Vail’s LEGENDARY Back Bowls? Are they really?
I’ve been here too long to be a good judge anymore. I’m still ‘wow’d, and already love this mountain so I’m a tad biased. I had an opportunity to see Vail through someone else’s eyes this week and it was telling to be sure.
As a member of PSIA, (Professional Ski Instructors of America), we all do some continuing education. So this week I participated in an “All Mountain Skiing” clinic for a couple days with one of the PSIA Examiners. We’ll call her “Amy”, to protect the innocent. For while she is very experienced and has skied all over the world, teaching in both hemispheres, she was an innocent when it came to Vail’s Back Bowls. She had been to Vail many times, but as an Examiner, facilitating instructor’s certification exams and making use of only the front side of Vail. She was excited to deliver this “All Mountain” clinic as she had heard an annoying amount of raving about the “Legendary” Back Bowls and wanted to see more of it for herself.
Those of us in the clinic who call Vail our home- mountain were more than happy to take her out back to give her a glimpse. Due to the clinic’s agenda, we only got to show her a fraction of the “back” but as we pointed out the wall of amazing slope that is “Genghis Khan” and explained that it was not the same amazing wall as the Sun Up Bowl we had skied prior, she turned and said, “I get it now!” She’d thought the hype was overblown, but now could see she was….wrong. Have to say, it felt good to to show an “Examiner” something! “Amy” realized she needs to come back and do some major exploration. The vastness of even one bowl was impressive and as she realized that miracle stretched out across 7 bowls and nearly 7 miles, she was ‘wow’d’ too!
The Back Bowls of Vail in one sense are a very big secret, as you can’t see them from town or the highway as you drive through the Vail valley. They have to be seen to be believed and they have to be skied to begin to comprehend them.
In one of my first years here I was standing on top of Ricky’s Ridge in Sun Down bowl, in thigh-high powder, in complete amazement. I was the only one there, had the whole bowl to myself. I had to stand still for a bit to try to take it all in. The beauty, quiet and expanse was overwhelming. Being an Eastern skier I also was wondering what in the world to do with all that snow. You really do have to see it to believe it.
I was having a similar experience another time, standing on “Over Yonder” when a White Ptarmigan landed in the snow behind me. We stared at each other for a couple of beats. It looked like a pristine white dove and seemed like it had flown in straight from Noah’s Ark, or was sent from above, before it flew off.
On another outing with a group, we stopped at the bottom of Sun Up bowl to wait for my friend’s 10 year old daughter. It seemed she had been dawdling on the hill for a bit but when she arrived she made us look up at the sky. That was the first time we noticed that there is something about the lighting from there on a clear day that makes the sky appear a whole other deep color of blue. It was a different sky than we had ever seen, and we decided to name it “Tianna Blue” after her. It took a 10 year old to show us. I’ve only seen it from the base of our bowls and have to say, Benjamin Moore doesn’t have anything that can touch it.
Of course there are less spiritual moments to be had back there. On a great powder day you can hear various versions of “Wahoo’s” and American type yodeling from all corners, if Bowls had corners. I’ve seen many hard core skiers slide down to the lift out back, with classic gleaming skier smiles and once in a while a celebratory sprig of evergreen stuck in their goggle strap.
Vail has started to groom a bit more of the back bowl terrain to allow easier access for intermediate skiers, which is a wonderful move. Everyone should see it. I’ve skied all over the country, have never seen anything close to this and think Vail’s Back Bowls should be declared one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I wonder if you can see them from space?
Written by Janet Lawrence