By the time the Beaver Creek groundbreaking ceremony was held in July 1977, five years had passed since Vail Associates acquired the land. The construction of the first road up the mountain was to be completed the following summer, but it still wasn't clear skiing. Each additional step of the construction had to be preceded by another round of hearings and approvals by various federal, state, county and local agencies. In all, Beaver Creek had to receive 52 separate official stamps of approval. Some ski trails were finally cut in the summer and fall of 1979, and in the winter of 1980 the mountain was available via snowcats and trucks to a handful of VIP skiers. In April 1980 the first chair-lift tower was put up; all last summer the mountain was alive with the construction of everything from ski trails to sewage facilities.
Dean Kerkling, the man in charge of designing Beaver Creek's trails, has used computerized projection drawings that display topographical characteristics and tree density to lay out the ski runs. "We're trying to fine-tune our design," says Kerkling. "Trails used to be laid out like stripes on a mountainside, harsh straight lines. Skiability was the first order of business; visual esthetics were beside the point. We're trying to break up the harshness, to soften the effects of our trails. We're leaving islands of trees in the middle of some. We've selected individually the trees we want to keep and those we'll drop. If we see a particularly beautiful aspen, we'll tie it with a ribbon, which means it has to be saved. We've even tied chicken wire around the base of some particularly good trees to save them from the beavers."
Beaver Creek will have an uncommon amount of glade skiing, which is the best kind available. As an unusual bonus for non-tree-skiing novices, the top of the mountain, with its stunning view of the Gore Mountain Range, will be given over almost totally to beginners' slopes. Kerkling says that the mountain—which he refers to as "the product"—will be laid out so that roughly 30% of the slopes will be intermediate in difficulty, with the remaining 70% about evenly split between beginner and expert runs. "This is the best mix from a marketing standpoint," he explains.
The mix and the market of "the product" will be only mildly tested this winter, because the number of skiers will be limited to 3,300 a day. But still the mountain, which has a vertical drop of 3,340 feet, will at last be available to those skiers who are excited by the idea of trying the first major resort to open in five years—and possibly the last for some time to come. The trail names are unfamiliar, but they may soon become part of the sport's lore—classics that every skier will want to challenge at least once. The steepest are named after birds of prey—Golden Eagle, Goshawk and Peregrine, which is among the steepest and longest runs extant. The run called Centennial is a certified F.I.S. downhill course and, when not set for a race, is a good intermediate trail. The names of it and the other middling trails are of historical or Western origin. There are also historical names for those beginners' runs at the top—Mystic Island, Booth Gardens, Sheephorn.
It has been a long, long time coming, but finally Beaver Creek is with us; it will be around for a much longer time than it took to get it started. All in all, it was probably worth the wait.