Vail, Colorado Vail has been a favorite ski getaway of mine since my college years. Its world-class, international flavor reminds me of places I learned to ski in Europe as a child. On any given day in Vail, you can hear an assortment of foreign languages riding the lifts, strolling through its quaint village with horse-drawn sleighs or from a nearby table at one of the plentiful gourmet restaurants.
Visiting with my university’s ski club in the late 80s, I was equally attracted to Vail’s nightlife. These days, party revelry holds little interest to me. But there’s another kind of nightlife going on in Vail.
Adventure Ridge, at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola offers, among other activities, ski biking—at night.
Some say fear is the unknown. Perched atop the mountain in pitch- black darkness on a ski bike (think squatty bike with skis instead of wheels) with foot-long mini skis attached to my boots and a headlamp strapped to my helmet. I was about to meet fear head on.
Franz (as best I could decipher underneath my helmet and through his thick German accent), our bike guide, announced, “We follow one by one, please staying together.”
This wasn’t like night skiing where the mountain is lit up by bright, street-like lights. The only illumination shone from our helmets, spelunking style. The fact that I was the only woman, almost twice the age of these boys should have tipped me off that I was getting in over my head.
My inclination was to snowplow with my feet, which proved ineffective in slowing this kamikaze missile, pointed straight down. When I nearly rear ended the rest of the group, Franz instructed, “Don’t try to stop with zee feet, turn zee bike like zis into the mountain, like making parallel ski stop.”
Off we went again, through a black diamond mogul field abyss. Traversing cautiously made things more difficult when the others got ahead leaving my lone headlamp to lead me down the mountain like a timid firefly. These weren’t snowmobiles, so there’s no way for Franz to zip back up to find me. That in itself was motivation to keep up.
Trying to keep pace with these speed demons proved challenging. My depth perception, make that any kind of perception, was virtually nil; I was on the verge of tears and I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom and be done with this. At the gondola base, I was stunned to hear Franz say, “Next time down…”
“Next time? You mean, we’re going again?” I shuddered.
“Yes, that was just zee warm up run.” Franz said. I told them to go ahead, I’d had enough.
“No,” Franz and the college kids chimed in, “you have to come with us.” I was surprised to hear they wanted the slow poke to tag along. On the gondola ride up, I listened to them recount a very different ride with euphoric laughter and token, “dude did you see me catch air?” remarks. I felt torn between bailing and wanting to feel what they’d experienced
We exited the gondola and Franz said, “This way.” I begrudgingly followed.
This time looking down the mountain, it didn’t look quite so daunting. We started out and I relaxed into the turns, carving left, then right, linking free-flowing turns and giving into the unknown. A few times I went airborn off a mogul. It was like being on a rollercoaster, Space Mountain to be exact. In pitch blackness, flying through the air, and landing with a forgiving cushion from the shocks. At a fork in the trail, the group was waiting. “You okay?” Franz asked.
“Yeah,” I said, taken aback by my grin starting to widen.
“Now we go thru zee woods. We must stay close together to not hit zee trees.” Franz instructed.
This meant I couldn’t linger. I abandoned all fear, which to my surprise was replaced with that silly uncontrollable giggling thing that happens to me on amusement park rides. It’s the kind of uncontrollable laughter accompanied by a stream of tears from crying in pure euphoric, scary fun.
I felt the whoosh of the wind and spray of the snow, going up and down on the groove of the path, winding through the shadows of the trees. Each of us let out a “Whoo-hoo!” coming off the ridge out of the woods onto the catwalk.
Franz was waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain to turn the bikes in.
“That’s it, we don’t get to go again?” I asked.
Vail remains one of my favorite resorts for all the same reasons as it did before—and now for a whole new one— the nightlife, on that crazy ski bike thing. Best of all, unlike my college days, there’s no hangover.
HOW TO GET THERE Colorado Mountain Express provides transfers to and from either Denver International (110 miles away) starting at $69 one way or Vail/Eagle County Airport (30 miles away). Reservations: (800) 334-7433 or www.ridecme.com
WHERE TO STAY Vail Marriott in Lions Head is situation in a prime location at the base of the mountain with an on-site spa. $189-$669/night; Reservations: (800) 648-0720 or www.marriott.com
WHAT TO SEE AND DO Skiing and Snowboarding Vail is the largest single-mountain ski resort in North America offering 5,289 acres of skiable terrain. Check the website for value ski packages and girlfriend getaway skiing and snowboarding deals.
Night Ski Biking Guided tours take bikers through powder, moguls and groomers. Headlamp and special boots are required and provided. Tours offered at 5, 5:45, 6:30. and 7:15 p.m. $80 per person (includes equipment.) Ages 10 and up.
WHERE TO TREAT SORE MUSCLES Golden Leaf Spa located in Vail Marriot. An Extreme Defrost ($200) includes a soak in a hydrotherapy tub (with aromatherapy), a Signature Facial and 50-minute Swedish massage. Add on a Hot Oil Scalp Massage ($35) to treat hat/helmet hair, adding shine and luster to combat dry mountain air. Reservations: (970) 479-5004 ext. 5004
Colorado Ski Museum honors the legacy of skiing and snowboarding with photographs, films and artifacts documenting more than 130 years of Colorado skiing. Located on the third level of the Vail transportation center. $1 donation. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue-Sun (970) 476-1876
WHERE TO EAT On mountain: Game Creek Situated atop the Game Creek Bowl with spectacular valley views. Take the Eagle Bahn Gondola up, the restaurant will limo you over in a heated snowcat. The four-course gourmet dinner is divine. Don’t miss the filets of turbot with truffle essence or lavender honey crème brulee. Reservations: (970) 479-4275. : Cucina Rustica At The Lodge Nestled in the heart of Vail Villiage at 174 East Gore Creek Dr. The Spinaci e Capri salad is legendary. Reservations: (970) 477-3743
This story originally was published in Women’s Health & Fitness Magazine by Lori Mayfield