Photo by Dan Davis trekkerphoto.com
September 9, 2007 —
I waited eagerly on Friday, repeatedly clicking Send/Receive on my email, but it never came.
Last year it arrived from several different points in cyberspace: ďVail #1 for 14th time in 19 years in Ski Magazineís Top 50 Resort Guide.Ē
But this year a press release reading ďVailís #2, Vailís #2!Ē never quite made it into my inbox.
Thereís a certain smell associated with being #2, and itís definitely something you donít want to shout from every rooftop Ė or chairlift.
As Iíve said all along of the annual and somewhat silly exercise of polling readers of the various ski magazines, if you live by the sword, you occasionally will be forced to fall on that sword.
And Vail has indeed wielded its annual dominance of the Ski Magazine survey like a double-edged marketing cutlass.
In fact, even the $2 billion-plus redevelopment of Vail is being justified as a critical process in maintaining our #1 status, instead of simply labeling it good business Ė a means of meeting and surpassing guest expectations and increasing market share.
I mean, please tell me weíre not enduring all of this construction pain in order to pander to the steadily shrinking number of ski publication readers Ė particularly ones so out of touch they would vote Deer Valley, Utah, as the #1 resort in the nation.
Itís a vote based mostly on customer service - earning Deer Valley the nickname Deer Valet - and from the point of view of pampering, the place probably does have Vail beat, although from my limited experience Iíd say Beaver Creek tops Deer Valley in the luxe, boutique resort category.
But itís really apples to oranges because when it comes to ski mountains itís laughable to even try to compare Vail and Deer Valley.
I spent two days skiing Deer Valley last season and was largely underwhelmed by the terrain. To me, it wasnít even the best mountain in the Park City area. Iíd give the nod there to the Canyons. And Snowbird is by far the best mountain in Utah.
However, to be fair, Vail has garnered the top spot so often largely because it is all things to all people Ė a massive and diverse mountain that pleases all types of snow riders. It doesnít necessarily have the most intense terrain, even in Colorado, let alone all of North America.
But Vail combines that massive mountain Ė Euro-sized expanses of endless bowl terrain and countless high-speed lifts Ė with tons of amenities and a fun town at the base.
I thought Deer Valley had an interesting but limited mountain (less than half the skiable acres of Vail) and not much of a base area to speak of, although the best ski town in Utah (Park City) is not too far away.
In the 1990s Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada used to once in awhile slip in and knock Vail off its perch with an occasional #1 ranking, and given the size and scale of that resort, not to mention a pretty rocking base area (although frequently god-awful weather), I always thought Whistler a more worthy comparison to Vail.
The selection of Deer Valley, which doesnít allow snowboarding, limits skier days and prides itself on pampering, says more about the average age of Ski Magazine readers than the actual merits of any of the mountains in the top of the rankings.
To me, Deer Valley isnít even #1 in Utah when services are part of an overall package that includes a large and diverse ski mountain.
But some would argue Vail isnít even #1 in Colorado. All of which points to the arbitrary and capricious nature of these polls, and the inherent dangers in a resort basing so much of its marketing on the rankings.
Photo by David O. Williams
September 7, 2007 — Alanis Morissette would call it ironic, but I think itís merely coincidental, or at the most just a function of my subconscious. Iím talking about the fact that nearly 32 years ago I learned to ski near Garmisch, Germany, and now I live on Garmisch Drive in Vail.
These distant memories of my first Teutonic turns are stirred by back-to-back Oktoberfest celebrations this weekend and next in Vail, where all things Germanic and Austrian will froth to the forefront like the head on a stein of good Bavarian brew.
Our obsession here in Vail with lederhosen and sauerkraut is well-documented. Iím surrounded by houses in my new-old West Vail neighborhood (I lived just down the hill on Chamonix when I first moved to town) that have Tyrolean scenes painted on their half-timbered exterior walls.
Many of our founding fathers hail from the fatherland and we still maintain close ties Ė witness the robust sister-resort relationship between Lech-Zurs, Austria, and Beaver Creek. So we feel like we do Oktoberfest right, but the only way to find out for yourself is to head up for the official keg tapping in Lionshead at 6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 7.
The festivities rage on in Lionshead through the weekend, which weather forecasters say will be a spectacular one (high temps in the 70s and crisp autumn air to pump up your polka).
Saturday, Sept. 8, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., look for bands like Austrian Swiss Duo, Hustle, The Methods, the Rhinelanders and Helmut Fricker, activities like brat-eating contests, keg bowling and Kidz Zone, and food and drink like brats, wienerschnitzel and bier, bier and more bier.
Sunday, Sept. 9, from noon to 6 p.m., concludes the Lionshead festivities. Go to www.vailoktoberfest.com for more info and a complete sked. And if you miss the fest in Lionshead or just have to do it all over again, the same times apply Friday through Sunday, Sept. 14-16, in Vail Village.
Much like my distant memories of skiing in and around Garmisch in 1976 as a 10-year-old fifth-grader (my dad was in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Germany at the time), I also am able to conjure up vague recollections of my folks dragging my brother and sister and me to Munich for the real-deal Oktoberfest, which I think was actually held in October there.
I recall lots of bierhalls and loud singing, steins raised in endless ďprosts,Ē and generally being allowed to run around like a madman, virtually unattended, with my siblings leading the charge. It really is a kid-friendly kind of thing, with tons of dancing and kid events, while the adults can sit nearby, socialize and pound down the calories.
My wife and I took my three boys up to Beaver Creekís Oktoberfest last weekend (see photos) and had a great, backslapping good time, hobnobbing with locals and tourists alike. The Lech Band from Austria was in the house, along with Helmut and the gang, and believe me when I tell you that no pretzel was left unturned.
The Lech contingent comes over every year for Oktoberfest and then the World Cup ski races in late November and early December, then a bunch of Vailites head over there at various times of the year. Personally, I took my family to Lech-Zurs in March of 2006 following the Olympics in Torino, Italy, and it is an amazing place. Uncrowded, spectacular slopes, impeccable service and genuine hospitality, and just an unbeatable alpine vibe.
So if you head up this weekend or next for Vailís Oktoberfest and run into somebody with a feather in their felt cap, ask them if theyíre from Lech, then clink steins and let loose with a yodel.
September 5, 2007 —
My partner Tom Boyd likes to call it the Chairlift Effect Ė and Iíll admit some of the most interesting conversations Iíve ever had have been on a chairlift Ė but to me the essence of RealVail comes down to something more complex and pervasive in todayís society.
I like to call it either the Cubicle Syndrome or the Voyeur Factor.
By way of explanation, a quick story: I once met a couple from Sydney, Australia, while snowcat skiing at Grand Targhee, Wyo. Both software developers with no kids and tons of expendable income, they would scour the web in search of impending winter storms, quickly book a flight and 24 hours later find themselves skiing deep, untrammeled snow in some far-flung location.
Given the expense of flying commercially at such short notice and the distance from Sydney to any of the great skiing destinations in the world, I was truly impressed by their dedication to the sport.
When I told them I lived in Vail and worked at a newspaper, they got very excited and begged me for my inside secrets on hitting the perfect powder day. For me, I explained, itís as simple as getting up in the morning, checking to see if it snowed the night before, quickly calling the snow report to confirm that it dumped more up on the mountain than on the valley floor, then heading up on the hill.
Obviously, in Sydney, they didnít have that luxury. A couple of years later they showed up in Vail, convinced by something they read online that the storm of the century was headed out way. As is often the case, forecasters blew the call and they traveled all that way for marginal conditions.
They remained in good cheer, but their chief complaint to me over beers after a day of making icy turns was how difficult it is to find any real information on current snow and weather conditions in a tiny mountain valley thousands of miles from their home.
The web has undoubtedly revolutionized how we obtain and process information, but I realized that so much of what is out there Ė at least in terms of the ski industry Ė is static and somewhat useless.
A mountain cam can show you that itís snowing but it doesnít really relay how much itís snowed in the past few days, whether temperatures were cold enough to keep the snow light and fluffy, how hard holiday crowds may have already hit that new snow, or whatís coming down the pike as far as future storms.
Nor does a snow report reflect whether north-facing runs are the place to ski (versus iced-over south-facing stuff), what itís like in the trees, what parts of the mountain remain undiscovered and lightly trafficked, what effect wind might have on particular runs, just how to ski the mountain in certain conditions. Basically all the subtle nuances of skiing a particular area that are entirely missed by marketing-oriented snow reports.
So Cubicle Syndrome is when youíre sitting in your office in Sydney or New York City or Los Angeles or Mexico City and you want to escape for a few minutes to Vail or Beaver Creek or other resorts in the Rocky Mountain West. You want to know what the conditions are like, how big the base is and whether it might just be the right weekend to jump on a plane bound for Denver or Eagle.
My frequent blogs, called The O. Report, will essentially constitute a daily ski diary, likely starting in late October at Loveland or Arapahoe Basin and winding down at one of those resorts in late May or June, with many, many ski days at my home mountains of Vail and Beaver Creek sandwiched in between and probably one big trip involving helicopters to someplace remote and radical.
The Voyeur Factor comes in when you live vicariously through these adventures and are perhaps inspired to head to the Central Rockies to make your own craziness. And while The O. Report will always be a first-person chronicle of life in the high country, I will scrupulously try to avoid the ďthere I was, there I wasĒ voice so prevalent in ski mags and travel sections.
Our goal here, through both blogs and articles, is to present unfiltered and honest information about the ski industry that is valuable to skiers, not crow about how lucky we are to every day live a life that many people spend small fortunes to enjoy for just one week.
We know how lucky we are and want to give back by making sure you get the most out of your one week.