This winter, for the first time in 14 years, Beaver Creek is unveiling a major terrain expansion. McCoy Park adds 250 skiable acres and 17 groomed, gladed runs just west of Larkspur Bowl. But the reason why the resort’s chief operating officer, Nadia Guerriero, calls McCoy Park “unique to the ski industry” is not its singular view of the Sawatch Range or its rolling, gentle pitches.
What McCoy offers that almost nowhere else does is a Back Bowl–esque experience specifically tailored to beginner skiers. Though every resort strives to provide wide-open expanses to advanced skill sets—Exhibit A being Vail’s “legendary” backside, 10 miles east—few prioritize or have the terrain to deliver such a feeling to guests who are most comfortable on green runs.
Yet 14 of McCoy’s runs are rated green (with names befitting the area’s intent, like Sanctuary, Bliss, Unwind, and Tranquility), and the other three are blue. “There’s enough terrain out there that you could lap it for a while and never get bored,” says vice president of mountain operations Gary Shimanowitz.
McCoy had been on the Beav’s wish list since Shimanowitz started his career as a ski patroller in 1990. But for decades it served a different, human-powered purpose: giving Nordic skiers and snowshoers their own slice of serenity just beyond the lift-served boundary. As the resort developed and embraced its family-first image, it catered its improvements to a range of abilities. Experts raved when Grouse Mountain opened in 1991, bringing a bounty of double-black-diamond terrain into the fold. The same set got another boost when the resort expanded into the Stone Creek Chutes in 2007, adding 180 skiable acres of steeps and cliffs that caught the entire industry’s eye.
Beginners were well fed, too: Beaver Creek built a gondola to serve its popular Haymeadow Park learning zone at the base, then replaced the outdated fixed-grip double chair at Red Buffalo Park with a high-speed quad, providing beginners their own lappable playground at the top of the mountain. But the Signature Parks Collection was still waiting for its main course.
This past summer and fall, the resort built two new lifts to serve that entrée: the McCoy Park Express, a detachable high-speed quad, which can carry up to 2,200 people per hour; and the Reunion fixed-grip quad, which returns guests to the rest of the mountain once they’re done playing in McCoy. Reunion has a capacity of 1,800 people per hour, meaning the Beav’s overall chairlift capacity will increase by 4,000 per hour, not to mention the added benefit of spreading people out. “This expansion is going to reduce trail densities across the whole mountain,” Shimanowitz says.
The resort’s intended progression is for never-evers to start in Haymeadow, graduate to the cut runs of “Red Buff,” as the upper park is called, then move over to McCoy once they’re ready to sample gladed runs, albeit still with placid pitches. Another distinguishing feature of the expansion: it continues for 900 vertical feet, an unusually long drop for beginner terrain. And of course, there’s the view—an unobstructed window onto the east side of the Sawatch, highlighted by Mount Thomas and Middle Mountain, that you can’t get anywhere else. “Everybody I take up there, even locals, when they see the view, they’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before,’” Shimanowitz says. Skiing down, you stare at the craggy Gore Range to the north.
More than 20 kilometers of dedicated snowshoe and Nordic trails still exist on either side of McCoy. All guests will have access to McCoy’s new Eaton Haus warming hut, named after Beaver Creek’s visionary, Earl Eaton, whose son Carl still runs the lift maintenance department.
Perhaps best of all, unlike other learning areas at the Beav, McCoy is an island when it comes to traffic. “It’s not a pass-through for anyone who’s on their way to ski elsewhere,” Shimanowitz says. “There’s not going to be mixed ability levels, unless they’re there with their families.” Which, of course, is what it was designed for.
Vail Mountain debuts an all-terrain learning center that schools skiers for the Back Bowls and beyond.
Beaver Creek isn’t the only local resort that made significant upgrades to its learning program this year. At Vail, the longstanding Black Forest Race Arena under the Avanti Express Lift (Chair 2) has been replaced with the Avanti Skills Zone, an area dedicated to helping skiers and snowboarders master nagging deficiencies related to specific kinds of terrain. One lane is designed for carving, a second is for guests who struggle in chopped-up crud, and a third will simulate the mini rollers, berms, and bumps that you often come upon in the Back Bowls, with little time to navigate around them. The zone will still be served by the same surface lift.
In addition, Vail is debuting its Avanti Performance Center this winter, an indoor tool reserved for Ski and Ride School students at the top of the Skills Zone. The center will include TV monitors, mirrors, and various training tools to “replicate the different body positions and skills you need” to conquer challenging terrain, says John Plack, Vail’s senior communications and field marketing manager.
“Instructors will talk you through the position you need to approach some sort of specific terrain,” he explains. “Then you’ll go right outside and try to replicate that position over a couple laps. They’ll videotape you, and then you’ll go back inside, and they’ll analyze it. It’s for guests who are like, ‘I’m almost there; I just want to unlock the next level.’”