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

As is The Restaurant at the Little Nell (675 East Durant Street). "The food there is incredible," Obermeyer says. "So is the service." He also finds the Hotel Jerome (330 East Main Street) to his liking, especially their light dinners. "I don't eat lunch," he says. "If I do, I sink into the snow. And I like dinner to be small." Breakfast, however, is another story. For that he heads to Wienerstube (633 East Hyman Avenue), famous for its Viennese pastries and sausages. "Best Austrian west of the Mississippi," Obermeyer says. "It's been here for years."

And so has he. What's changed the most in fifty years? "There are better, faster lifts, that's for sure," Obermeyer says. "Grooming has gotten better, and in the town, I have to say I was glad when they blacktopped the streets, because in the early days the whole town was a dust cloud when a storm came.

"The biggest change, though, has been the price of real estate."

General information: 1-970-925-1220
Snow report: 1-970-925-1221
Location: 221 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.
Opening and closing dates: November 28 to April 13.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Terrain: 35% intermediate, 35% advanced, 30% expert. 631 developed acres with a 3,267' vertical drop. Base: 7,945'; top: 11,212'; longest run: 3 miles.

Lifts: 1 high-speed six-passenger gondola,
1 quad Superchair, 2 quads, 4 double chairs.
Lift rates: Adult full-day $56; child under 18 full-day $33; age 18-27 full-day $39; senior (65-69) full-day $45. Early-season prices

Lessons: Ski or snowboard. Semi-private lessons: Half-day $85, full-day $135.

Rentals: Crystal Ski Shop at base of mountain.
Snowboarding: Not permitted. Welcome on all other mountains.
Cross-country: 80 km of groomed trails available nearby. Call 1-970-925-2145 for rentals and information.

Special events: Torchlight Parade with Santa at Snowmass, Village Mall, Dec. 24; 45th Annual Winter Skol Carnival, Jan. 15-19; Gay Ski Week, Jan. 25-Feb. 1; Aspen Shortsfest at the Wheeler Opera, Apr. 2-6.

Beaver Creek
Even when Carol Johnson lived in East Vail, she drove the thirty miles to ski Beaver Creek. "It's like skiing with a big family," Johnson, 30, says. "I like seeing the same people over and over, and it's not crowded, like Vail. And even on the rare days when it is, you can still get way away from people."

That's what stopped Johnson in her tracks on her way from her hometown of Westchester, New York, to San Francisco in 1989. "My parents own a condo in East Vail, and I said I would work one season as a waitress and just enjoy the skiing, and then I'm going to move on," she says. "Then somebody told me my concierge job might turn into a year-round thing. I said, 'Year-round? You mean people actually stay here all the time?' I was very intrigued by that concept."

So intrigued that she took the year-round job and never left--an odd move for somebody who initially hated skiing. "I first went when I was in eighth grade," Johnson says. "I broke my thumb, and I was miserable." Then her father moved the family to Fort Collins when she was in high school, and a couple of years later moved them back to New York. "I knew for sure I didn't want to stay on the East Coast," Johnson says. She met her husband, a ski patroller, and became a part-time ski instructor herself, which means she can be on the mountain for business and pleasure.

And when she's really looking to let loose, the cruisers Johnson never misses are Centennial and, off that, a newer run called Harrier. "It's a hidden run off the front side of the mountain," she explains. "You ride the main lift, Centennial Express, and get off on the right. Start heading down Centennial, and on the left is Harrier. It has a variety of undulations that are roller-coasterish." She adds that Harrier is rated blue but says she thinks sections of it are more for experts; the added bonus is that "there are some tree islands that give the feeling of being in the trees, but you're really not."

For real tree skiing, Johnson heads to Royal Elk Glades, off Grouse Mountain. "It's considered backcountry," Johnson says. "But two years ago they opened the gladed portion, and there are some great spots thick with trees that are never groomed, so you're gonna find varied conditions. It's steep in some areas, and if you know what you're doing, you can pick your own line and be alone, but I definitely recommend doing it with a buddy, because you can get lost in there."

Royal Elk Glades is also a good spot for bumps, but those who are more in the advanced-and-under group should hit Ripsaw in Rose Bowl--what Johnson calls a "really long, fun bumper"--or Bald Eagle on Grouse Mountain, which is designated a single black diamond but turns double-black in some sections where the grade hits 43 percent. Intermediates looking for a bit of a challenge should try C-Prime, a blue run in Rose Bowl, and beginners willing to push themselves can swoop down Lower Golden Eagle. "I don't recommend Upper Golden Eagle," she says. "But I've taken kids over to Lower, and they have a good time. It's a good spot if you're still learning but are feeling confident." Johnson adds that a lot of intermediates are drawn to Beaver Creek, so experts often find themselves completely alone on the double-black runs. "Until this past year, Beaver Creek was considered to be an intermediate mountain," she adds. "But now about 40 or 50 percent of it is advanced since they increased the terrain."

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