Colorado’s Beaver Creek Resort literally escalates luxury to another level. The escalators in the base village have long been a symbol of the high-end vibe at the resort. Beaver Creek’s Talons Challenge, however, is the antithesis of pampering.
Scheduled for Saturday, the annual event in its 11th year tests skiers and snowboarders willing to take on 14 black-diamond and double-black-diamond trails in a single day. With the exception of the double-black World Cup men’s downhill course that is generally groomed, bumps and more bumps are the punishing theme of more than 26,000 vertical feet. According to meteorologist Joel Gratz of OpenSnow.com, Beaver Creek should see snow during the coming week, including the possibility of snowfall on the day of the challenge.
The Talons Challenge is limited to 1,500 participants. The event sold out last year, but at least as of Monday, spots through online pre-registration were still available for approximately $38 per person. Unless the challenge sells out, online registration will be available through noon on Friday.
After that time-- again assuming spaces are still available-- participants may register in the Helly Hansen trailer located at the covered bridge bus stop in Beaver Creek Village from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday or 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on the day of the event for $40. Of course, a lift ticket or pass is also necessary to participate. A portion of the event's proceeds will be donated to SOS Outreach, an organization providing 5,500 kids with an adventure-based youth development curriculum.
The 14 runs are split between three distinct areas: Larkspur Bowl, Birds of Prey and Grouse Mountain. The order of attack divides into strategic camps depending largely on whether the three Larkspur Bowl runs start or end the day. Given that the Larkspur trails are the shortest on the agenda, the start-at-Larkspur devotees see them as a nice warm-up with a slight eastern exposure bathed in morning sun. On the other hand, the Larkspur afternoon crowd sees them as the least demanding way to end the day on tired legs.
Anyone who successfully completes the Talons Challenge will receive a commemorative pin and a Helly Hansen beanie. The Talons Après Party and raffle will be at the new Talons Restaurant from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Registered participants will receive a complimentary bratwurst or chili and a Bud Light or non-alcoholic drink.
Insider guide by Beaver Creek ski instructor Emily Heikkinen
- Larkspur Express Lift
Lupine, Shooting Star, Loco: “These in Larkspur are our shortest single blacks of the challenge. To get out to them, there is a catwalk that you have to pull or skate on your skis about 300 yards, so you get a little bit of warm-up workout before you even approach these runs.”
- Birds of Prey Express Lift
Goshawk: “A double-black bump run, it’s not as much of a pitch right at the top, but once you get to the face of it, it gets steeper.”
Peregrine: “It is our longest bump run. Again, that one is a double-black. It is steep to start and then stays fairly mellow all the way to the bottom.”
Kestrel: “This is a single black. It is our new women’s downhill course. Our women’s races are going to be in February of 2015.”
Golden Eagle: “It is our famous men’s World Cup race course. Typically that is groomed, but that would be our steepest double-black run.“
- Grouse Mountain Express Lift
Bald Eagle: “A double-black, it’s one of the longer runs over on Grouse Mountain. That has two steep pitches to it. When you come over on Bald Eagle, you’ll see where the steep part is either skier’s left or right. Just see where the fall-line is and you can choose which way you want to enter.”
Falcon Park: “The entry to that is halfway down Bald Eagle. The feature on that is that you are kind of in some open trees. It’s a nice one.”
Screech Owl: “It is single-black. You enter it from the top of the lift. That can be a bit rocky at the top, so you want to look for a good entry.”
Raven Ridge: “It is a single-black off of Grouse Mountain. That’s probably one of our easier ones on the challenge.”
Ptarmigan: “It’s another single-black on Grouse.”
Ruffed Grouse: “That one is a single-black. The pitch on that is fairly mellow the whole way down and it’s not so demanding.”
Osprey: “A double-black run, it’s a pretty steep pitch most of the way down. As when you are coming off Bald Eagle, Ruffed Grouse or Falcon Park, there is a runout that takes you to the catwalk. There are some little compressions, so don’t go at real high speed and just kind of be ready. You’ve got to get a little bit of speed, but with a lot of people skiing it that day, it’ll kind of get bumped up.”
Disclaimer: Lift tickets were provided to complete Talons Challenge runs for this preview article.