Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vail, Colorado

Yes, The Whole City

Brian and I spent a long weekend in Vail for the Vail Veterans ski program in March of 2007. We were approaching - though we didn't know it then - Brian's final surgery that summer, and we had another 7 months in the hospital. This means we were still fighting the infection in his left leg, and some days he flat-out couldn't get out of the wheelchair.
We knew Brian was going to be in a mono-ski for his mountain activities, so accessibility wasn't an issue there. He had instructors who would stay with him the whole time and help him navigate the lifts, the resort, all of that.
What we didn't know - what we never know - was how the rest of the facilities would be.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised is a monumental understatement.

I want to start this rave (no rants at all, here!) with the bus system.
I have a running complaint about mass transit. I can't tell you the number of subway stations that say they are accessible, but don't tell you they're under construction or don't bother putting up signs to let you know where the elevator is. Better yet, I know of some stations that are, technically, accessible, but only if you're on the southbound track; northbound you have to pass the station, switch trains, and come back in order to use the southbound-only elevator. Accessible, in a lot of instances, doesn't mean convenient. In fact, often it's the precise opposite.
The Vail buses, however, were amazing. The drivers were polite, the other riders were considerate, and there was no freakish, embarrassing restraining device used on my husband when he wanted to ride... the bus was on hydraulics, so it lowered itself closer to street level and then extended a rather discrete ramp. We took the bus upwards of six times a day, and never had a single incident.

Hearkening back, I know there are some places - ski lodges and condominiums and the like - that were not accessible. However, they weren't advertised as such, so I don't care. The hotel we were in was accessible enough that when I hurt my knee (no skier, am I) that I was confortable scooting around the hotel at night in Brian's chair to fetch my own ice from the machine down the hall. If I can do it, anybody can.
The hotel room was not on the first floor, admittedly, but they never are. There was plenty of room to get all the way around the bed, however, and the room was richly decorated. It didn't look like a hospital room, which is sometimes the case for handicap accomodations.

Now, Brian didn't go with me into Vail Village. He was skiing the fresh powder while I limped around the bottom of the mountain with a bum knee. I recall many of the shops being navigable, but definitely not all, and probably not 'most'. Its been awhile, but I seem to recall not noticing any issues in the paths and squares outside the shops; there didn't seem to be any outstanding staircases or really anything more debilitating than some rough cobblestones. This is often the case in 'downtown' or 'old town' areas, though; Vail was no better or worse than any other.

One incident that sticks out in my head was our nighttime trip to the top of the mountain to go snow tubing. Getting out to the tubing area was tricky... until a friendly Vail employee popped Brian onto the back of his snowmobile and hauled right past all of us on the wagon. I seem to recall my husband making a lewd gesture as they passed us...
The snow tubing itself was also memorable. Rather than haul your own tube up the mountain, there was a conveyor system that was simultaneously ingenius and enabling. Either myself or a friend would haul Brian - legless for the evening - as he sat on his tube over to the conveyor system, whereupon the tube was attached and hauled up to the push-off point. One of the nice employees at the top helped Brian get into position, and even helped him push off a bit to get some speed. Brian had just as good a time as anyone else - which is something I can't often say when he doesn't have his prosthetics on.

I recall no issues with the lodge we used as our home base - I clearly recall the location of the elevator, the layout of the restaraunt, and my appreciation of Brian's ability to navigate around obstacles without me. He spent most of the weekend away from me, honestly, as he is an incredible skiier and I am just a girl from Kansas. I shopped and laid in the hottub while he rocketed down the mountain at ridiculous speeds in his bucket of death. That fact alone - that he was comfortable without me, and I wasn't worried about him - speaks more about the experience than anything else I can relate.

One possible detractor that I must mention is that we were part of the Vail Veterans program, and its possible we were getting a special treatment. Its possible there are some places that are not generally accessible or services that are not generally offered that we were able to partake in. Somehow, I doubt it. But it is something to look into, and I would love to go back to Vail, especially now that Brian can use his legs every day.

And I would not hesitate to recommend Vail to every one I know. It was an incredible town, an amazing experience, and Brian & I are both better for it.

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