Ski lessons

“Bring those things over here,” the ruddy-faced man shouted from the comfort of his one-piece ski suit. A 20-something with a gold-plated nametag jumped to attention and lugged two pairs of skis toward Vail’s Vista Bahn chairlift.

Mr. One-Piece impatiently paced in his ski boots and fidgeted with the black Bogner fabric of his suit. His partner in (what I’m sure is literal) crime glanced at her high-dollar watch, tapped the toe of a sparkling silver ski boot and sighed. The lady’s one-piece was brilliant white, lined with fox fur and decorated with various bits of golden bling.

Fearing millionaire meltdown, the “ski valet” double-timed over to the designated drop before unshouldering two pairs of ridiculously fat, reverse-camber boards and lining them up on the snow. The employee then took a deep breath, grimaced and bent over onto all fours. “What in the hell is this?” I whispered as I watched in shock on that morning two weeks ago.

The large aristocrat proceeded to lean over and brace himself on the employee’s back as the valet guided his ski boot into the binding and helped him click into his skis. The valet then moved on and helped the man’s bloated bride and her silver kickers into her boards. The corduroy lovers were almost there.

“Ahem,” Mr. Big pronounced loudly before extending his ski poles ahead of his shapely prow. Our heroic ski concierge snapped to, promptly grabbed the poles in front of the baskets and towed the fat cat across the flat and through the maze. The steed sprinted back out, hooked up to the Bognerette and also tugged her wagon-like form to the loading zone. The spectacle finally ended when the dynamic duo mounted the Vista Bahn (nearly falling off the barely moving chair) and headed for higher ground.

“Uh oh,” I said aloud. “We’re not in Purgatory anymore.”

Not only did that spectacle kick off my first ski day at Vail in more than 25 years, it provided my only look into the inner workings of the Vail Mountain Club. Thanks to that ski valet and his noble charges, I caught a rare glimpse of a secret ski society that offers “unmatched social privileges” to its select crew of members.

“The Club is designed to provide the ultimate in convenience for those desiring to experience the finest that the Vail community has to offer,” the Mountain Club’s promotional materials croon.

Members laze around a luxurious private clubhouse in the heart of Vail Village and take in free breakfast, loaded bar and the ever-popular

Wine and Cheese Wednesdays. Throw in precious parking next to the lifts, access to private on-mountain dining, ski lockers, valet and a “robust social calendar” and you have the Vail Mountain Club experience. If that’s not enough, how about two lifetime ski passes and first chair on powder days (I can’t believe ski bums aren’t rioting in the streets)? One-piece suits, goofy skis and plastic surgery not included.

Vail regulars can grab that golden ring for the bargain basement rate of $6,000/year. Oh, and lest we forget, the initiation fee is a mere $275,000 (with parking privileges) or $150,000 (without the golden garage key). Apparently, the poker chips are a little larger up in the Gore Range.

I should have been surprised. After all, it’d been more than a quarter century since I’d set ski on “the most beautiful ski resort in the world.” But I knew what I was getting into. Vail has always been the Disney of the mountains, an ideal place for well-heeled people from both coasts and affluent continents to escape their day-to-day doldrums amid faux Bavarian finishes. It’s a realm where dueling furriers have been known to pimp mink and fox just across the cobbles from one another; where your average 1-bedroom starter condo still costs upwards of $1 million; a happy place where the large beasts like Hummers and Escalades can graze without fear of disparaging words.

However, there are also always silver linings, and I cannot tell a lie (or a whole pack of them). Once I got away from the stench of the Vail Mountain Club, I merrily road dozens of Vail’s 31 lifts and left my mark on much of the area’s “5,289 acres of Rocky Mountain bliss” (a trip through 6 inches of fluff down Dragon’s Teeth was particularly enlightening).

In spite of that taste of China white, it may just be another 25 years before I make the return trip to North America’s No. 1 Mountain Resort. China Bowl did offer a pleasant diversion in these waning days of the season, but skiing has never been about Wine & Cheese Wednesdays for this freeloading freeheeler. I’ll take Purg’s rickety Chair 5 or the sleepy ride up Ski Hesperus’ daunting north face over the Vista Bahn any day. Hell, exile me to the Columbine Area and punish me with a ski bike, but I’m taking an extended leave from the Gore Range.

Before I go, I’d like to forward one request to the members of that high society. Please keep the Vail Mountain Club safely tucked away in Eagle County and hidden from the prying eyes of us downwinders. The San Juans aren’t nearly civilized enough for such a ski experience, and things like ski valet service have been known to ruin the flavor of a good powder day.

– Will Sands



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January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows