crash this hoity-toitiness, skid across the corduroy, and serve notice that powder — all powder — is really for the people. Even Aspen has room for a few Chevy Novas in the High Pretension Vehicle lane.

Aspen, Colorado
Welcome to The Sharper Image of the global ski mall. People actually do ski and ride here, but the main activity consists of A) lookin' good and B) pretending it's effortless.

First move: Pick your pitch. Aspen Mountain, aka Ajax, is Stud Peak — steep, fast, scary. Novices and snowboarders need not apply. Be seen on the steeps of Walsh's or the Dumps at least once, or risk going home as a wish-was. Buttermilk is an excellent place to learn to ski and a haven for intermediates and tree-ski weenies. Cruisers will love it, and boarders can bash themselves silly in a newish, fairly expansive terrain park and on a brand-new half-pipe. Aspen Highlands, a mix of both, has good intermediate and notable upper runs such as Steeplechase and Highland Bowl, both famous for powder-day fun. Snowmass is 12 miles and half a world away. It has two halfpipes and a terrain park but, overall, it's a family mountain. the whole place reeks of disposable diapers.

Wherever you wind up sliding, remember that image isn't everything — it's the only thing. Facial snow clods acquired during face plants in the dumps, for instance, should never be brushed aside casually by a gloved hand. Do the way Schwarzenegger would: Lick it off. Savor the taste. Sniff the air. Nod affirmatively. Proceed.

After your "full day" of skiing, which incidentally should not exceed two-and-a-half hours, head into town, change into something slinky (and by this we do not mean Capilene, unless you can arrange it into some sort of bare-midriff affair) and head into town for some true Aspenization. This should minimally include crowd-scanning drinking games at Mezaluna and lobster strudel at Pinons, topped by a rack of lamb at exclusively small Renaissance. Afterward: Party time Frolic and strut and pretend to be speaking to Iman on the cell phone at Ajax Tavern or the Cigar Bar, where your cigar will cost as much as your dinner.

Plush goosedown types stay at The Little Nell, a champagne-cork pop away from the Silver Queen Gondola. Rooms have enough Belgian wools, marble fixtures, fireplaces, and Corinthian leather to keep you talking like Ricardo Montalban for a week. On the cheaper side, try the more family-friendly (outside doors, a la motels) Limelite Lodge, a converted nightclub two blocks from the mall.

Telluride, Colorado
The main difference between Telluride (motto: We're What Aspen Used to Be) and everywhere else in the world except Chicago: No Oprah jokes. She might hear you. This isolated nature-blessed former mining town, a delightful mix of granola, abandoned mine shafts, super steeps, and trust accounts, has a well-earned rep among vertical junkies, and it's gaining one among rich celebs running out of hiding places.

The skiing and riding (boarders get full access, plus a halfpipe and a newish, 13-acre Surge Air Garden terrain park) is superb. Beginners have their own mountain, laced with long, gorgeous cruisers off Lift 10. Intermediates should hang out around Gorronto Ranch, then progress to steeper stuff off Lift 9. Hog-dog bump jockeys have not fully lived until they've been certifiably ligament-tested on the "Locals' Lap": Kant-Mak-M to Spiral Stairs to Lower Plunge to Mine Shaft, off Lift 9.

Apres-ski and pre-collapse, take the gondola back into town for live, only occasionally bad music at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, or drinks/hoots at the cowboy-kitsch Sheridan bar, where certain people actually get to tie up their horses — inside. If the smell gets to you, move on. dinners at the mining-themed Swede-Finn Hall or the fancy see-and-be-seen Cosmopolitan rarely disappoint.

Top it off with a brandy and mud pie or cobbler at The Powderhouse, then collapse into goosedown throws, fireplaces, up-to-your-chin bathtubs, and fresh flowers at the sinfully nice Hotel Columbia, a short walk from the Telluride gondola. Families usually prefer to stay on the mountain at Mountain village, where the Aspen Ridge townhouses offer ski-to-mom's-door convenience, tasteful interiors, full kitchens, and three-bedroom, three-bath spaciousness.

Deer Valley Resort, Utah
Sooner or later, guests at Utah's swankiest resort wind up doing just about everything "Stein's Way." The term serves as the name of a local cruiser run and a style exhibited by local hotel proprietor/ski director Stein Eriksen, a former Norwegian Olympic gold medalist turned coddler of the rich and pretend-rich. Deer Valley, tucked into the backyard of Park City, is the Nordstrom of skiing, with an almost unbelievable fixation on customer service — but an aversion to flashbulbs and pretense. It's a place to escape and soak up finery, not flash belly buttons and flaunt hair restoration.

The mountain itself has no daunting bumps and bowls like a Telluride or Aspen, but it does offer a range of terrain (for skiers only) designed and groomed to make you look and feel even better than you already (think you) are. for the prime stuff, head to Bald Mountain's Mayflower and Perseverance bowls, or any of its wealth of gladed, tree-ski runs. Most of the intermediate and novice runs are found on Bald Eagle Mountain. But beware: The ski patrollers exhibit a bit too much cop for their own good.

Even the day lodges serve up gourmet grub, fine wines, and dainty desserts. Ever eat fine French pastry wearing glove liners? Learn. A wealth of other, more relaxed dining — not to mention Rice Krispies Treats bigger than your head — can be found at Park City, about a mile away by (free) shuttle bus.

The more party-inclined usually stay in Park City, but Deer Valley offers its own expansive array of expensive take-your-shoes-off-first suites and condos, ranging from the massive (2,000 square feet), high-beamed, three bedroom units at Daystar to the lush, log-and-stone, Xanadu-fireplace-studded Stein Eriksen Lodge.

Sun Valley Resort, Idaho
One tiny, multi-million-dollar winter resort detail — not much snow — hasn't stopped Averell Harriman's original (1936) U.S. ski resort from regaining its perch atop the Robin Leach ski-town list. Sun Valley, the first lady of glamour resorts, launched a massive keep-up-with-the-Vails splurge a decade ago. Its cornerstone was a plethora of new, fast lifts — and what now qualifies as the world's biggest, baddest snowmaking system. It's working. Every night, thousands of snow-blasting cannons on Bald Mountain do their thing. Every morning, newly returned glitterati soak up the steep, sweet results. The emphasis here is on steep. This is no weenie-celeb mountain. Sun Valley is — literally — an Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood kind of ski hill. blue runs are so step they (and your thighs) will feel semi-black by midmorning. Intermediates hang on the steep cruisers on Seattle Ridge. Experts — and handfuls of freeriding snowboarders — congregate in the Easter and Lookout bowls. Rookies and Relaxers have their own, separate mountain called Dollar, a short bus ride away. Off the mountain, most of the action is centered down the road in Ketchum, where you can savor an elk steak at Chandler's, bask in pizza at the Ketchum Grill, or down a Fred Flinstone-sized beef slab at Pioneer Saloon. Afterward, make a genuine fool of yourself by celeb-scanning at The Sawtooth Club and Whiskey Jacques'. The best, or at least most classic, sleepery is the Hemingway-haunted Sun Valley Lodge. At the opposite end of the opulence scale is the pedestrian but extremely affordable and convenient Christiania Lodge, within walking distance of the best hangouts in Ketchum. No one will ever have to know.

Apres-Ski Boot
The Sorel. Any model. Admit it, mountain junkies. On one or more icy winter nights, you've thought twice about taking them off before bed. Besides, without these Canadian-made woolly wonders, entire generations of lifties would grow up with toes every bit as damaged as their brains. — R.C.J.
Whistler, British Columbia
The world is on to Whistler. And just about any February weekend, you'll swear a good portion of it is here, kicking around in the brick-and-slush-infested base area. This would be bad news just about anywhere else in North America, where crowds half the size would cause Godzilla-scale panic. Not here, where the overwhelming acreage of Whistler and Blackcomb allow them all to fan out on a thousand different personal favorite runs. The skiing — weather permitting, and sometimes it doesn't — is as diverse as it comes. Expert must-skis include the Horstman Glacier, the front bowl off Whistler Peak, and Blackcomb's Garnet, Ruby, and Diamond bowls. Intermediates shouldn't leave without riding the (scary) Whistler Peak chair and taking the long traverse around the back through the sweet, undulating Symphony or Harmony bowls. Snowboarders are at home across these mountains, but tend to collect like dryer lint in the sprawling Blackcomb Snowboard Terrain Park. Off-slope activity is equally diverse. Partake in all three essential elements of Pacific Rim culture — local microbrews, quick-fried seafood, and bar-stool Japanese lessons — in the famous Longhorn Saloon or any of two dozen other central drinkeries. Check out the new, futuristic Mountain World virtual-reality entertainment center in Whistler Village. Cool down and dine finely at Umberto's, Araxi, or the Bearfoot Bistro, a fusion-cuisine joint with separate cigar room, home to the "largest selection of Cuban cigars in B.C." You don't say. Lodging ranges from the swanky slope-side Canadian Pacific Chateau Whistler Resort, which sports throw rugs you can lose your shoes in, to the new, centrally located, and decidedly modern Pan Pacific Lodge, but Whistler Central Reservations can hook you up to about 30,000 local beds.

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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