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April 4, 2007 — Beaver Creek is a community full of active people doing active things almost all the time. The options are virtually limitless, but below is a sampling of some of the valley’s many activities, designed to give just a taste of the toast of the town.
No. 1 PARAGLIDING: When the rounded edges of the earth are visible and the wind runs its fingers through a paraglider’s hair, it’s possible the soul might ripple like a banner unfurling. It’s possible that, from 2,000 feet above the valley floor, free-hanging sneakers may dwarf the miniscule matchbox cars and tiny toy buildings below. It’s possible the blood may rush, the heart may clench, and the mind might flood with the momentary idea that, in paragliding, anything is possible.
And that’s just takeoff. Once alighted and cruising atop stable thermal uprisings, after the inner crew re-adjusts to its new, high-altitude command center, a series of soothing sensations begin to flood the mind’s control deck. The heart becomes calm, the adrenaline dissipates, and the instructions of the inner captain whisper as quietly as the empty sky. Up here, the birds have a brotherhood, and the flyer becomes part of it.
At first glance, paragliding canopies look like the parachutes used by skydivers, but they actually function like a kind of synthetic bird wing. A certified professional rides tandem with newcomers, and pilots the wing from takeoff to landing. Be prepared to run hard on takeoff and landing - the rest is pie in the sky.
GO TO: Paragliding is usually done from a hilltop in East Vail above the Vail Mountain School or in Wolcott near Red Sky Ranch.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call Vail Valley Paragliding at (970) 845-7321 or visit them online at www.VailValleyParagliding.com.
No. 2 FISHING: Beneath the diaphanous surface of Colorado’s cold rivers and streams the trout are always waiting, always pushing to the rhythm of the current, hiding behind rocks, lurking under banks, awaiting to strike their next exoskeletal meal. Above the water flyfishermen cast their lines and their wits against these sometimes finicky fish, and the pursuit of the perfect day becomes a love, or more often an obsession, among those who first tender their line into the Eagle River’s watershed.
By nature, bigger water breeds bigger fish, and droppers on weighted lines usually pull the big lunkers from Eagle County’s two big rivers: the Eagle and the Colorado. The job of wrestling one of the valley’s legendary rainbows or browns from the bigger waters is a delicate task, and guides are a good bet for beginners. On the other hand, the East Vail beaver ponds make a nice outing for a bit of simple dry-fly casting, and any mountain hike can be highlighted with a few panoramic dry-fly casts toward the prolific brook trout. Under stone granite peaks, stepping through the soothing riffles of a stream, the moments spent with rod in hand can collapse upon themselves.
Time seems either to fly or stand still, and the search for solace, rather than fish size, becomes both the journey and the reward. Knowing this, it’s important to remember that the big waters can be crowded, so to seek solace strap on the hiking boots and head upstream along tributaries. Of course, there’s always the option of hiring guides who have rights to fish private property, and who also fish everyday, know the waters, and know the rhythms of the water nearly as well as those fish lurking below.
GO TO: Fish the Eagle at the Spur Road Bridge in Edwards, near Fiesta’s Mexican Restaurant, or try Gore Creek in West Vail by parking at the dog park on the South Frontage Road, just west of the West Vail roundabouts.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Nothing compares to having a guide. Try Fly Fishing Outfitters at www.flyfishingoutfitters.net or (800) 595-8090; Gore Creek Fly Fisherman at www.gorecreekflyfisherman.com or (970) 476-3296, Gorsuch Outfitters www.gorsuch-outfitters.com or (877) 926-0900, and other guiding services in the Vail Valley.
No. 3 HIKING: Just think for a moment and see if there is a difference between hiking and walking. Well, in Beaver Creek and the Vail Valley, hiking is just walking through the mountains along a trail, right? OK, that’s partly true, but hiking is so much more than just a walk through the woods. In fact, all the little things that make life in the Rockies so sublime seem to come to life on foot, while in the pine forests of the Rockies. The key is to keep the senses on alert, look, listen, and even smell the mountains come alive. The telltale sign of an elk herd nearby comes first to the nose, that musky smell, and then to the eyes, which notice the aspen trees have parallel, grooved tooth-marks on them. Other times the lower branches of a tree have been scuffed off by a molting bull. The popping sounds emanating from the pine forest may be the work of a red-headed woodpecker, and the slight movement in the high-altitude brush may be a covey of well-camouflaged ptarmigan. In the autumn, raspberry bushes bear their succulent fruit, and elusive pine martins slink for squirrelly prey through pine forests. To see all these things and more, consider finding a guide who has walked local mountains many a time.
GO TO: Hiking trails criss-cross Beaver Creek Mountain, and guides tours, group hikes, and workshops are available through the Beaver Creek Hiking Center.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Nate Goldberg at the Beaver Creek Hiking Center at (970) 845-5313 or visit www.beavercreek.snow.com .
No. 4 SNOWSHOEING: Two paths have metaphorically diverged in the world of snowshoeing, and many are beginning to take the one less traveled by. The first path leads along the beaten trail, where hardpack and groomed corduroy present perfect purchase for a shoe’s titanium teeth. These tracks are faster, simpler, and begin and end clearly in the Nordic areas surrounding Beaver Creek.
Snowshoeing’s other path is not a path at all. It leads into the powder, out among the trees, over the rivers and through the woods, to places - and moments in time - that few ever see. In winter, snow dampens all sound, and an unequaled silence reigns. Snow piles upon the outstretched arms of overloaded spruce trees, and deer and elk articulate their every move upon the tabula rossa of the forest floor. Tiny holes and underground tunnels provide homes and highways for a slew of little subnivean animals, including the ermine/weasel, the snowshoe hare, and even the elusive Canada lynx.
Beyond the wildlife, exploring the mountains in the winter is a liberating feeling, one which can leave the indelible decorations of solitude within the snowshoer’s inner sanctum. The key to searching the outer sanctum of the winter wilderness, however, is to make sure to know where shelter and warmth await at the end of the day. The plummeting temperatures of winter nights are to be taken seriously.
GO TO: The Beaver Creek Nordic Center located at the bottom of Chair 12 in the Strawberry Park Condo building, or wherever the compass (and intuition) point.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call (970) 845-5313 or visit www.beavercreek.snow.com .
No. 5 HORSEBACK RIDING: Colorado has been cowboy country for a lot longer than it’s been ski country, and many of the Valley’s old ranching families are staying alive by offering up a taste of their lifestyle to visitors, and stables are almost as plentiful now as they were in Vail’s pre-history.
Much like a hike along a mountain path, a horseback ride can make the mountain’s mysteries come alive. Saddling up on an Andalusian or an Appaloosa is bound to bring visions of the Old West to mind, and most of the cowboy guides who lead such expeditions still operate in the ebb-and-flow of that mystical life. Horseback outfits abound, but Beaver Creek’s own stables contain horses of the highest breed and temperament, and make for an excellent summertime tour of the area, or a wintertime sleigh ride.
GO TO: Beaver Creek stables on Beaver Creek mountain, but make sure to call 24 hours in advance.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call (970) 845-7770 or visit www.vailhorses.com .
No. 6 MOUNTAIN BIKING: A mountain bike ride in the early 1980s was a bum-bumping romp through the woods, but these days, thanks to upgrades in shock technology, the ride is smoother than a Caddy. Biking on a newer bike along the curvaceous back roads of Beaver Creek feels almost like a drive through a national park, but with mountain biking there seems to be an elevated level of intimacy with the surroundings. Some choose to ride the chairlift up to the top of the mountain and cruise downhill, letting the dirt fly along the straightaways. Others shred the pedals on a cross-country, uphill ride, rewarding themselves with a pleasing cruise down afterward. Or some combine shock absorbers with the ski lift and enjoy a day 1 activity that doesn’t require huffing and puffing in the high altitude. The key is to pay close attention to signs and postings, however, as some areas are closed to avoid erosion damage or sensitive wildlife.
GO TO: The base of the Centennial Express Chairlift.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call (970) 845-5373 or visit www.beavercreek.snow.com .
No. 7 CROSS COUNTRY SKIING: Skiing has a sweet swish, sweet swish, sweet swish sound when you’re sliding through the snow at Beaver Creek or Vail’s Nordic centers. As the world’s first snow sport, cross country skiing was once a method used by nomadic northern tribes, who slid across their icy terrain to hunt and travel. The earliest evidence of cross country skiing appeared over 7,000 years ago in the form of cave paintings in northern Russia and Scandinavia, and the sport still holds a primal appeal in the modern era. Like snowshoeing, it allows for a silent, satiating way of exploring winter wilderness.
GO TO: The Beaver Creek Nordic Center located at the bottom of Chair 12 in the Strawberry Park Condo building.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call (970) 845-5313 or visit www.beavercreek.snow.com.
No. 8 RAFTING/KAYAKING: The river has many moods, and to a rafter a kayaker, they are all beneficent. The massive, curling waves in Dowd Chute may seem cantankerous, but in truth they have a playful appeal … so long as they’re seen in the proper light. The deafening roars of the Colorado River spilling into Gore Canyon, heard with the ear cocked just right, are akin to thunderous applause. These boisterous sounds make up the din of springtime, when the vigor of the river seems to emulate that of the local population (most of whom have huddled for warmth all winter long and then, at long last, burst over their banks into springtime).
By the time mid-summer makes its tranquil appearance, the rivers (and the people) have slowed to a maintainable pace. Trips in the burly water are still to be found, but by July it becomes a bit easier to engage in the art of riding a gently rolling river, which obligingly carries the fortunate – and the mellow – upon its back. So, while a splash of whitewater to the face is a major wake-up call, a soothing flatwater trip is a wake-up call of another kind – one which takes travelers through the mountain’s natural arteries and watery bloodlines to the place where, ultimately, the source of all its wild (and human) life resides.
GO TO: Dowd Chute on the Eagle for local adventure, Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas for mid-late-summer adventure, Shoshone for three-season adventure, and the Upper Colorado River near State Bridge for three-season relaxation and float trips.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lakota Guides in Eagle-Vail www.lakotaguides.com or 970-845-RAFT or Timberline Tours in Eagle www.timberlinetours.com or 800-831-1414.
No. 9 ROCK OR ICE CLIMBING: Some minds may skip right past the idea of rock climbing, let alone ice climbing, but it’s worth a second look. Climbing may seem like a “Mountain Dew” kind of adrenaline sport, but here’s news: it’s not. It’s a mind game, pure and simple.
Picture a Rubik’s Cube, flatten it, invert it, and make it granite, or limestone, or sandstone, or cold blue ice. The challenge is to find the line, crawl upward at the right pace, endure, overcome, and feel the incommunicable fulfillment of reaching the top. The equipment, the guide, the rope and the perceived danger all become peripheral to the challenge itself, which is to corral irrational fears, think reasonably, unify the body and mind, and discover complete focus. Perhaps more valuable than the experience itself is the way the memory of the experience lingers in the mind, and becomes metaphorical to the challenges of everyday life. As Outward Bound instructors are fond of saying: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”
GO TO: East Vail falls in the winter, and Gilman Gorge in the summer.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact David Roetzel at Vail Rock and Ice Guides at www.vailrockandice.com or (970) 471-1173.
No. 10 FLYING HIGH: Something about riding in Joe Ryan’s biplane makes one’s inner pilot long for a set of front-mounted machine guns and something worthy of a good strafing. The WWI-era biplane has been restored to a blinding, cherry red, up to the standards of Snoopy’s finest exploits, and on most days it can be seen buzzing through the valley, sometimes dipping a wing in salute to history’s greatest aviation achievements.
Then there’s Merlin, the valley’s wizard of ballooning, who brings fire and physics to his aid each calm morning when his hot-air balloon launches into the valley skies. The gargantuan images of Camelot adorn his balloon, and there’s little doubt that a chivalrous spirit of imagination infuses his adventurous piloting style. It’s no wonder his ponderous pilgrimages into the open air are popular among photographers, who have ample time and ample material to ply their craft.
GO TO: The wild blue yonder
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.rockymountainbiplaneadventures.com or call (800) 480-4617 for biplane rides and for ballooning visit www.camelotballoons.com or call (800) 785-4743.
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