Skiing and Spa Going: Part One in Vail, Colorado

Après Ski Necessities at Vail Plaza Hotel & Club

Après Ski Necessities at Vail Plaza Hotel & Club

What?  Don’t tell me you’re tired of hearing about skiing.  While most die-hard skiers are still plowing through mashed potatoes and corn snow at ski areas such as A-Basin in Colorado and Mammoth Mountain in California, most of us ardent ski buffs have finally resigned ourselves to hanging up our skis for the season.  But smart travelers should begin contemplating next season.

If any of you out there (devoted readers, for example) have been waiting with bated breath to read about my weekend with Steve (see Weekend Expectations blog below), I can tell you our time together scored exceedingly high marks.  We, in fact, spent two weekends in a row together in April experiencing end-of-ski-season bliss.  Plus we learned that spring is a great time to ski and spa go without dealing with the crowds.  Bargains are excellent during this time as well.  (The same, of course, holds true for early season in November and the first half of December.)

Vail and Its Fairytale-Like Village

Vail and Its Fairytale-Like Village

We zipped off to Vail after Telluride officially closed to experience the fun and fanfare of their closing weekend.  A spring storm dumped impressive amounts of snow on the mountain beginning the Thursday before.  Had it not been for Steve nursing an extremely sore back (from apparently having skied too hard the previous weekend in T-ride which had also benefited from an outstanding snowfall at its closing), I would have feared more powder day problems.  Instead we carried on like two lovers on a weekend getaway where skiing and mountain fun entered into only part of the equation (wink, wink).

I had only been to Vail once before many years ago for my PSIA (Professional Ski Instructor of America) certification, so this time I was eager to discover it for real.  Steve gladly toured me around Vail’s renowned back bowls and I was thrilled to find myself cruising on black terrain considerably softer than what we have in T-ride.  (Of course I love our steeps but they do require more effort.)  After just a few hours of skiing, however, Steve declared that his back had had enough.  That was fine with me since by then I felt as though I had a good grasp of the mountain and looked forward to the day when I could return and really wear myself out at this world renowned resort.

This left us with time to explore Vail Village, a pedestrian-friendly assemblage of shops, restaurants, bars and places of lodging that truly made us feel like we were on vacation.   One might look at this Bavarian-inspired hamlet as hokey (I have in the past), but it really does transport you to a faraway land and we jumped on for the ride.  Steve, with his family ties to the Italian Alps, pointed out how authentic these alpine chalets really were in their construction and interpretation.  This enchanted me even more, so I suggested we stop for a coffee and a strudel at Hotel-Gastof Gramshammer, one of the more charming wooden establishments in the area, founded in 1965 by Austrians Sheika and Pepi Gramshammer.

It was a good choice.  We sat at their German beer garden terrace and then later discovered that this classic alpine establishment also housed two other restaurants, a particularly animated bar and hotel rooms above.  I wasn’t sure whether I was more wooed by its charm or Steve’s attentiveness.

End-of-Ski-Season Festivities

End-of-Ski-Season Festivities

We quickly changed at our room at the Italian-inspired Vail Plaza Hotel & Club.  We were already immensely enjoying this hotel, maybe because we had had such a heartwarming introduction the night before when we sat in Bacco’s Bar, the hotel bar, and soaked up the sensational sounds of singer/guitar player, Wil Roberts, one of the hotel’s regular performers.  Wil sang everyone’s favorites from “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie” to “Brown Eyed Girl.”  His repertory of acoustic pop is vast, yet we decided we liked his James Taylor songs the best.  The service was also excellent at the hotel and since it was not peak season, they offered fantastic deals on their rooms.  We also quickly discovered that the location of Vail Plaza was prime, and were sorry we weren’t staying through Sunday night to take in the end-of-the-season bash that was going to take place steps away after the mountain closed for the season the next day.

Now though it was time to poke around Beaver Creek, an even more high-end and challenging ski destination just down the road from Vail in Avon.  The mountain had closed the weekend before but I was curious to check out the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, a resort I had heard much about over the years.  I had arranged a brief tour of their Allegria Spa, which had already made its way to the top of my must-see list years ago.  Both of us practically melted.  The elegant decor in muted colors, the redolent smells of wildflower and juniper baths and the omnipresent sound of soothing waters, lulled us into a state of relaxation combined with admiration for all that had been created here.  Allegria is Italian for happiness and indeed their modern day re-creation of Roman bathes won us over more than we could have imagined.  (Since both of us are in the hospitality business, we’ve visited many spas.)  “This is the nicest couples’ massage room I’ve ever seen,” Steve said as we admired the cozy, yet sophisticated, Mountain View Room, replete with fireplace and two luxurious massage tables.

“C’mon, we have to go to dinner,” I said pulling at his sleeve.

“I could stay here all night,” he practically whimpered.

8100 Before the Crowd Arrived

8100 Before the Crowd Arrived

Dinner at 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill, the Park Hyatt’s recently redesigned restaurant, wasn’t such a bad alternative.  We enjoyed the swanky interior and lively ambiance in the two large rooms filled with mostly fortysomething diners.  (Quite surprising for off-season!)  It seemed as though we were all grooving to the Euro lounge music and the delightfully prepared food laid before us, all made from the freshest ingredients from local and prized purveyors.

We slept in the next day and enjoyed our first luxurious Sunday morning together since the ski areas had opened for the season.  Steve’s back still ached and I made it known that we didn’t have to ski Vail’s last day.  We both yearned for the spa.  I knew that Vail Plaza Hotel boasted their own Sorrento Spa, but we couldn’t get our minds off of Allegria.  The rest of the morning was spent strolling about Vail Village scanning the ski shops for extraordinary end-of-the-year bargains and breathing in the freshness of this glorious spring day.

We brunched at Alpenrose, another exceedingly quaint alpine-styled bistro, where we basked in the sunshine on their terrace facing the mountain.  We both felt as though we were back in the Old World together.  Steve ordered a Bratwurst while I chose to be more adventuresome with a Leberkâse, a sort of bologna served over a bed of creamed spinach with pan roasted potatoes, topped with a fried egg.  The perfect accompaniment to my mimosa.

The time had come to roll out of town and to make one more pass at Allegria.  We changed into our bathing suits—full bellies and all–and tiptoed out to the Spa’s open air pool and hot tubs, located a snowball’s throw away from Beaver Creek’s lifts.  We padded back inside to the Aqua Sanitas, or healing waters, to truly embark upon our water ritual.  We began together at the Thermae Pool, the hot co-ed pool that evokes a natural spring.  We then parted and continued our self-guided tour in the privacy of the separate male and female quarters.  Later we compared notes about each other’s experience at the Cascata Rainshower, the Caldarium Steam Room and the Tepidarium.  (I had decided to skip the Caldarium Mineral Pools since I was already feeling like a prune but, of course, later regretted it.)  I marveled at how all those water therapies seemed to penetrate my very core and neither of us had even had a treatment such as a massage.  I dozed most of the way home.

Thermae at Allegria

Thermae at Allegria

“You know what was so great about all that, too?”  I said to Steve.  “There wasn’t a soul around.”

“I know, we had the whole spa to ourselves,” he replied.  “End-of-the-season is really one of the best times to take in a ski resort.”

“I agree.  Even if you don’t do a whole lot of skiing,”  I said with a wink.


Vail Mountain,

Vail Plaza Hotel, 866-597-5963,

Hotel-Gastof Gramshammer, 970-476-5626,

Alpenrose, 970-476-8899


Another Favorite Vail Restaurant

La Bottega, 970-476-0280,; an authentic Northern Italian restaurant also located in Vail Village.


Beaver Creek

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, 970-949-1234,

Allegria Spa, 970-748-7500,

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