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Westword's Guide to teh '96-'97 ski and snowboard season

Now the only grading she does is on the steeps of Cuchara. "It's fairly steep from the top to the bottom," she says. "That's what keeps me excited about it." And the most thrilling ride on the mountain to her is Grandote. "It's the best cruiser, by far: very wide, goes all the way to the bottom, perfect for intermediates. They essentially have no obstacles except for each other," she says, adding that Cuchara is one of those mountains where all the runs funnel together at the base. Diablo, though, veers off to the east a bit, which makes it another of McIlvaine's top picks. "It's fairly straight and thin, and there's one area of trees across the middle," she says. "When it gets snow, it holds it well." And two other good bump runs are Christmas and New York, which McIlvaine says don't see as many people as they need to in order to get real bumped out, but which will "do just fine anyway."

"The most popular run is Grandote, and Rattlesnake is another one, because it's a solid intermediate," McIlvaine says. "Rattlesnake isn't easy to find, though; you have to look hard for the sign that cuts off of Grandote." And it's hard to see the Burnout run for the trees, which are so thick that "we've actually had trees cut to get in there," she says, adding that Burnout is a "kind of luge run that's never groomed--there's no way you could get a Sno-Cat in there." The other top trees are in The Burn, an area that was burned down about eighteen years ago but bounced back nicely. "Evergreens came right back up, and there's a funnel at the top with a few trees, but the whole bottom is all through the trees." The Burn also has an incredible view that McIlvaine tries to get everybody to check out. "I'm always taking my friends up there," she says. "You can see out to Pueblo, and we've gone up there and spent half the day watching herds of elk on the peaks across the way from the ski-patrol hut."

Pueblo is an hour from Cuchara Ski Valley, and so is Trinidad and Alamosa Springs. But McIlvaine thinks most of the skiers at Cuchara come from Colorado Springs. "There's no pass they have to navigate," she points out. La Veta is the next closest town besides Cuchara itself, and it's in La Veta that McIlvaine's current favorite restaurant is located. Called Legends Park (902 South Oak), this new restaurant is run by two women who teach culinary classes by day, then serve dinner each night. "The classes are great," says McIlvaine. "The women really know what they're doing, and I learned all these neat little hints from them. You can just pop in and take a class. And the dinners are by reservation only--each night they offer one chicken dish and one beef dish or something--and they only buy enough food to feed the people they have that night. And the food is incredible." The other La Veta establishment she frequents is the La Veta Inn (103 West Ryus Avenue), mostly for breakfast. "I had the yummy apple pancakes the other day," she says. "And the rooms there are nice and reasonably priced, too."

When she's in Cuchara, McIlvaine eats from the Silver Spoon (16984 Highway 12). "They do this excellent blue-cheese-sauced chicken," she says. Also in Cuchara is The Timbers (23 Cucharas Avenue), which "isn't as expensive as the Spoon but does really good prime rib on the weekends." The locals' hangout in town is the Boardwalk Saloon (34 Cuchara Road), which isn't known by that name. "It's the infamous 'Dog Bar,'" McIlvaine says. "It's hilarious. The owners have this fabulous Saint Bernard, and people are allowed to bring their dogs, which they do. And there are always all these brawls--but it's the dogs that are fighting, not the people."

Unfortunately, McIlvaine may have to do her skiing elsewhere this season. As of early November, Cuchara was still looking for a new owner. And until a buyer is found, the resort will remain closed.

General information: 1-719-742-3163 or 1-800-227-4436
Snow report: 1-719-742-3163
Location: 186 miles south of Denver via I-25, U.S. Hwy. 160 west and Colo. Hwy. 12.

Opening and closing dates: Still to be determined. Call for information.

Eldora Mountain Resort
Stevie Johns says he has the perfect life. "Man, I live in Boulder," he says, pausing for dramatic effect. "Well, I used to live in Jersey, see?" Specifically, Johns lived just outside of Newark, where his dad still works at the airport. "I haven't gotten the old man out here," Johns says. "I'm afraid he's gonna want to move in with me." There's really nowhere for his dad to sleep, however, since the second-year University of Colorado student shares a townhouse with "about fifty people, give or take a dozen." And while Johns hasn't chosen a major yet, he's not too worried about it, because he's thinking about taking a year off, anyway. "I want to ride at all the mountains that allow 'boards, man," he says. "Hey, has anyone done that yet?"

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