Tuesday, June 18, 2024 Jun 18, 2024
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TRAVEL A Texan’s Tour of the Rockies

The straight dope on the slopes.

Macon Leary is the type of tourist who believes there is no such thing as a pleasure trip. If it’s a trip, it can’t be pleasure. It’s warfare, against rude people, uncertain food, and unfamiliarity of any kind. But then, Macon Leary isn’t real. He’s the lead character in Anne Tyler’s latest novel, The Accidental Tourist. Leary is the author of guidebooks for travelers who want absolutely nothing eventful to happen while they’re away.

You’d think a Holiday Inn would be okay with a traveler like this, since it looks like each one down the road. But Leary would recommend the place only if it provided the same soap he used in his own bathroom. Home, Safety. Predictability. These are the Macon Leary values, On the cover of each of his guidebooks is an illustration of an overstuffed armchair. . .with wings.

Dallas has its share of Macon Learys. It also has the “other” type of traveler-the adventurer-the person who orders food with indecipherable names and yearns for something different come vacation time. In warm weather, these brave tourists travel to islands without post offices or BMWs. And in the winter, they go skiing.

Where, I ask, could one find a culture more alien to Dallas than at the ski resorts of the Rockies, with their snow-swept mountains and a population of well-educated poor folks who live there because they enjoy the scenery?

If skiing is one of culture’s little video games that has escaped you all these years, rest assured that to “discover” skiing now is to find it at its best possible moment. Although skiing as a sport has been around for half a century, skiing as a fad jumped into prominence only about a decade ago, around the time the state of Colorado declined to host the 1976 Winter Olympics. Rocky Mountain residents felt that environmental disaster would be the result of entertaining Olympians, but in truth, the “damage” was already done. All the new, young ski areas were already staffed up. more lodging was built than the ski towns could absorb, and we were being swept up in a folk-rock awareness of Rocky Mountain High.

What could Colorado do but put itself up for sale and send representatives out to the prosperous cities of the South and Southwest looking for buyers? Those of us in the major ski marketing areas of the region-Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami, as well as Dallas-saw the Colorado ski vacation as a remarkable adventure so unfamiliar from the flatland heat in our own lives.

Macon Leary would wince at the stark athleticism of the sport. If you had to work this hard, deal with the cold weather, and keep track of all that clothing and equipment, could it be any fun? An entire new generation of skiers, many of them Texans, said yes. For years, Texas has provided more out-of-state ski tourists to the Colorado slopes than any other single state. And for just as long, the favorite graffiti on restroom walls in the state has compared us to a full range of bodily functions and the products therefrom. As a person who lived in one of those Colorado mountain towns, I can tell you that stories about the people in the state hating Texans were not pulled from the thin alpine air.

But that was before last winter, when the ski areas of Colorado experienced no real growth in business. Greater numbers of people went skiing last season, but they went less often and didn’t stay as long as they have in previous years, according to Colorado Ski Country, a trade group that keeps tabs on the industry. At the same time, resorts committed to spending more than $77 million for expansion in 1986. And they are ready to compete fiercely for the available skiers during the upcoming season, which officially begins on Thanksgiving Day.

With this every-man-for-himself approach to the business, you can expect more amen- , ities, more competitive pricing, and more people who are happy to have you, even if you are a Texan.

Throughout the Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico, more than forty major resort towns offer pretty much the same thing-remarkable landscape, fresh air. and an exhilarating sport. For the adventuresome ! traveler, there is an alternative to the concrete of Central Expressway: just take a closer look at a handful of major resort towns that define the difference between that Rocky Mountain High way of life and our own.



Each January, a couple of busloads of professional rodeo cowboys take a day off from the Great Western Rodeo in Denver for an oddball ski contest 150 miles northwest at the Steamboat Ski Area.

Mind you. some of these ol’ boys have never been on skis. But they fortify themselves, as they say, and come flashing down that mountain as though they were ski pros. In the best frontier hell-raising tradition, they have a good ol’ time from early morning until late. And it’s no coincidence that this party takes place in Steamboat.

Unlike many Colorado resorts, Steamboat Springs is a real town that existed as a farming and ranching community before people strapped those silly barrel staves to their boots and slid down mountains.

Dallas has a strong connection to this place, since the LTV Corporation-in one of its most artful adventures-developed the Steamboat Ski Area back in the Sixties. What LTV did here was wed a roughly athletic ski mountain with one of the most rugged and able ski populations in the state,

The ski area is now owned by local interests, but its reputation for attracting outstanding skiers grows. Kids out of high school move here to compete with the Steamboat Winter Sports Club, hoping to earn a scholarship to the University of Colorado. And the Steamboat Springs area has churned out more skiers for the U.S. Winter Olympics program than any other community in the nation.

What this means to the average skier is the chance to ski alongside some of the best, which may help your own technique if you’re a good observer and make for a safer day on the mountain.

Steamboat is blessed also by a unique kind of snow. Some marketing guy named it ’”champagne powder,” and that’s a pretty apt description. This is light, airy stuff that will stack up a foot deep overnight and then blow off with a faint breath of air in the morning. It’s great for skiers of all ages and levels of ability.

Because of its frontier leanings, Steamboat is governed by the family ethic. Kids are everywhere, in the town and two miles east at the resort. The Little Toots ski program is one of the best in the state, and you can take advantage of package deals that provide free lift tickets, equipment rentals, and rooms for children when their parents ski here and stay in one of the participating lodges.

The pace is slower here. Lift lines are less crowded than in many resorts closer to Denver. All of this may be fine for families, but older teenagers and adult singles often think they’ve dropped into an old folk’s home. Like the frontier towns of old. Steamboat rises early and the streets roll up at night.



In the mind’s eye, Vail Village is an ornate European clock tower with a rustic covered bridge and a babbling brook in the foreground and that majestic mountain behind.

This resort is proof positive that picture postcards tell lies.

Pull back from (his quaint scene and you are struck by the clutter of high-rise condo projects jutting aimlessly upward through a constant fog of woodfire smoke that is killing this remarkable little valley. Vail is an overbuilt, underzoned environmental nightmare in progress right in the midst of God’s country.

If you can say that certain mountain towns are “real,” then Vail is “unreal.” This place was farmland before the lifts were built and money became the fuel of choice, and you can bet it would go back to the land if skiing were suddenly outlawed.

During the height of the oil boom, wealthy people from Mexico and South America bought up much of this valley. They actually came here with briefcases full of cash, and land prices skyrocketed because of them. Exquisite clothing shops, art galleries, and fine restaurants sprang up in the village. At one point, the land grab was so outrageous that a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise went on the market for a million dollars.

You’d have all the ingredients for urban blight here if it weren’t for the mountain. But then, there is always the mountain. Vail is surely one of our natural wonders; it’s the largest single mountain ski area in North America. It is said that a skier of unlimited ability could ski the mountain for a week without covering the same ground twice. The front side is a cross-hatching of runs for all ability levels, from green (easiest) to double black diamond (runaway). For accomplished skiers, the Back Bowls offer wide ex-anses of vertigo and deep snow.

Believe me. getting caught in the beauty of this is enough to make you forget the mess man has made of the town below.



Copper Mountain, a mere punctuation mark on the downside of Vail Pass, is a fun place for the serious skier. Copper is a no-nonsense kind of mountain. The base area is a vast parking lot with few of the frills that you come to expect in a real resort.

At Copper Mountain, après ski is an afterthought to activities on the mountain itself.

A decade ago, a small cadre of Canadians came to live in this county. They had a choice of skiing Keystone, A-Basin, and Breckenridge as well as Copper. Recognizing Copper as virgin territory, they stayed, establishing ski shops and various bars and restaurants. These entrepreneurs, called “Canucks,1’ know a thing or two about skiing, and they adopted Copper Mountain as theirs.

Freestyle skiers come here to practice their aerial routines, and this has become the favorite location for top skiers from Denver who come in to ski a day and then leave. Although this mountain is nowhere near as large as Vail, the skiing here is superb. Here they groom the bejeezus out of the beginner slopes and leave the most difficult runs to nature and good skiers.

The people at Copper have constructed their runs in slices of difficulty all the way down the hill, rather than intermingling beginner runs with double black diamonds. Because of that, you can get on a run that’s right for you at the top and stay safely within your ability all the way down into the parking lot.



Keystone is as close as it gets to a ski resort made especially for those people who don’t like to travel. Built and operated by Ralston Purina, this place is run with the efficiency of a corporate retreat.

Keystone has a reputation for attracting business meetings and winter conventions. Good location is a factor. It’s the closest major ski resort to the Denver airport. The lodging and other accommodations are impeccably run, and the entire place operates on the assumption that people visiting here know nothing at all about skiing.

Keystone’s corporate nature doesn’t exclude kids: the resort has one of the better ski schools for little ones. Unlike many others that keep the kids on the bunny slopes, Keystone gets them up on the mountain and out of the endless lift line circuit.

A few years ago, the people who run Keystone bought the old A-Basin ski area just up the Continental Divide and merged it with their operation. The possibilities of this combination are interesting. Keystone is the comparative new kid on the block, while A-Basin has a storied history as a primitive, European-style ski mountain that gets enough snow to be open almost year-round.

Between the two mountains and Keystone’s outstanding non-ski activities, you have all the winter sports you can enjoy, in the most efficient way possible.



The middle-aged, white-haired man dashed across the street in front of me, his full-length fox coat trailing in the breeze, a silver lame one-piece ski outfit shining from underneath. As he passed, the man pulled off his black metal, high-tech, wraparound sunglasses. His face brightened. He knew me, or 1 knew him. Who can be certain? The man ducked into the Hotel Jerome and I continued down the street.

I was meeting friends at the Ute City Banque, a venerable institution where you deposit your money and receive dividends in food, drink, and the privilege of seeing and being seen. As I pulled up a chair at the bar, I noticed three skiers in face makeup behind me. Obviously, they were dressed in a line of ski clothes by Boy George. The one with the long eyelashes looked up from a plate of shrimp nachos. That face looked so familiar.

The rich and famous, the recognizable and the fashionable, all converge on Aspen in the winter. The game is to decide if that person is famous, or does he think you are famous, or what? Celebrity has taken an inaccessible mountain and transformed it into a barometer of our national preoccupation. Or did the trendiness of the town attract the rock stars, stand-up comedians, and famous authors who frequent the place?

It’s altogether common for visitors to don their slick new ski garb and spend a week touring the bars, restaurants, and shops, attending concerts and recitals, seeing who on earth there is to see. For those who actually intend to ski, there are four very good choices-Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Snowmass, and Aspen Mountain (Ajax to the locals).

But I won’t trouble you with too much information about skiing Aspen. You might get too involved on the mountain and miss something.



If a doctor diagnosed you as suffering from too much of the world, he might prescribe a little Telluride for what ails you. And chances are. you would be in such a pleasant haze that you’d forget to call him in the morning.

Telluride is the perfect antidote for everything outside itself, Maybe that’s because it is located in a box canyon at the end of the road in the silver San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. You don’t just happen upon Telluride. Although an airport was recently built there, elaborate plans must still be made to travel to Telluride.

Perhaps you can explain this town by its history as a silver mining community, a hideout for misfits of every stripe, a ghost town, and now a land speculator’s heaven. A number of people settled here from Aspen in the early Seventies, when the Telluride ski area was being built. They came as refugees from rampant overdevelopment. And they evolved, over the years, into real estate agents themselves. But then, isn’t that the way of the world? What compels people to live here or visit the place is a sense of outlaw adventure that Telluride retains.

I recall standing on the main street of the town one cold winter morning watching two lone skiers making figure eights in the fresh powder of the mountain above me. Not a strange sight in a ski resort, except they were skiing the peaks opposite the ski area, risking death out of bounds on avalanche-prone surfaces just for the fun of it.

It was a pleasure to discover that I didn’t have to nearly die to get the flavor of this place. I could stay in a beautiful condo, ski an area that has no lines anywhere, bump my way down the mountain into town, purchase a T-shirt that says, “I took The Plunge,” and buy into the madness.

In addition, Telluride may be the most gloriously picturesque slice of landscape in America. You’ve heard people say that a painting is so realistic that it looks like a photograph. Photos around Telluride have the surreal quality of brush work. If you are a good skier, you can take the front face of the mountain or a variety of runs through trees that will give you a little of what the outlaws love about Telluride. If you’re better equipped to ski the flats, you can do The Meadows, a wide glade halfway up the mountain, or the new Sunshine Peak. If you are a decent intermediate and want to spend the day sightseeing, you can cruise a ridge off the top called “See Forever” and do just that.



Albert Einstein loved this place. His framed correspondence at the Taos Hotel is a monument to his visits. D.H. Lawrence called the place home, and you can hike up to a shrine at the state park named for him and say oaths over the ashes of the late erotic author/artist.

The great, the famous, and especially the eccentric have claimed Taos as theirs. It’s no wonder that a young Swiss named Ernie Blake settled here. His vision? The Taos Ski Valley, the closest escape to the mountains for the people of Dallas.

Each weekend, buses and cars full of skiers travel overnight across West Texas and arrive in time to ski Taos Saturday morning. These brave travelers party most of the night, ski Sunday, drive back at night, and arrive in time for work Monday morning. You can easily identify these folks. They’re the ones who are lying face down on their desks much of the week.

Texans are so prevalent here that Ernie Blake uses them as the subjects for most of his good-hearted jibes. He tells the one about the man who pulled up to the ski area in his Mercedes-Benz with Texas license plates and looked out at the sheer face of Al’s Run, one of the most difficult slopes in America. According to legend, this Texan got out of his car, took several hard looks at the mountain, got into his car, and drove back to Texas.

Ernie Blake knows that his mountain is a challenge. He placed a sign at the first lift that informs visitors they are seeing only a small portion of the hill, that gentle slopes are available farther up. And he tries to take the edge off with wonderful hospitality: Taos is the only area I’ve skied that sends workers out in blizzards to hand out free cookies and hot drinks to those who are dedicated enough to continue skiing.

And even on sunny days, Ernie Blake likes to tantalize his ski tourists by hiding pitchers of martinis tor them at the bases of selected trees. Ah yes, I can feel the warmth of the place already.


Location: Twenty-five miles north of Duran-go, in the southwest corner of Colorado

Transportation: United Express and Continental Express from Denver to Durango; sixteen-hour drive from Dallas

Season: November 22 through early April

Bargain season: All except Christmas weeks

Lift ticket prices: $24 adult; $9 kids and seniors

Lift lines: Light except during Christmas

Skiable acres: 630

Longest run: Two miles

Degree of difficulty: 20 percent beginner; 50 percent intermediate; 30 percent advanced

Kids” program: Nursery, reservations required; lessons for kids to age twelve, reservations recommended with forty-eight-hour advance notice

Other winter sports: Snowboarding, crosscountry, helicopter ski tours

Contact: Purgatory. P.O. Box 666, Durango, CO 81302; (303) 247-9000


Location: Twelve miles outside of Aspen in the center of Colorado

Transportation: Shuttle from Aspen Airport; four-hour drive from Denver airport

Season: November 27 through April 19

Bargain season: November 27-December 19; January 3-30; April 4-19

Lift ticket prices: $29 adult; $18 kids twelve and under

Lift lines: Very heavy

Skiable acres: 1.560

Longest run: 3.7 miles

Degree of difficulty: 10 percent beginner; 62 percent intermediate; 21 percent advanced; 7 percent expert

Kids’ program: Nursery, reservations required; lessons for kids to age six. no reservations required

Other winter sports: Snowmobiling, crosscountry, dogsled rides

Contact: Snowmass Resort Association, P.O. Box 5566. Snowmass Village, CO 81615; (303) 923-2010


Location: Colorado Hwy 82, in the center of the state

Transportation: United Express and Continental Express from Denver; four-hour drive from Denver; puses and shuttle from the Denver airport

Season: November 27 through April 19

Bargain season: November 27-December 19; January1 3-30; April 4-19.

Lift ticket prices: $29 adult; $18 kids

Lift lines: Moderate

Skiable acres: 625

Longest run: Three miles

Degree of difficulty: There are no beginner slopes on Aspen Mountain; 35 percent intermediate: 35 percent advanced; 30 percent expert

Kids’ program: No kids’ programs at Aspen Mountain, but nursery and lessons for children to age twelve are available at nearby Buttermilk

Other winter sports: Everything imaginable

Contact: Aspen Resort Association. 700 S. Aspen St., Aspen, CO 81611; (303) 925-1940 or 925-9000


Location: Eighty-five miles west of Denver, on Colorado Hwy 9 off Interstate 70

Transportation: Car. bus, limo from Denver’s Stapleton Airport

Season: November 15 through April 19

Bargain season: November 15-December 19; January 5-March 6; March 30-April 11

Lift ticket prices: $27 adult; $12 kids twelve and under and seniors to seventy; seventy and over free

Lift lines: Heavy

Skiable acres: 1,460

Longest run: Three miles

Degree of difficulty: 23 percent heginner; 28 percent intermediate; 49 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Nursery, lessons to age six; reservations required two weeks in advance

Other winter sports: Cross-country, heli-skiing, ice skating, health clubs

Contact: Breckenridge Resort Chamber. P.O. Box 1909, Breckenridge, CO 80424; (303) 453-2918 or 453-6018


Location: Sixty-seven miles northwest of Denver

Transportation: Auto or bus from Denver’s Stapleton Airport. Train from downtown Denver (weekends only)

Season: November 12 through April 19

Bargain season: November 12-December 19; April 6-19

Lift ticket prices: $24 adult; $12 kids thirteen and under and seniors to seventy; seventy and over free

Lift lines: Moderate to heavy

Skiable acres: 1,030

Longest run: 2.5 miles

Degree of difficulty: (Winter Park and Mary Jane combined) 21 percent beginner; 47 percent intermediate; 32 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Nursery, lessons to age twelve; reservations fourteen days in advance

Other winter sports: Health club, ice skating, snowmobiling, snow cat tours, sleigh rides

Contact: Winter Park Resort, P.O. Box 36, Winter Park, CO 80482; (800) 453-2525 or (303) 726-5587


Location: Seventy-five miles west of Denver on Interstate 70

Transportation: One-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver’s Stapleton Airport, limos and buses, car rental agencies at terminal

Season: November 6 through April 26

Bargain season: Opening day through December 24; April 6 through closing day

Lift ticket prices; $27 adult: $12 kids under twelve; $14 seniors over sixty-two

Lift lines: Heavy

Skiable acres: 1,180

Longest run: 2.8 miles

Degree of difficulty: 25 percent beginner; 40 percent intermediate; 35 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Special kid week program for kids, nursery, special children’s program to age twelve; reservations strongly recommended

Other winter sports: Cross-country, helicopter skiing, ice skating, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours

Contact: Copper Mountain Resort. P.O. Box 3001, Copper Mt, CO 80443; (800) 525-3878


Location: Southwest corner of Colorado, 125 miles northwest of Durango

Transportation: Eighteen-hour drive from Dallas, Mesa Airlines from Denver into Telluride Airport, United Express into Montrose, sixty-five miles away; major car rental agencies at Montrose Airport

Season: Thanksgiving Day through April 5

Bargain season: Thanksgiving Day-December 19; March 30-April 5; January 3-Feb-ruary 11

Lift ticket prices: $25 adult; $13 seniors and kids twelve and under; kids one to three and over seventy free

Lift lines: None

Skiable acres: 735

Longest run: 2.85 miles

Degree of difficulty: 14 percent beginner; 54 percent intermediate; 32 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Nursery, ski programs to age twelve; no reservations needed

Other winter sports: Cross-country skiing

Contact: Telluride Central Reservations. P.O. Box 1009, Telluride, CO 81435; (800) 525-3455


Location: 150 miles northwest of Denver on U.S. Hwy 40

Transportation: Three-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver, American Airlines to Hayden Regional Airport, shuttle from Stapleton Airport in Denver

Season: November 26 through April 19.

Bargain season: November 26-December 12

Lift ticket prices: $27 adult; $18 children

Lift lines: Light to moderate

Skiable acres: 1,551

Longest run: Three miles

Degree of difficulty: 15 percent beginner; 54 percent intermediate; 31 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Nursery six months to six years, lessons three to fifteen years; no reservations required

Other winter sports: Cross-country, dinner sleigh rides, mineral springs

Contact: Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, P.O. Box 774408, Steamboat Springs. CO 80477; (303) 879-0740


Location: 100 miles west of Denver on Interstate 70

Transportation: Continental Express to Avon Stolport in Vail from Denver, shuttle or limo from Stapleton Airport, two-hour drive from Denver

Season: November 26 through April 19

Bargain season: (No price breaks; these are the least busy times.) November 26-De-cember 19; January 3-30; April 4-19

Lift ticket prices: $30 adult; $18 children

Lift lines: Heavy to very heavy during Christmas

Skiable acres: 1,880

Longest run: Three miles

Degree of difficulty: 32 percent beginner; 36 percent intermediate; 32 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Nursery two months to six years, reservations recommended; lessons to thirteen years, no reservations

Other winter sports: Sleigh rides and cook-outs, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, tobogganing, cross-country, ice skating, and sled rentals

Contact: Vail Resort Association. 241 East Meadow Dr., Vail, CO 81657; (800) 525-3875 or (303) 476-1000


Location: Adjacent to Vail on Interstate 70 Transportation: Continental Express to Avon Stolport from Denver, shuttle or limo from Stapleton Airport in Denver, two-hour drive from Denver

Season: November 26 through April 19

Bargain season: (No price breaks; these are the least busy times.) November 26-De-cember 19; January 3-30; April 4-19

Lift ticket prices: $30 adult: $18 children

Lift lines: Moderate to heavy

Skiable acres: 796

Longest run: 2.75 miles

Degree of difficulty: 23 percent beginner; 43 percent intermediate; 34 percent advanced

Kids’ program: Nursery two months to six years, reservations recommended; lessons to thirteen years, no reservations needed

Other winter sports: Sleigh rides, snowmo-biling. cross-country

Contact: Beaver Creek Central Reservations, P.O. Box 9!5, Avon, CO 81620; (800) 525-2257


Location: North Central New Mexico

Transportation: Thirteen-hour drive from Dallas, air to Albuquerque, shuttle from airport

Season: November 26 through April 5

Bargain season: Opening Day-December 20; January 4-31; March 29-April 5

Lift ticket prices: $25 adult; $15 children

Lift lines: Heavy

Skiable acres: 315

Longest run: 5.25 miles

Degree of difficulty: 24 percent beginner; 25 percent intermediate; 51 percent advanced

Kids’ program: No nursery; lessons for children three to six years; reservations during peak periods

Other winter sports: None

Contact: Taos Ski Valley Inc., Box 90, Taos Ski Valley Station, Taos, NM 87571; (800) 992-SNOW