Cats, Sleighs, Gondolas, and Busses

A bit off from the traditional ‘planes, trains, and automobiles’, but the overall concept is the same. My paths of travel are becoming better worn, although yesterday’s snow may have covered up most of the previously laid tracks. Without a car, I don’t go anywhere directly from the apartment complex. Instead, I walk about five minutes up to The Landing. That’s down three flights of stairs (inside), across the upper parking lot, down two flights of stairs (outside), across the lower parking lot, and along a short piece of sidewalk connecting the employee housing area to the more upscale guest areas.

From The Landing, options begin to branch out. A two-and-a-half mile stretch of paved walkway winds along and above the road up to Beaver Creek Village and the main base of the ski area. The bus stop is visited (ostensibly, at least) every ten minutes by Vail Resorts free busses which will move you from Landing to Village, to the wildly named Elk, Wolf, and Bear parking lots, and the other bastion of employee housing at RiverEdge, which holds the leasing office and package delivery. And now that we’ve hit mid-December, the mini gondola to the Avon Transit Center and the Bachelor Gulch chair lift run in opposite directions along the mountain. It was frustrating for the first weeks to continually be told ‘just take the gondola, it’s super easy’, when the gondola showed no signs of ever intending to be in motion. Now, however, I have had the opportunity to use it several times and it is rather convenient.

Early transportation exploration was hampered by my arrival schedule – travel on Sunday and Monday, new employee orientation on Tuesday, work on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. The work days were fairly short, but so is the daylight in these parts and wandering alone, around strange towns in the pitch black of 6:00 p.m. does not appeal to me. I was forced into a couple of trips by the need for provisions and supplies, but the circuitous routes I managed to navigate did not make me confident that I actually knew how to get anywhere directly. Matters were complicated by the fact that the town busses here stop running at 6:00 every evening, which seems odd and is certainly less than convenient when you work morning shifts.

Work transport, on the other hand, has been remarkably easy to unravel, following my first botched attempt. Let’s just say that when you’re told to make the employee service ride starting at 8:00, it would be useful if your contacts also informed you that it ends at 8:15 and if you, breathless, cold, and confused, show up at 8:17, you will be directed to wait in line for regular lift service to begin at 9:00. Once you actually make it onto the ride, however, it’s quite relaxing. The lift is a mix of chairs and gondola cabins and as foot traffic, you are requested to ride in the enclosed bubbles with the padded seats and 360 degree view out over the village and mountain ranges as it shuttles you about 3,000 feet up the mountain.

Once I’d begun adjusting to the gondola riding routine, I stopped filling in at the cafeteria-esque establishment at the top of chair 6 and had to begin meeting the snow-cat at the base of the mountain to be hauled up to my regular workplace located just above chair 1. Having only seen grooming ‘cats before, I was apprehensive about how exposed to the weather the kitchen crew would be. Would we be perched on the back in the open air, or stuffed uncomfortably into the cabin? Happily, our morning ride is more along the lines of climbing into the family suburban. It isn’t particularly decorative, but the seats are soft, the heater is warm, and the entire arrangement is enclosed with windowed walls that allow you to admire the snow with minimal exposure to it. The driver and the chef sit in isolated glory in the front cabin, while the rest of us goofily prepare for the morning in the back.

Coming down from a morning shift involves a bit more contact with that powdery white stuff that everyone around here enthuses about. It’s rather disconcerting to walk down the side of the ski mountain – I feel so out of place, trudging down with careful footing, while skiers and boarders swoosh along beside me, but after eight hours in the kitchen, the fresh air is pleasant and it isn’t far to the Buckaroo Gondola, which will rock you gently down the remainder of the slope if you make it to a cabin before 4:30. If you miss the gondola, but the mountain is still open, you can pick your way down the bunny hill, keeping a weather eye out for those children who have no fear of downhill speed, but are still struggling with the concept of steering.

Weddings and night shifts are less common, but bring in new techniques and challenges. One cannot catch a snowcat ride uphill while skiers are scattered across the mountain, so you hop onto the Buckaroo Express for the first stretch and then hike uphill to the cabin. The hike isn’t long, but the slope is steep and my calves whine about being forced to walk uphill so soon after uphill running became the norm. I’m still hopeful that it will become more effortless as the season wears on. It helps if there’s another afternoon shift co-worker making their way up – in front and you can chase them, behind and you can try to stay ahead.

The end of the nights when we have a dinner party of some sort are perhaps the prettiest mode of transportation, but also the chilliest. It’s a perk for the guests, open-air ‘sleighs’, drawn behind a ‘cat, but they don’t haul up a separate escape route for employees, so we hop on as well. The first night I rode a sleigh, the weather had been warm and the snow steadily melting for a week – but someone had parked the seats under a snow-maker, so they were quite icy. The night had that crystal clear quality you only seem to get in the cold and you could tip your head back and admire the entire expanse of stars, or look forward over the slope to see the glittery golden lights of the village. My only other ride, thus far, was in the first snowfall since Thanksgiving. The clouds hung so low that you could only peer out a little ways beyond the edge of the sleigh and the flakes were forming soft pillows on every exposed surface. Magical, but a shiver inducing type of enchantment. Fortunately, the bus stop in the village is full of heaters and still large enough to pace around until some of the absorbed damp has melted down and evaporated off.

And that’s what I’ve learned about ski and car free transport in Beaver Creek over the past three weeks. I have yet to venture out on a camera expedition, so you’ll have to take me at my word when I avow that between the street lamposts, the snow-laden evergreens, and the cobbled pathways, I’m pretty sure I’m occasionally passing into Narnia during my wanderings.


View more posts from this author