Cordelia Brabbs dabbles with gender reorientation checking out women-only wintersports – and riding with the big boys – in the Colorado Rockies
What are you girls doing today, can I join in?’ asks Brian on our chairlift, eyeing our pink feather boas.
‘It’s Betty Fest,’ replies our instructor Kit Hennessy. ‘Women teaching women. But you gotta have breasts to join in.
‘You should see me naked, I have breasts,’ quips Brian. As an uninvited image of supersized Brian’s nude moobs creeps into mind, I realise he’s probably telling the truth. And I wonder if Keystone’s girlie day really is the best way to ride.
Betty Fest is one of several female-friendly ski and snowboard days run in the Colorado Rockies resorts of Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Heavenly on the California/Nevada border. Mining the trend for women-only holidays, outfits offer packages to suit every rider, from the independent Her Turn Adventure Workshops on Vail’s powdery back bowls to the big-brand Roxy Women’s Camps in Breckenridge.
Of all of them, Betty Fest seems the girliest with its obligatory boas. Rocking a look like a flamingo on a plank might not be every woman’s idea of action sport emancipation, but you can’t help but warm to the organisers’ enthusiasm. Founder Sue Curtis, a sprightly 61-year-old, is an energetic hostess all day, from the Betty Fest chant at the top of the first run (‘Goooooo Betties!’) through to lunch with its pink table decor, home-cooked comfort food and chocolate gifts.
I can’t quite muster Sue’s perkiness. Even before lunch I’m wiped out from chasing Kit down the mountain. Her teaching style is more akin to the L’Ecole Francais ‘Follow me!’ school of instruction. A confident intermediate, I’m at the stage where my riding needs tweaking rather than transforming, but my requests for help on the natural hits around the slopes fall on deaf ears and we charge run after run until, exhausted, I have to call it a day at only 2.30pm. To be fair, Kit had a hard act to follow. My previous two days had been spent in Vail with a couple of great male instructors (Terence from New Zealand and Gergz from Croatia) who pushed me to go faster, ride harder and try things I would have chickened out of had I been in a group of girls. There’s something about being with guys that makes me want to prove that girls aren’t wimps, and as a result my riding progressed massively. For a lot of women, though, riding – and especially learning – with guys can be intimidating. Or irritating, in the case of my friend Lisa, whose beginner-class instructor spent the lesson flirting with the girls, while another learner kept telling her, as she dusted herself off from yet another fall, she has ‘sexy hair’.
There is a real need for programmes like Betty Fest, and girls’ groups are good for off-piste activities too. With an abundance of spas, shops and luxurious hotels in its resorts, Colorado has its women’s trips perfectly pitched. Just don’t bank on meeting a dashing mountain man in one of the bars. With a ratio of 80/20 men to women in Breckenridge, the local girls’ saying is ‘the odds are good, but the goods are odd.’
Me, I hit the outdoor hot tub at the Vail Marriott, sweated out my aches in the steam room at the Vail Cascade’s Aria Spa and had a blissful deep tissue massage at The Spa at Beaver Run in Breckenridge with Carlee. The only rude awakening of the week was yoga, Rocky Mountain-style. No whale music, or low lighting, just barked commands of ‘Lift your sit-bones up! Higher! HIGHER!’ By morning I couldn’t tell which aches were from snowboarding and which had been inflicted by Ashtanga Sharri.
By my last day in Breckenridge, I was ready to take it easy, and joined a group of women being guided by Terri, a former Olympic sailor. There was no competition, no pressure to perform, and when I went at my own pace instead of at full throttle, I got compliments on my style instead of orders to go faster. Later I headed down to the learner slopes to join Lisa and messed around with my switch and spins and my new tricks. We both left the slopes smiling.
Who you ride with – boys or girls – is down to taste, mood and the luck of the draw with instructors. For me, girls are great for a laugh, for going at your own pace (usually!) and enjoying some relaxing après-ski. The guys? They win out for progression and trying new tricks. Maybe we should have let Brian and his breasts join in after all. I think he would have looked great in pink.
Cordelia Brabbs travelled with Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.com), which offers seven nights’ b&b at the four-star Lodge at Vail from £919pp, including flights from Gatwick to Denver on Delta and car hire with Dollar (www.dollar.co.uk).
Betty Fest weekend courses, including two days of instruction, lunch, boa, video feedback and après-ski party, are about £105. Call 001 970 49 4170 for dates and bookings. More details on www.keystoneresort.com.
Breckenridge, Colorado, USA (www.breckenridge.com)
The nearest airport, Denver is 167km away, a 2.5 hour drive. Fly to Denver with British Airways (www.ba.com), from £349 return, or Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com) from £302 return
Mid-range: Inghams (www.inghams.co.uk), Ski Independence (www.ski-i.com) Budget: Skiworld (www.skiworld.ltd.uk), Crystal Ski (www.crystalski.co.uk)
Season: Nov 9-Apr 20 Vertical drop: 2,925m-3,700m Terrain: 2,358 acres
Snowmaking: 565 acres Lift passes: from £45 per day covering Vail, Keystone, and Breckenridge Mountain munchies: the bog-standard, chilli-in-a-bread-bowl-tastic American food court is the order of the day – there are four restaurants on the slopes. Guiding: the Breckenridge school offers a Big Mountain Experience guided instruction in Imperial Bowl (00 1 970 453 3272)
Facilities: By US resort standards, this is one lively little town, with quaint streets full of boutiques and cafes and 80 bars and restaurants
Highlight: one of Colorado’s highest resorts, Breck is blessed with dependable champagne powder all season long
Bummer: altitude sickness and biting high winds