Wanderings: Beaver Creek, Colorado

A 10-foot-wide photograph of an old mill hugged by golden aspens greets visitors in the Wilderness Wonders Gallery in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Taken by owner and photographer Tony Newlin, the panorama stands as among the most popular of his works. And though he has captured breathtaking images of tigers in India and many more in exotic lands, it’s the photos of Colorado mountains and snow-draped peaks that resonate with customers. “People can relate to these types of images because they are of the West,” he says. 

Wilderness Wonders represents one of 11 galleries in hip and happening Beaver Creek, a Bavarian-style resort community that turned 30 in December, 2010. 

Two hours west of Denver, but within 10 miles of Vail, Beaver Creek is an art and winter vacation paradise. Who can resist great food, exquisite galleries, architecturally stunning hotels and spas? It’s no wonder that Beaver Creek’s tongue-in-cheek tagline is “Not exactly roughing it.” 

Case in point: The National Ski Areas Association awarded Beaver Creek with the Best Overall Guest Service Award for five years in a row. A glance at its cushy amenities reveals why. The village provides a free shuttle bus that takes visitors to hotels and condos throughout the village. Each ski season, at precisely 3 p.m. daily, Beaver Creek staff walk the village pathways tempting guests with aromatic trays of mouthwatering, award-winning chocolate chip cookies. In addition to free treats, complimentary family snowshoe tours and the ever-popular disco skate nights on the rink ratchet up the fun factor. 

Beaver Creek Ambassadors help with the niggling problems that inevitably come about during a ski vacation. These volunteers offer everything from cell phones for quick calls to help retrieving lost mittens. At the top of the lifts, Ambassadors assist skiers with directions and field any questions they have about slopes and levels of difficulty. 

Beaver Creek is spread across three village areas: Beaver Creek Village, Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead Village. Beaver Creek Village is the largest and most active of the three with the majority of shopping opportunities, in addition to being the base camp for the 25-lift ski facility. 

The two-level, cobblestone brick village surrounds the outdoor Black Family Ice Skating Rink, anchored by bronze statues of ice skaters. Bachelor Gulch, right next door, features the Ritz-Carlton and other condominium rentals. Arrowhead Village also brims with lodging. 

In addition to the ski area, a separate Nordic Center provides all the gear necessary for guided or independent treks on cross-country skis or snowshoes. 

After a rigorous day of play, everyone looks forward to a hot shower and a soft bed. Good thing lodging is plentiful in Beaver Creek and in the adjacent towns of Avon and Edwards. The newest in the Avon area is the luxurious Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa, which opened in 2008 at a cost of $500 million, with 210 condo-style units and studio hotel rooms. The largest unit is a 2,000-square-foot four-bedroom suite that sleeps up to 12. The one-, two- and three-bedroom suites come with full kitchens, living rooms, fireplaces and laundry facilities. 

For the boutique hotel experience, The Osprey, in Beaver Creek, provides the convenience of being situated next to a chairlift for rapid access to the slopes. The modern hotel offers a complimentary breakfast and a ski valet center. Amenities include free DVD movies and fireplaces in every room. 

At the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek Village, guests get fab views of the slopes, and access to a spa, pool, restaurant and ski valet center. During the ski season, the hotel offers free s’mores, and guests can cook their treats in one of the Park Hyatt’s outdoor fire pits.

 In the day, wandering galleries showcasing the work of famous and emerging artists is a delightful diversion. At Pismo Glass Gallery, a giant cranberry-colored glass sculpture has tendrils that seem to come to life in this creation by international glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. Other fragile souvenirs include bowls, whimsical animals, glass fruit and fused glass jewelry. These wares carry price tags ranging from $40 to more than $150,000. 

Meanwhile, Knox Galleries is known for its array of bronze sculptures and paintings. Colorado sculptor Jim Budish creates whimsical bronze bunnies with elongated ears, while brothers Mark and George Lundeen sculpt detailed works depicting cowboys and ordinary working folk. On display from local artist Mark Thompson are classical period paintings crafted using his own concoction of tempura mixed with egg. 

And at The Sportsman’s Gallery & Paderewski Fine Art, visitors can find 19th century to contemporary hunting, fishing and sporting art. Many of the pieces depict Native Americans and cowboys, fly fishing, and Texas quail hunting. The Paderewski Fine Art gallery features a variety of national and international masters, as well as local artists. One of the most popular is American Impressionist Patrick Matthews, whose oil colors of aspens in different seasons always captivate. 

While art lovers indulge, a spa aficionado’s need to be kneaded will be met with glory. After a $12-million remodel, the Allegria Spa at the Park Hyatt beckons. The signature feature of the 30,000-square-foot pamper palace is a seven-step water ritual with multiple water immersion pools bordered by wall mosaics and waterfalls. The edifice to splendor includes more than 20 treatment rooms. 

Meanwhile, Spa Anjali at the Westin Riverwalk Resort emphasizes organic ingredients on its menu. Each treatment falls into a category highlighting Swedish, earthy organic or Himalayan-based therapies. This artistic and intimate spa with 14 treatment rooms offers an extensive array of hand and foot rituals, facials, massages, scrubs, wraps, and hair and makeup services. 

After a spa treatment, it’s time to eat. For foodies, the dining scene at Beaver Creek is eclectic and friendly. A must-do includes a visit to Beano’s Cabin. While the name is odd (it’s named after a farmer), the four-star restaurant is an adventure in American comfort food and the ultimate in snow lodge coziness. Picture riding up via snowcat in an open-air sleigh to a log cabin nestled under the stars. Under cathedral ceilings, natural wood beams and antler chandeliers, diners can select from a rich menu of game, meat, fish and poultry, and an award-winning wine selection. The restaurant is open seasonally from December through April and from June to October.

Over in nearby Avon, the eco-sensitive Avondale Restaurant delivers a menu coined as “market-driven, West Coast cuisine.” The casual-but-stylish restaurant delivers delectable fare such as hand-tossed gourmet pizzas, house-cured meats, solar dried fruit and as much locally grown poultry and meat as possible. Not to be missed are the Summit Creek lamp chops with lamb neck risotto.

Handmade desserts are also a hit, especially the tasting menu for the undecided. This allows diners to indulge in a triple sampling of selected sweets. 

Following a scrumptious dinner, there’s still more to do and see. In Beaver Creek Village, the Vilar Performing Arts Center hosts top celebrities throughout the year. Beaver Creek is the first mountain resort community in the world to open its own performing arts facility. The 530-seat theater is a visual treat with a distinctive snow lodge feel. In this horseshoe-shaped performance hall, the luxurious curved wood balcony sits above an autumn orange carpeted theater with blown-glass sconces on the walls.

This winter, premiere talent runs from the serious to the silly. In January, visitors can expect to see A Chorus Line one week and the Last Comic Standing live competition the next. February brings forth an evening with composer Marvin Hamlisch, followed by the comedic musical Spamalot. In March, the entourage of the Joffrey Ballet leaps into town for a midweek performance. 

Beaver Creek, as it turns out, is an excellent venue for festivals and events. The year-round playground hosts the Master Chef Challenge in January, a competition similar to the popular “Iron Chef” television show, but this time with local and out-of-town guest chefs. In January through March, snowshoers of every level can race in the Snowshoe Adventure Series.

Bottom line? Few places offer luxury digs paired with activities that captivate the art maven, foodie and adrenaline junkie all at once. The connected community is a welcome retreat for winter wanderers who can tailor their own do-everything or do-nothing getaway. Either way, at Beaver Creek, you’re “Not exactly roughing it.” 

Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel writer and editor of www.BayAreaFamilyTravel.com. She enjoys “not roughing it” in Beaver Creek during the winter months.

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