AVON, Colo. -- Call me a fool, but I've still never visited Colorado's Vail Valley in winter.
I'd trade the skis for golf clubs any day, spending my money and vacation time here in the summer instead. Avid skiers who overrun the valley every winter just don't realize how awesome the ski villages like Beaver Creek Resort are when the outdoor festivals and golf courses bloom. The villages buzz with life, attracting families like mine, golfers, tourists, hikers, mountain bikers and all other sorts of outdoor thrill seekers.
Over a three-night stay in August, my family experienced the gamut that the exclusive Beaver Creek community two hours west of Denver offers -- golf, horseback riding, hiking, swimming, Pokemon hunting, outdoor ice skating, fine dining, a 4-by-4 jeep tour of the mountain, a rodeo, chair lift rides, putt-putt, trampolines and more.
If you can find a better summer vacation than that, please let me know.
Day 1: Arrival Day
The Osprey at Beaver Creek, our home base, is a RockResorts property advertised as the closest hotel to a ski lift in North America. The boutique hotel, a part of the Vail Resorts family of luxurious mountain lodging, features intimately smaller public spaces -- the pool and indoor sauna/steam room, the fitness center, the second floor restaurant/bar, etc. -- but the room felt spacious and homey with a fireplace, sitting area, mini-fridge and balcony. Our favorite amenity turned out to be the "Red Box" style video rental unit, where we could rent as many free movies as necessary. Breakfast every morning turned out to be a close second.
Upon arrival, we immediately were introduced to Beaver Creek's legendary hospitality. While touring the village's shops, we were offered the free fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies handed out to guests every afternoon. We even stumbled upon an artist who drew free caricatures of my 14-year-old son playing baseball and my 11-year-old daughter playing lacrosse, their two passions. What cool souvenirs.
After a swim back at the hotel, we followed the music to the Beaver Creek Music Experience, a free weekly summer outdoor concert series where families bring blankets and lawn chairs to camp out and enjoy the drinks and cookout available for purchase. My children capped off the day with an outdoor skating session, something they can't do at home in California.
Day 2: Golf and Rodeo
I caught an early morning taxi to nearby Wolcott, home to the exclusive 36-hole Red Sky Golf Club. Only public players who stay at the right properties gain access to Red Sky, a private club that rotates public play daily between its two courses.
Members have their own clubhouse and their own golf course when they need it. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem recently took in a round, if that gives you any indication of the clientele.
The tougher Greg Norman Course, which I played last year, and the Tom Fazio Course, my favorite despite a rainy round, are virtually interchangeable. The Fazio might have the edge with a few more memorable holes -- the risk-reward, par-4 third and the downhill, par-4 16th.
That evening, as the rain passed, we ventured out to the final moments of the Beaver Creek Rodeo Series. It was a hoot, something I'd never experienced. The burro racing made us laugh; the bull riding made us cringe. I don't know how the cowboys or clowns escape unscathed.
Day 3: Golf at Beaver Creek
With so many ways to enjoy Beaver Creek Mountain, which reaches 11,440 feet of elevation, the family went our separate ways on Day 3. My son and I rode to the top by jeep, a tour booked through the village's Adventure Center. Glancing down the throat of some of the world's most ferocious ski runs was mind-numbing enough. Racing 75 mph down their icy slopes would be downright frightening.
My daughter and wife took a different path on the mountain by horseback with the Beaver Creek Stables, which offers one- and two-hour rides and picnic and Beaver Creek Lake excursions. They loved it.
We met up at The Rendezvous Club, the restaurant inside the clubhouse at Beaver Creek Golf Club. Dining on the creekside patio is considered one of the hidden gems of the entire resort.
The same could be said of the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf course at Beaver Creek. The course, which again is only available to guests who stay at the right places, is plenty enjoyable and scenic. If you time your tee off just right, more free cookies -- remember them? -- are delivered to golfers every day at 1 p.m.
Cross hazards define the challenge of Beaver Creek. The creek lurks on 13 holes. If you can survive the target golf on the first three holes through the forest, you've got a chance to score well, although the four-hole finish is equally tough. I lost two balls on the final hole trying to hurdle the final hazard.
The Beaver Creek Chophouse, located in the village just steps from the hotel, proved to the perfect grand finale. Its specialty of seafood, cuts of meat and homemade cocktails were complemented by house entertainment, a magician who went table to table performing tricks for children.
Day 4: Check-out day
Departure day featured still more on the docket. Pouring rain didn't dampen our guided hike, booked through the Adventure Center. The provided rain gear kept us dry. So did the tree cover. We rode the lift up the mountain to reach some secluded trails, where our guide taught us more about the surrounding ecosystem of aspen trees and pines.
Miraculously, the clouds broke an hour later, so the kids could frolic in the village one last time -- gem panning, playing putt-putt golf, flipping on trampolines and eating crepes. Snow? Who needs snow at Beaver Creek? This place rocks year round.