This winter, I have had the pleasure of staying at two resorts catering to snow sports enthusiasts: the Vail Cascade, and the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek. Since my stays were less than a month apart, I thought readers might find it useful to see my impressions of both resorts. I considered staff attitude, ease of getting to the slopes, the room itself, hot tub area, apres-ski ambiance, fitness area, and accessibility to other attractions.
1. Staff attitude: Vail Cascades wins, hands down. While there were a few particularly useful folks at the Westin (shout out to Tony the bellman and the bag storage guy who recommended the delicious Avon Bakery), overall the service there was cold and confusing. When we pulled in to the Westin’s circular driveway, ready to store our bags, get our skis and snowboard on the mountain and go, the valet was so unfriendly and made the system seem so disjointed, we were befuddled. When we asked if he would be bringing our equipment over to the ski valet, he said no, that was over by the gondola, and pointed vaguely to the opposite end of the massive building. Disheartened, we simply left our skis and snowboard outside and went inside to check in and get a better orientation of where everything was. Our experience did improve, but the valet set the tone for our stay at the Westin.
On the other hand, from the moment you pop your trunk open at the Cascades, you feel welcomed and as if the staff is actually there to help you have an awesome time in Vail. Joe the bellman/concierge has been there for years and will make sure you know where everything is and how to best take advantage of all that the Cascades has to offer. The valet brings your equipment over to the ski shop, so that your equipment will be labeled and matched to your room, and you will be ready to go (at the Westin, eventually we did schlep our equipment to the ski valet and then over to the gondola, by ourselves). The front desk manager was helpful with a special request our group had, and the waitress by the fireplace bar was always friendly and kind.
2. Ease of getting to the slopes: This one is a tie. The Cascades has a lift right outside of the ski shop; the Westin has a gondola right outside of its ski valet area. In other words, both are very very easy. Westin might have a slight advantage because you can take the gondola down from the base of Beaver Creek, while the trail down to the Cascades is on the far side of the mountain, so takes some advance planning.
3. Guest room: My upgraded King room (I’m an SPG member, after all) had a fireplace, a small kitchenette with a two-burner electric stove, a large bathroom, and a view of sparkling holiday lights in trees outside of the window. My room at the Cascades was small and cramped, with barely enough room for two of us to squeeze by each other on the way to the bathroom. The “heavenly bed” at the Westin was plush with a down comforter and pillows. The bed at the Cascades had a very thin blanket and we had both call down to the front desk several times and beg our housekeeper before finally getting extra blankets and a comforter. The room at the Westin was definitely more comfortable and spacious.
4. Hot tub and pool area: Ahhhh, to dip into a hot bubbling cauldron after exerting yourself for hours on end in cold weather. . . the hot tub experience is usually a highlight of a snow day. The Westin has a slight advantage here because they have robe racks and hooks to hang your towels by their hot tubs. Both hotels have several outdoor hot tubs and a large outdoor heated pool. The main hot tub at the Cascades has a fireplace, but the jets were not working on the two afternoons I tried to use the hot tub during my recent stay there.
5. Apres-ski ambiance: Again, a tie. Both resorts feature live music, complimentary cookies and hot beverages in the main lobby lounge areas in the late afternoon. Both have comfortable seating and friendly guests. We love apres-skiing.
6. Fitness area: The Cascades’ Aria center is large and has every piece of equipment you could desire, plus a track around the perimeter of the workout area. The Westin’s club is also quite large and well-equipped. Each of the resorts also has a spa and offers yoga and other classes at additional cost. Both clubs are open to guests of the hotels as well as residents of those areas who pay a monthly membership fee. The only advantage the Westin has here is that their club is more centrally located in the hotel, whereas to get to the club at the Cascades, you must walk down a long, chilly enclosed bridge at the far end of the hotel.
7. Accessibility: The Westin has a slight advantage here because you can take the free gondola back and forth to Beaver Creek Village, OR take their van shuttle to Vail Village. The Cascades offers a van shuttle to Lionshead and Vail Village. As long as you don’t mind the slightly longer ride to Vail Village from Beaver Creek, the Westin offers more transportation options.
Conclusion: While the resorts are probably around the same size (massive), the Cascades somehow feels homey and cozy. Between the two hotels, I would recommend the Westin to my friends looking for ski in/ski out accommodations in the Vail/Beaver Creek area during the winter simply because the hotel is newer, the lobby more expansive, and the room more luxurious. However, the Westin staff could certainly use some customer service training to make guests feel truly welcome, so if someone is more interested in a comfortable, friendly ambiance, the Cascades makes a great landing spot in the Vail area.