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The Edge

Westword's guide to the 1997-98 ski and snowboard season

Surprise! Colorado is a primo place to ski and snowboard. Oh, you knew that? Well, did you know there's a secret stash on Aspen Mountain that only the locals have found? Did you know there's a place near Vail that offers six tacos for $2 during happy hour? Or that not all the best bumps at Winter Park are on Mary Jane? These are the tips you should be taking to the mountains with the rest of your gear.

The 1997-98 season is upon us, and once again Westword has gone
to residents of every Colorado resort to glean the information only insiders could have: the smoothest cruisers, the untracked powder, the bargain meals. So instead of the same old stuff you already know about the

mountains--or the stuff any resort PR person could tell you--we're
giving you a local's-eye view of the primo place to ski and snowboard.
We're giving you The Edge.

Arapahoe Basin Resort
Professional mogul skier Chris Carson skis all over the world, but he calls Arapahoe Basin home.

Carson, age thirty, has been one of the national top-ten mogul skiers for the past six years, and he's competed as far away as Japan. The Montezuma resident grew up in Evergreen and started skiing A-Basin when he was seven. "It's where my heart is," Carson says. "I ski Keystone, too, but I can live without that. I can't do that with A-Basin."

When he's not competing or filming with Warren Miller, Carson serves as the hard-goods supervisor for Christy Sports, and he's a flame-throwing bartender at the Snake River Saloon, at the bottom of Loveland Pass. "I do what I love," says Carson, who's been competing since 1987 and started doing the tour full-time in 1991. "How many people can say that?"

Carson says he skis about 150 days each season, and most of those are at A-Basin. "I love the fact that it's high-alpine terrain, all natural conditions," he explains. "Although they do a lot of avalanche control, there's still a backcountry gate. And the mountain just has a wilder feel to it, with beautiful open bowls and tree skiing--and since it's not as regulated and they don't mark all the obstacles, that makes it kind of a gnarlier mountain." He adds that he also appreciates that A-Basin is usually the last mountain to close each season, often in July.

And because of its height--A-Basin is the highest resort in North America--the mountain offers some of the best views around. "One of my favorites is from the West Wall," Carson says. "You ski down along King Cornice line, and from either side you can see west toward Gore Range and you can see the Fourteeners." He also likes the views from the hiking areas, such as up at the Upper East Wall, where he can get the steep, free skiing he likes.

When he needs to get in shape for a competition, though, he heads over to Slalom Slope, one of the steepest runs at A-Basin, with "a real direct fall line," Carson says. "It gets great sun exposure, too. And, of course, there's Palivacinni, which is a classic for moguls." But for cruising, Carson does the Sundance. "It's actually a green run, but it's got perfect pitch and a couple of rollers," he says. "It's fun to carve, and it's always quiet."

Carson looks for the runs that haven't been touched by the "powder eradicators," as he calls them. He offers up Gauthier, a little-known run that's part of the Alleys, as a good place to find stashes. "It's the farthest run in-bounds--real steep, with a craggy line," he says. "It has a little bit of a secret entrance, which keeps people away. It does have a sign, but it's in such an unusual spot, where you wouldn't expect there to be a run. It's so steep, it looks like you're going to ski down onto the road."

Carson also finds that two double blacks on the upper east wall, Snorklenose and Corner Shoot, are off the beaten path enough to stay relatively untouched. He likes the Nose, too, for its "neat terrain, a couple of jumps and a cornice," but he takes his trees from The Timber Glades, which has a lot of "tight lines that hold the powder and a double fall line so people don't track it up quick." He adds that everybody already knows about the alleys, but unless you're a local, you wouldn't know that The Spine, on Palivacinni, is "the standby run for any A-Basin local." The Spine, he says, stays smooth. "The groomers don't go there, and it's fun to cruise on its flat, steep stuff."

And since Carson lives in Montezuma, he especially likes the backcountry access to town from A-Basin. "You can ski pretty much there from the mountain," he says. "It goes to Montezuma Road, which is real near the town."

That's where he sends people looking for the "ultimate fine dining": the Ski Tip Lodge (Montezuma Rd. and Alpenrose, a half-mile east of the gondola). "It's a real old building that used to be a stage stop," he explains. "There's a real experienced chef, fancy sauces and killer wild game." On the other end of the dining spectrum, Carson recommends Mitch's Deli (in the Mountview Shopping Plaza Center) for "cheap, good sandwiches and pizza and the most awesome Philly cheesesteaks." Another good pizza, he adds, can be had at Antonia's (817 U.S. Hwy. 6 in Dillon), and one of the best burgers is at The Kickapoo Tavern (129 River Run Rd. in Keystone). "It's kind of an apres-ski spot at the base of the gondola," Carson says.

Dillon is also home to Carson's employer, the Snake River Saloon (23074 U.S. Hwy. 6). "I have to mention that," he says. "But it's really not just because I work there. I wanted to work there because I knew how great it was. And it's really a locals' hangout, 'cause it's pretty reasonable for what you get. They have live bands sometimes, and they do drink specials and cheap appetizers for the apres-ski scene." And Roberto's (269 Summit Place)--a "good Mexican in Silverthorne that's more authentic than Tex-Mex"--is on Carson's list of favorites, along with China Cafe (22954 U.S. Hwy. 6 in Keystone), which he likes for a quick, cheap lunch.

In the morning, though, he suggests the Alpenglow Lodge, up on A-Basin. "That's a very cheap skier's breakfast," he says. "Hash browns, eggs, toast and bacon, and decent coffee."

"There's going to be an espresso cart on A-Basin this year," he adds. "That'll be a good bonus for us diehards."

General Information: 1-970-468-0718.
Snow Report: 1-970-468-0718.
Location: 90 miles west of Denver via I-70 to exit 250 at Dillon, 12 miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6 through Keystone.

Opening and Closing Dates: Mid-November to early July.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 15% beginner, 40% intermediate, 25% advanced, 20% expert. 490 skiable acres with a 2,250' vertical drop. Base: 10,800'; top: 13,050'; longest run: 1.5 miles.

Lifts: 1 triple chair, 4 double chairs
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $39; adult half-day $30; child 6-14 full-day $12; child under 5 full-day free.

Rentals: Recreational package: Adult full-day $17; child up to 14 full-day $11.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Keystone Nordic Center at 1-800-258-9553.

Special Events: KBCO Cardboard Box Derby, Jan. 31; Rocky Mountain Freestyle Competition, Feb. 13-14; Coca-Cola Cup Race, March 14; Running of the Green, March 17; Figure 8 Contest, April 12; Enduro, April 22; Mogul Masters, April 25; Telebump & GS, May 3; Bikes & Bumps, May 9; Memorial Day Celebration, May 23.

Aspen Highlands
Not only is Ron Rash in love with Aspen Highlands, but he fell in love at Aspen Highlands. "I liked her turns," Rash says of the woman who is now his wife. "She was teaching skiing there, and it was kind of love at first sight." And the two are so enamored of the mountain, they were married on it in 1994.

And the tradition has continued with their sixteen-month-old daughter, Megan, who skied for the first time at Aspen Highlands last year--on their backs. "We think we'll probably get her on her own skis this season," says Rash, who is originally from Iowa and moved to Steamboat Springs in 1977. The 43-year-old is pretty experienced at dealing with kids and snow, since he works for the National Outdoor Leadership School, an organization that teaches youth wilderness survival skills such as constructing igloos, pulling sleds, camping and, of course, skiing, especially skiing to get out of difficult terrain.

But it's Aspen Highland's accessibility that makes it so appealing to Rash and his family. "Even though I know how to deal with adverse conditions, I don't like to have to do that to ski," the Aspen resident explains. "Aspen Highlands is so easy to get to, and it has so much varied terrain, that anyone I take can find something for their abilities to ski."

Rash moved to Aspen in 1985--his family had recently relocated to Glenwood Springs, and he wanted to be "close, but not too close" to them, he says, laughing--and soon started teaching skiing at Highlands. "You know, Aspen Mountain is a great mountain, but it has no beginner stuff, and Buttermilk doesn't have any super-expert runs, so Highlands is so perfect," he says. "Even if I didn't teach there, that's the mountain I would ski."

Rash averages 135 days of skiing per season, and he spends most of it in the double blacks. "Everything's a little harder at Highlands," Rash explains. "So the double blacks are pretty extreme, and the singles are more like doubles. If you haven't been here before, you definitely want to assume that the runs are underestimated as far as their difficulty."

For a comfortable cruiser, though, Rash suggests Golden Horn as a solid blue. "It's wide open, faces the front of the mountain looking down into the valley," Rash says. "It's got a consistent pitch, and they groom it well--never any bumps. It's a great run to learn on." For those who are looking for bumps, Rash names the Sodbuster run in Steeplechase area. Full of double blacks, Steeplechase "starts out rather steep at the top and then mellows out a little in the middle," Rash explains. "Then the bottom section is a good section of consistently round, large bumps, not those really pointy bumps, which makes them nice to turn around on the tops or in the troughs."

Rougher bumps can be found at Scarlett's Run, Rash says, on the front of the mountain. "It's a blue," Rash says, "but at most ski areas, it would be a black. It's always bumped out, but it's popular." For untracked snow, Rash proposes the Temerity area, between Steeplechase and Highlands Bowl. "Temerity is my favorite double black overall," he says. "Any of the runs there are great, with lots of trees, very steep. You'd better be able to turn very well to go in there. But you're bound to find untracked stuff." He adds that if the sun is setting up on that side of the mountain, Olympic Bowl is another likely spot for fresh stashes. That's also the area he says has the best view. "When you're skiing down there, you're skiing into the Maroon Creek Valley, looking at Pyramid and the Maroon Bells, and you can see the Fourteeners, too."

Rash says that on powder days, snowboarders also head to the Steeplechase and Olympic bowls, but he cautions that they need to be truly experienced to navigate there. "In Steeplechase, the cliffs at the top of Kessler's Bowl are real popular with the snowboard crowd, but there has to be a lot of snow for it to be safe," Rash cautions.

For 'boarders into carving, Rash lists Wine Ridge, Heather Bedlam and the aforementioned Golden Horn. "And then any of the runs in what's known as mid-mountain are very good for snowboarding," he adds. "Those are beginner runs, but even the expert carvers like to use them." He also puts Riverside Drive, Red Onion and Prospector as phat choices.

On the easier end, Rash sends beginners looking to move up to blues to Heather Bedlam, a cruiser that's kept groomed. "It'll give green skiers a little bit of a feeling of exposure, and it has a good, consistent pitch," he says. And for solid intermediates looking to challenge themselves, Hayden, traversing through the trees to Boomerang, offers an easier-going blue-to-single-black transition, he adds.

It's even easier to find a good burger in Aspen, Rash says. "Boogie's Diner [534 E. Cooper Ave.], by far, has the best one in town. I can get a great turkey burger there, too." He goes to New York Pizza (409 E. Hyman Ave.) "because it's cheap," but his favorite pizza is at Farfalla Trattoria (405 E. Main St.). "It's a small Italian restaurant," he explains. "It's very good, but a little pricier."

Rash points out that "you're not going to find McDonald's prices anywhere in Aspen," but that Explore Booksellers (221 E. Main St.) offers "wonderful bistro fare, excellent vegetarian dishes and pasta for moderate prices." For fine dining, Rash says he and his wife are "kind of stuck on Mirabella Restaurant [216 S. Monarch St.] for sort of American-Middle Eastern food." He says the lamb dishes are their favorite, along with "anything wrapped in grape leaves." He adds that there are two other places they go to for higher-end meals: Pinons (105 S. Mill) and The Restaurant at the Little Nell (675 E. Durant St.).

Rash says many locals lament the fact that the popular Hotel Jerome (330 E. Main St.) stopped its Friday Afternoon Club, but he says the bar at a new restaurant, Bang Cafe & Bar (325 E. Main St.), that sits right across from the Hotel Jerome, has become the hot place to go. "It's also trying to fill the niche of Chinese," he adds. "Not that they're a Chinese restaurant, but they do have some dishes, and they're pretty good." Rash says The Cantina (411 E. Main St.) is a popular local bar, too, "but I don't recommend it for dining," and he says that Cooper Street (508 E. Cooper Ave.), Little Annie's Eating House (517 E. Hyman Ave.), the Red Onion (420 E. Cooper Ave.), and Bentley's at the Wheeler (328 E. Hyman Ave.) are the top bars, even if some of them are more like "frat bars."

Rash doesn't think Aspen has any good Mexican eateries, but he thinks it's a hotbed of excellent Japanese. His two favorites: Takah Sushi (420 E. Hyman Ave.) and Kenichi (533 E. Hopkins Ave.). "It's amazing that we can get such fresh seafood here," he says. "And I think the food at those two spots is pretty much equal in quality." And two other longtime Aspen eateries offer good, relatively inexpensive steaks: Skiers Chalet Steak House (710 S. Aspen) and the Steak Pit (305 E. Hopkins Ave.).

In the mornings, Rash says he likes to go to the Main Street Bakery & Cafe (201 E. Main St.) for breakfast. "They have baked goods and a regular breakfast menu," he explains. "My favorite thing to get there is the huevos, because they use real black beans. They don't use those brown beans with lard between them. It would be kind of hard to get on the slopes after that kind of meal."

General Information: 1-970-925-1220.
Snow Report: 1-888-277-3676.
Location: 219 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.
Opening and Closing Dates: December 12 to April 5.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Terrain: 20% beginner; 33% intermediate; 17% advanced; 30% expert. 619 skiable acres with a 3,635' vertical drop. Base: 8.040'; top: 11,675'; longest run: 3.5 miles.

Lifts: 2 high-speed quads, 5 double chairs, 1 Poma lift.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $59; child 7-12 full-day $35; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Rental center at base of mountain.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-923-2145 for information.

Special Events: Aspen Highlands Day Wintersksl, Jan. 16; KSPN 28th Annual Blitzenbanger, Feb. 28. See also Aspen Mountain.

Aspen Mountain
Sunni Simpson came to Aspen intending to stay for a year. It's now been five. "I love living here," Simpson, who grew up in Denver, says. "I think it's so nice here, because there are so many mountains to choose from, and there's something for every kind of skier."

As to what kind of skier Simpson is, the 26-year-old says, "Crazy should be a category. I'll ski anything." And mostly what she skis is located on Aspen Mountain. "It's a lot of bumps and steeps, and there's so much you can get your legs burning on," she explains.

When she's really looking to do that, she just heads over to Bell Mountain. "The speed bumps and more shallow bumps that aren't real steep--you can just haul on them," she says. "Then you start skiing down the Face of Bell and keep cutting over and cutting over, so you're really skiing down the shoulder of Bell, or they call it the clavicle--isn't that what's between the face and shoulder? Those bumps will just burn your legs like crazy."

To go the bumpy route, Simpson heads to either Bell or, on a powder day, Walsh's, which is "even steeper than Bell, and it can get bumped out. On a powder day it's awesome," she says. "But all of Bell is bumps." She also names the blue Dipsy Doodle and, directly under the lift, Dipsy Wall, as other good bumpers, "but be aware that they're double diamonds when it's groomed," she cautions. "Go straight down that, and as it comes out, take a right and go straight back down to the chair. It's awesome."

When she wants to go on a ski cruise, "if it's not crowded, Spar Gulch, which is where they do the 24 Hours of Aspen, is really fun," she says. "And in the morning, before people get on it and it turns icy, Ruthie's Run is a really fun cruiser. That's where the World Cup Downhill is done." To ski the trees, she hooks up with Gentleman's Ridge, and she divulges that there are also "secret stashes" at Pandora's Box, the local nickname for the run to skier's right of Walsh's. She adds that Walsh's, too, doesn't get much traffic, nor do Hyrups and Kristi, because "a lot of people don't ski those unless there's really good conditions, and you have to hike out to them."

One more good place for some alone time is off the so-called "couch chair," what locals call Chair 4 (also known as Little Nell Lift) because it's so slow. "If you're tired at the end of the day and want a long lift to rest on, this is it," Simpson says. "There are good cruisers under and around the lift. There's never a line at that lift, either."

The locals also like to hit a secret tree line that goes from Walsh's to the Ridge of Bell, Simpson says. "There's no sign there, and you have to look for it. That's where the Elvis shrine is, where people have hung all these pictures of Elvis from the trees." After the Elvis shrine, Simpson likes to hit Bell Mountain, then cuts across Spar Gulch and then over to Chair 1 (Shadow Mountain Lift) for some "total bump skiing all the way down," she says. Another shrine, this one to the Grateful Dead, is over by Ruthie's Run. "You'd never find it unless someone showed you," she says. "I'm not into it, but sometimes people hang a little pot from the trees, and that's where all the stoners go to toke. People have even carved out a little seat there."

The best steep skiing, according to Simpson, can be found at the Dumps, off the lift called S1. "The Dumps are great skiing. It's the steepest run, but only when there's snow. A lot of times it doesn't have enough snow, though," she adds. "But on a powder day, they're killer."

For a milder time, Simpson suggests such runs as 1 Leaf and 2 Leaf, which run off the Copper Cutoff, which parallels Spar Gulch. "That tends to be less crowded than Spar," Simpson says. "If you want to avoid the end-of-day rush, it's definitely the way to go."

The crowds are hard to avoid off the mountain, too, so Simpson recommends getting down earlier to get food. "Cache Cache [205 S. Mill St.] is great for a quick, good and lower-priced dinner," she says. "They have a bar menu, so you can sit there, and they have a whole different menu that's a lot cheaper, but still as fabulous as their regular menu." She adds that it's first come, first served, so late afternoon is a good time to sneak in there.

Pricier but "unbelievable" meals come from Renaissance (304 E. Hopkins St.), Simpson says, and Pinons (105 S. Mill St.). "I work at Pinons, so I guess it'll sound like I have to say it, but truly, the food there is incredible." Before dinner, happening happy hours are at Mezzaluna (600 E. Cooper Ave.)--"They have cheap pizza and beer right after skiing," Simpson says--and Ajax Tavern (685 E. Durant Ave.), where, if it's a nice day, skiers can sit on the deck and watch people ski down. The best pizza is "most definitely New York Pizza [409 E. Hyman Ave.]."

Simpson is a hunter, so she tries not to eat meat that she hasn't killed herself, but in a pinch she'll get a burger from either Little Annie's Eating House (517 E. Hyman Ave.) or Boogie's Diner (534 E. Cooper Ave.). "Boogie's is touristy, though, but it's still a great burger," she adds. "Lunch in general, especially a cheap lunch, is a tough one in Aspen." She suggests Johnny McGuire's Deli (132 Midland Ave. in Basalt) for a "good, basic sandwich," and to sit down, The Flying Dog Brewpub (424 E. Cooper Ave.) for pretty good bar food, and the Howling Wolf (316 E. Hopkins Ave.), which has "a lot of vegetarian stuff, pretty healthy, everything from tuna sashimi appetizers to pot stickers, pasta, steak and fish."

As for a full meal of sushi, Simpson says she prefers Kenichi (533 E. Hopkins Ave.) because, "even though the food's the same at all of them, I like the atmosphere there better." And when asked about Mexican food, she replies, "Do you want cheap or good?" For the former, she recommends the local hangout La Cocina (308 E. Hopkins Ave.), but for the latter, she says Su Casa (315 E. Hyman Ave.) is the best in town.

In the morning, Simpson says she almost always stops by Cafe Ink (520 E. Durant Ave.). "They've got great coffee and pastries and stuff, and it's a fun place to hang out," she says. For a heavier breakfast, though, she heads to Poppycock's (609 E. Cooper Ave.) for pancakes.

And then there's the Hickory House (730 W. Main). "That's the place for a total greaseball experience," she says. "And sometimes that's just what you need on a powder day."

General Information: 1-970-925-1220.
Snow Report: 1-888-277-3676.
Location: 219 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.
Opening and Closing Dates: November 22 to April 19.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Terrain: 0% beginner, 35% intermediate, 35% advanced, 30% expert. 675 skiable acres with a 3,267' vertical drop. Base: 7,945'; top: 11,212'; longest run: 3 miles.

Lifts: 1 high-speed 6-passenger gondola, 1 quad Superchair, 2 quads, 4 double chairs.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $59; child 7-12 full-day $35; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Rental center at base of mountain.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding prohibited. Cross-country call 1-970-923-2145 for information.

Special Events: Land Rover 24 Hours of Aspen, Dec. 13-14; Revlon Spirit of Skiing, Jan. 9-11; Aspen Mountain Day Wintersksl, Dec. 17; 21st Annual Gay Ski Week, Jan. 24-31; 11th Annual Response Chocolate Classic, Feb. TBA; Second Annual Aspen Women's Weekend, Feb. 6-8; America's Uphill Race, March TBA; Rocky Mountain Telemark Series, April TBA.

Beaver Creek Mountain
Brett Phares figures he has just about the best situation around. "I wanted to live in the mountains forever," he says. "I grew up in Denver, and I always knew that's where I wanted to be, and now I've been able to work it so that I can live here without forsaking my career."

Phares is an art director for Eagle River Interactive, a company that has only five offices, including one in Paris--and one in Edwards. That's where Phares has lived since June of 1996, and that's where he skips out of on powder days to snowboard at Beaver Creek. "As long as the work gets done, no one cares," Phares, 33, says. His office is across the street from the shuttle to the mountains, and while he does go to Vail on "big, big powder days," he spends most of his time at Beaver Creek. "It's more snowboard-friendly than Vail," Phares notes. "When you're in the back bowls there, you just spend so much time dragging your ass around."

Phares doesn't usually go after bumps; he's more of a tree man. One place he tries not to miss for trees is Bachelor Gulch--"It's a blast there," Phares enthuses--and he adds that there's also powder to be had at Pitchfork at Strawberry Park Express Lift. Good cruisers include Grubstake or Cabin Fever, both intermediates, as well as Centennial, a top-to-bottom speedster. Phares says he also likes to 'board Arrowhead Mountain for cruising. "It has some nice, fast areas," he explains. "And there are not as many people there."

When he does feel like a bumpy ride, Phares goes to Grouse Mountain. "Just about anything there can satisfy that need," he says. If the snow is good, he likes Birds of Prey, but "when it's just corduroy, go in the trees to look for more powder." The right side of Red Tail and the double-black tree run Royal Elk are two other spots for stashes, according to Phares, and he thinks Stickline is fun to be in when it's hardpack. "Harrier, too, is a real fun run, an intermediate that turns into an expert," he adds.

Since both his wife, Janice, and his daughter, six-year-old Margaux, are avid skiers, Phares says he looks for kid-friendly places to eat. "Let's see, the Gashouse [34185 U.S. Hwy. 6 in Edwards] is good for burgers and steak," he says. "And it's also a locals' bar." The Blue Moose (45 W. Thomas Place in Avon), too, is a locals' spot, which Phares says has excellent, reasonable pizza. "They have a deal--a couple of slices and a Coke for something like $3.50," he adds. "And people will go to the Gashouse for dinner and then the Blue Moose for a beer afterward."

Another superior burger comes from The Kitchen (1060 W. Beaver Creek Blvd. in Avon), according to Phares, which is also home to his favorite sushi place, Masato's (92 Beaver Creek Place), and favorite breakfast spot, Bob's Place (92 Beaver Creek Place in Avon). "Just your basic eggs and bacon," he explains, "but it's good, fast and cheap." In Edwards, Fiesta's (Edwards Plaza) offers breakfast on the weekends, and Phares says it also offers a good, cheap Mexican lunch. Another inexpensive lunch is available at the base of the mountain at, of all places, the Hyatt Regency (136 E. Thomas Place). "They have a burrito bar at the base," Phares explains, "and they do these killer burritos, like a Moroccan curried chicken."

On the higher end, Phares likes Legends (76 Avondale Ln. in Avon). "They have a great banana split," he says, "and it's high-end but casual, sort of haute Southwestern." But his "all-around favorite fine dining" comes from Zeno's (River Center Building in Edwards) for Northern Italian. "It's owned by the same people who own Sweet Basil," he says. For red-sauce Italian, though, Phares likes Marco's (Edwards Plaza) because "it's homey and reasonably priced."

But at night, he says the place to hang out is at the fire pit at the Hyatt. "You can roast marshmallows, and they have a storyteller," he says. "You'd think just kids would be into it, but it's always mostly adults."

General Information: 1-970-949-5750.
Snow Report: 1-970-476-4888.
Location: 110 miles west of Denver via I-70 (exit 167).
Opening and Closing Dates: November 22 to April 19.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 34% beginner, 39% intermediate, 27% expert. 1,625 skiable acres with a 4,040' vertical drop. Base: 8,100'; top: 11,440'; longest run: 2.75 miles.

Lifts: 6 high-speed quads, 3 triple chairs, 4 double chairs, 1 surface lift.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $54-56; child full-day $25; child under 4 free; senior 65-69 $45; senior over 70 free. Beaver Creek pass also includes Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge.

Rentals: 1-800-525-2257.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Beaver Creek Cross-Country at 1-970-845-5313.

Special Events: Chevy Trucks International Ski Festival, Dec. 2-7; Men's World Cup Downhill, Dec. 6; Delaney Snowboarding Camp, Dec. 6-7; American Ski Classic, March 4-8; 5th Annual Snowshoe Shuffle, April 4.

Breckenridge Ski Resort
Until she moved to Breckenridge in 1988, Jennifer Losch had lived in a different place nearly every year of her life. "My dad's a metallurgical engineer," she explains. "It's the kind of job that you have to go where the work is."

Since she's lived mostly in Colorado, though, she's quite familiar with all of the ski areas. "I've lived in Dillon, Vail, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek, Evergreen, Telluride--you name it," the 26-year-old says. "I was two in Telluride, and that's when I first skied, but then we moved away to the Virgin Islands and Texas, so I didn't ski again until I was seven." And then she was hooked, so much so that she set her sights on becoming a ski instructor, which she's been since she was seventeen. "I thought about going to college, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to start my adult life in debt," she says. "So I started at [the now-defunct] Ski Broadmoor, which was run by Vail, and then I came to Breckenridge. It's one of the easier ski areas to find a place to live, and it's still close to a major city."

Losch is a fully certified ski instructor, which means she can teach all ages. And now that Vail Resorts has purchased every mountain area it could get its hands on, she can ski Beaver Creek and Arrowhead, Vail and Keystone, but her first choice is always Breckenridge. "There's more expert skiing here," she declares. "And the temps are colder, which can equal better snow, depending on what you're looking for. And while the runs are shorter, they're steeper than most."

Losch does have a favorite long run, though: Crystal, on Peak 10, right under the chair. "It's almost always groomed every morning," she says. "Beautiful corduroy, nonstop cruising. I love the front side of Peak 10 all around for early-morning skiing. It's a good place to get it together for the rest of the day."

Once you've gotten it together, Losch suggests heading over to Little Johnny, a black run that's "not waist-deep and not really flat; fun, but not the huge, gnarly bumps." For the huge gnarlies, Losch says to speed over to Mach 1, on Peak 8. "We just put snowmaking on that run this year, and we're going to hold the Freestyle Moguls Comps on it," she adds. "And adjacent to the Mach is another choice mogul run, the double-black Tiger."

For those in the more intermediate range, Losch endorses Duke's Run and Crescendo on Peak 8 as good transitional runs from blue to black skiing. "They groom half on both of them and let the other half bump up," she explains. "So you've got an escape route." She says that most of Peak 8 offers solid intermediate skiing, with its share of harder greens, blue-blacks and easier blacks. "It's the south side of Peak 8 where you find the tougher stuff," she adds. And the lower half of Peak 9 is for beginners; Losch believes there's nice teaching terrain off Quicksilver--and she should know.

But for the "really sick and gnarly stuff," Losch says to try the National Forest access off the north side of Peak 9, or the slightly tamer but still tight trees at The Windows. And she thinks The Burn on Peak 10 is hot. "The Burn is the whole north side of 10," she elaborates. "There's a whole great gladed area for trees." And on both Peak 9 and Peak 10, Losch says, there's plenty of air, tree stumps and cruising terrain for snowboarders.

After a hard day on the slopes, Losch likes to unwind during happy hour at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant & Cantina (600 S. Park St.). "They usually serve chips and nachos with beer specials," she says, adding that they also have good chiles rellenos and authentic Mexican seafood. And, according to Losch, a good place for right after skiing, near the hill and across the street from Mi Casa, is the Fajitas Bar & Grill (at the base of Peak 9 in Breckenridge Village). "It's more Tex-Mex, soft-wrapped tacos, chips and dips--a great place to get a quick lunch. Fajitas are $3.50 to $4, and you can get that with chips and guac and have a $5 lunch within five minutes."

More of Losch's favorite ethnic dining: Red Orchid (206 N. Main) for "great Chinese, Hunans, sweet and sours and a killer pu pu platter," and Blue River Bistro (305 N. Main) for Italian. "They kind of do everything, from Northern to red sauce," she says. "Fried calamari, escargot, eggplant parmigiana, chicken fettuccine. All good." For pizza, she goes Downstairs at Eric's (111 S. Main)--she likes the burgers there, too--and for "super subs," her stomach growls for Bear's Soup and Sub Deli (500 S. Main).

For casual but more upscale dining, Losch loves The Hearth Stone (130 S. Ridge). "They do a lot of prime rib, braised lamb, crab-stuffed trout," Losch says. "They're not way expensive--I'd say most of it's around $16.95 to $19.95--but the portions are hearty, definitely not your yuppie portions." She adds that The Hearth Stone also makes fantastic spicy jalapeno-stuffed shrimp. "They're available for dinner and as an appetizer, but at happy hour they're only 75 cents each at the bar." Losch also likes the Steak & Rib of Breckenridge (208 N. Main), although it's "a little pricier," for good steak.

The thing Losch says she can't live without, though, is the green chile for breakfast at The Prospector (130 S. Main). "It's right downtown, small seating and wonderful food," she says. "You can get your basic over-easies with hash browns or home fries, and then there's that green chile. I've got to have that." But when the weather's no good, she starts the day with some pastries and coffee at Mountain Java Coffees & Books (1185 S. Ridge). "They have a little bookstore type of thing," she says. "When you don't have skiing or anything else to do, you can go there and sit down, like on a cold spring or fall morning. It's the best."

General Information: 1-970-453-5000.
Snow Report: 1-970-453-6118.
Location: 104 miles west of Denver via I-70 (exit 203), Colo. Hwy. 9 to Breckenridge.

Opening and Closing Dates: October 31 to May 3.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 14% beginner, 26% intermediate, 60% expert. 2,031 skiable acres with a 3,398' vertical drop. Base: 9,600'; top: 12,998'; longest run: 3.5 miles.

Lifts: 6 high-speed quads, 1 triple chair, 7 double chairs, 5 surface lifts.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $30-49; child full-day $15-17; senior 65-69 $30; child under 4 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Call 1-970-453-5000.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Breckenridge Nordic Center at 1-970-453-6855.

Special Events: Disabled Sports USA Ski Spectacular, Dec. 8-13; Breckenridge Freestyle Classic, Jan. 26-Feb. 1; Senior Games at the Summit, Feb. 8-10; Colorado Powder 8 Championships, Feb. 20; Rolex Junior Olympics, March 1-7.

Buttermilk
It took only five days for Ken Mattis to decide he wanted to move to Aspen forever. "I came out to visit my mom and stepfather from Tallahassee," Mattis says. "After five days here I called my roommates in Florida and told them I wasn't coming back. I sent them rent money, quit my job there and got a job here."

That was three years ago. Not long after, a friend introduced him to snowboarding. It took him only two days to decide he wanted to snowboard forever. "I was hooked. I sold everything--my skis and anything connected to them," he says. Now he's a snowboard instructor at Buttermilk--a golf pro during the summer--and this year he'll be the manager of D&E Snowboard Shop in Aspen. And he's enjoying his unfettered life. "The great thing about living here is that you don't need anything," the 27-year-old says. "All the apartments and condos are furnished, so basically all you need to worry about is clothes. You put your summer clothes in storage at the beginning of the winter, and then you take them out again and put your winter clothes in storage. No burdens."

It's also a load off his mind that Buttermilk is so easy to understand. "You've got three main areas at Buttermilk for 'boards," he explains. "There's West Buttermilk, there's the main area, and then there's the Tiehack side." The first one, he elaborates, is mostly blues and greens. "Go there first when you're just learning," he says. "I used to take a lot of beginners over there. It enables them to have a rest on the long, gorgeous ride up."

Mattis says the second area, the main portion of Buttermilk, is "just the big run that goes down the middle. There are a lot of people speeding by you, but it's easy to go slow runs. You can go on little runs off to the left and right, you can do top to bottom--whatever--and it will teach you to navigate traffic." So he maintains that West Buttermilk sets the snowboarder up, main gives them more practice, and Tiehack is where it gets serious. "That's where the black runs are," he says. The trees over there are awesome, like Timberdoodle Glades." He adds that Timberdoodle is especially superb when there's powder.

He also suggests that snowboarders who don't like bumps go over to Timberdoodle, drop in off the 'Catwalk up top, come out on Sterner Gulch, and then board down to the lift. "The trees in there are really nice--there are some good kickers and usually some good powder," he says.

For air, Mattis believes there's no better place than the Snowboard Park. "It's on the left hand coming down main, and it's probably one of the best, most well-designed parks that I've ever been through," he says. "What's good about it is, you don't have to be an expert, and it's got big air jumps and smaller jumps. You can go off the sides and edges, and it'll accommodate all levels of snowboarders."

If he has any complaint about the Tiehack side, however, it's that there's no place to eat. "So as far as hangouts for snowboarders go, the younger kids hang out at the Popcorn Wagon [at the mountain]. The older 'boarders get off the mountain and go into town." Once there himself, Su Casa (315 E. Hyman Ave.) is one of his favorite spots, and for dancing, the 'boarders go to the "dark, alternative/techno" Freedom (426 E. Hyman Ave.) or, across the street, Club Soda (419 E. Hyman Ave.). When that's over, he says, "everyone goes to New York Pizza [409 E. Hyman Ave.] on the Club Soda side because it's open until, like, 2:30 or 3 in the morning."

If he's up in time for breakfast the next morning, Mattis says the Hickory House (730 W. Main St.) smokes for tons of cheap, good food. "The coffee's real good there, too," he adds. "The guy who owns it is famous for his barbecue sauce, 'cause it's really a barbecue joint, and at night he serves killer ribs and chicken. But if you can get yourself up before noon, the breakfast rules."

Mid-day, Mattis likes to stop in at Little Ollie's (308 S. Hunter), a Chinese restaurant that has a lunch menu that's "very affordable for locals, like $4.95, and there's a list of twelve different things you can choose from, and you're hard-pressed to eat the whole thing," he says. "And you can get it to go, and they'll have it ready in ten minutes. It's a very good deal for Aspen." He also likes Cafe Ink (520 E. Durant Ave.) and Little Annie's Eating House (517 E. Hyman Ave.) for affordable lunches and "hefty sandwiches," and he thinks Boogie's Diner (534 E. Cooper Ave.) is another quickie.

As a 'boarder always looking for a deal, Mattis says Little Annie's is a bargain for dinner, and for Italian "in my price range, there's a bar called Cooper Street [508 E. Cooper Ave.]. Right underneath it is Lucci's, which has totally affordable Italian like lasagne and chicken parmigiana," he says. Cooper Street is a favorite for several other reasons: A burger and a beer costs $5, which is "great for apres-ski, and if it's a nice day, the sun beams right in and it gets nice and warm," he says. "It's also the only bar in town where you can catch a smoke." He adds that Cooper Street doesn't get a lot of out-of-towners, and because it's one of the original buildings in town, it has retained the kind of divey, comfortable neighborhood-bar atmosphere that is hard to come by in upscale Aspen. "Upstairs they have pool tables and a dartboard, and it's the only cool bar open in the off-season," Mattis says. "If you can't afford the nice places, even during the season, drafts of Coors Extra Gold are 75 cents at Cooper Street."

Another good deal comes from The Mountain Dragon (67 Elbert Ln.), in Snowmass. "It's a pretty decent Chinese place, but during the season you can go in at 4 p.m. and get free hors d'oeuvre, like fried green peppers and chicken wings, egg rolls," Mattis says. "There are pool tables and a dartboard there, too, and you can get a couple of beers and some free food. Can't beat that."

General Information: 1-970-925-1220.
Snow Report: 1-888-277-3676.
Location: 218 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.
Opening and Closing Dates: December 12-April 5.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Terrain: 35% beginner, 39% intermediate, 26% advanced. 410 skiable acres with a 2,030 vertical drop. Base: 7,780'; top: 9,900'; longest run: 3 miles.

Lifts: 1 high-speed quad, 5 double chairs, 1 handle tow.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $59; child 7-12 full-day $35; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Rental center at base of mountain.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-923-2145 for information.

Special Events: MCI Boarderfest, Dec. 13-14; Buttermilk Day Wintersksl, Jan. 18.

Copper Mountain Resort
After growing up in Decatur, Alabama, and going to school in Florida, Jen Hartley just wanted to spend time in the mountains. "I had been coming out here to Summit County to ski before I moved here, and I always really liked it," Hartley says. "And then the summer after college, I just up and moved out here. I didn't know anyone, really, and I wound up crashing on somebody's couch. And then I decided to stay."

That was in May 1994, and since then, Hartley, 25, has lived in both Breckenridge and Frisco. And of all the mountains she has access to from her Frisco home, Copper is the one she skis and snowboards most. "I like the terrain and the short lift lines," Hartley explains. "It really, really is less crowded here than other resorts. Mid-week on a powder day, there is just no one around."

But even on weekends, Hartley says, there is untracked powder to be found. "When they groom on the backside of S Lift, that's a nice cruising area," she says. "It's kind of hard to get to, because you have to ride a couple of lifts, and people just don't know about it, so when it's groomed, it's wonderful and you're all alone." She adds that everyone, of course, knows about Andy's Encore but says "I have to mention it anyway. It's a really nice top-to-bottom run, and it's not right under the lift, so you don't have to deal with people watching your every move."

Another "slightly obscure" spot that Hartley likes is over at B-1 Lift. That's her warm-up run, which is often empty because of the two-man lift. "It's a great intermediate area, groomed, with all sorts of little hits to jump off of," she says. "I like to snowboard in there, especially, because there's lots of 'Cat tracks and natural terrain features. You can just take all these little hits of air."

Places to which skiers have to hike are often uncrowded, and Hartley says Copper is no exception. "You have to go to Union Peak," she insists. "It's a quick fifteen-minute hike, and Union isn't the hardest thing on the mountain, but it's pretty intense. You're above the tree line, and at the top you can just hang out and look around at this incredible view. You have a great view of Copper Bowl and the Ten-Mile Range, so you can take a breather and get ready for this short but pretty steep run. It's so smooth, and there's nothing but a couple of small rocks in your way." She adds that Union Peak is basically a bowl, and another nice thing about it is that you can plan to be there around 10 a.m. to catch the fresh stuff right after ski patrol is done blasting it on a powder day.

Copper Bowl is where Hartley sends intermediates looking for something more demanding that won't do them in. "They're all blacks back there, but they're pretty mellow," she says. "It's a huge bowl, so you can go back there with people of all different levels--I mean in the advanced-intermediate range, which is what I would call myself--and then everyone can choose their route down. And the scenery back there is amazing. I'm telling you, the sky is always bluer back there, and the sun shines brighter. And the snow gets nice and soft about mid-afternoon."

Since Hartley doesn't like bumps, she knows what to avoid: the A Lift area. "Oh, I've been there, and it's a bump skier's paradise. These are long, grueling bump runs, at least from my perspective. It's one of those ones where you're happy to be sitting on the chairlift when you get to the bottom." She does like trees, though, and names Enchanted Forest as her top choice. "That's a whole area, and there's some other trees that we call Timberline Trees under the Timberline Express lift, where you can kind of ski from the top all the way down. As you ski down, the trees get tighter, but it's such a great setup because you can jump out onto a run if you get into trouble. It's a good place to make smooth turns."

According to Hartley, a good place to get a refined meal off the mountain is Frisco's Uptown Bistro (304 Main St.), with its "seafood and sauces" and "great vegetarian meals. It's just such a nice place, really relaxing. I think it has the best food in the area."

More good vegetarian food and the "best margaritas ever" come from El Rio Cantina & Grille (450 W. Main St.), she says, adding that it's tops for happy hour and dinner. She also thinks the Mexican food at Barclay's Basement Cafe (620 Main St.) is "decent, but it's actually a sports bar and a great place to go for happy hour and to watch the games," she adds. And while she thinks the area is sorely lacking in good Italian, she does like the pizza at Matteo's (106 Third Ave.), which she describes as "kind of a small joint--more of a takeout--but you can sit in there and eat. It's ideal for a slice."

To get a quick, cheap dinner, Hartley pops into the Moose Jaw (208 Main St.), where a burger and fries and a pitcher of Bud for $5 makes for a well-rounded meal. "It's a dive," she says. "But it's got true local flavor, and it's the best for total bar food and cheap beer. You're not going to find a microbrew here." For a more upscale--and much more expensive--dinner, she suggests Pug Ryan's (104 Village Place), in Dillon. "That's where everyone goes for a good steak," she adds. "And it's a ton of food, so it's a reward for a brutal day on the slopes."

Before skiing, she prefers to get a bagel and coffee at Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters (285 Main St.). "They roast their own beans, and while they don't make the bagels, they get them from a good place," she says. If she has the time for a sit-down breakfast, though, she says it has to be Claimjumper (805 N. Summit Blvd.). "The huevos are the best," she says. "They do pancakes and skillets, and it's almost approaching a diner. It's sort of like Denny's, only the food is much, much better."

General Information: 1-970-968-2882.
Snow Report: 1-970-968-2100.
Location: 75 miles west of Denver via I-70 at exit 195.
Opening and Closing Dates: Mid-November to mid-April.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 21% beginner, 25% intermediate, 36% advanced, 18% expert. 2,433 skiable acres with a 2,601' vertical drop. Base: 9,712'; top: 12,313'; longest run: 2.8 miles.

Lifts: 3 high-speed quads, 6 triple chairs, 8 double chairs, 4 surface lifts.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $29-$47; child full-day $15-$17; senior full-day $29; child under 5 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Novice complete recreational package: Adult $18; child $15.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-968-2882 for information.

Special Events: Women's skiing seminar, Dec. 13-14; Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade and Fireworks, Dec. 24; SIA/Mountain Dew Snowboard Festival, Feb. TBA; 10th Annual Eat, Ski & Be Merry, Feb. 4; Colorado Special Olympics, March 1-3; 9th Annual Snowman Triathlon and Snowman Stomp, March 8; Toyota Celebrity Ski Challenge, April 3-4; Jibfest, April 18.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort
Between skiing, snowboarding, telemarking, competing, creating a women's-sports television show, producing an all-women ski/snowboard film and working as a home designer, Alison Gannett has just finished building her house, the first one in Aspen made of straw. "I've been involved in the building community here for years," Gannett, 32, says. "I specialize in solar design and 'green' building, and I just thought there was a better, more affordable way to do it. Instead of talking about it, I did it."

Originally from New Hampshire, Gannett has been skiing since her parents strapped her on a ski at the age of one and a half. She started extreme competition in 1994 but recently quit. "I just think it's more fun not to compete," she says. So the 200 or so days that she skis, snowboards and telemarks this year will be all her own.

Gannett came to Crested Butte on vacation, went home, packed her stuff and moved there for good in 1988. "I just fell in love instantly," she says. And she's come to love it even more since she started telemarking: "It's the tele capital of the world." And she likes all the same runs for alpine skiing as she does for telemarking.

But her favorite area at Crested Butte is the extreme area on the North Face. "Okay, the first thing you have to do is pick up the Extreme map," she says. "It's available at ski shops and stores--it's like $5.95. Wait, it's called the Extreme Limits Ski Guide. Anyway, put it on your bathroom wall--that's the best way to study it. And that area is worth it. I've been here nine years, and I still find new places I haven't been. Adventure skiing all the way."

For less adventurous types, Gannett recommends Treasury as the top cruiser. "It's wide open, a blue run that's a really long vertical, about 2,200, I think. It goes from the top of Paradise Bowl, and it's a nice leg-burner." Gentle bumps crop up on Ruby Chief, which she describes as a "solid blue right under Paradise Lift, very good for people learning to ski bumps." More experienced bumpers, however, should play Twister, she adds.

Another step up is the single black Jokerville. "It's very steep at the top, and sometimes it's bumped, sometimes it's groomed. But it's not as steep as the double blacks," Gannett says. "The double blacks to go to, though, are at Spellbound Bowl and Phoenix Bowl. One leads into the other one." To get there, she adds, you have to get to the top of the Poma lift and hike five minutes. "It's a series of rocks, cliffs and chutes," she says. "You can go as gnarly or as mellow as you like, or as mellow as double blacks get."

Those just making the transition from single to double blacks will appreciate Rachel's, which Gannett says takes a little extra effort to get to. "You have to take the Poma," she explains. "That's probably the most challenging thing of all. But do it very early in the morning, before ten. At the top, follow the signs to ski right down the front of the Poma. That's Rachel's. It's more of a single black, but it's a good warmup and you can ski back to the Poma. But be careful, 'cause there's usually tons of rock."

If you can handle that, Gannett suggests that you then get back on the Poma and head up to Hawk's Nest. "If you stay right in the middle, it's usually mostly bumps, and then if you want to challenge yourself, move to the right or left." Very important, she adds, is that when you reach the end of that first big main bowl, you hang a hard left to a road called Easy Out. "But if you're really feeling brave, keep going down and get into the Last Steep, which is very steep, with slide-for-life potential," she cautions. "If you fall at the top, you're going all the way to the bottom."

A little less experienced? Those making the move from blue to black should check out Resurrection, she says, down on East River Lift. "There are usually moguls in the middle, and it's groomed on the side," Gannett says. "It's a black, but you can kind of cheat a little by skiing the groomed and then maybe doing five moguls and then going back out." She adds that there are several good blues over there to warm up on, too.

East River is also the area for easier trees, like the black Doubletop Glades, where Gannett says you can "poke in and out of the trees. Tougher trees, though, are found under the Silver Queen Lift. "We call it The Forest," she offers. "It's more on the challenging end, a double black that starts off as a single and gets harder and harder."

For 'boarders, Gannett has three suggestions: Gold Link for beginners ("You don't have to hop," she says); Paradise for intermediates; and Front Side or Hawk's Nest to Easy Out for experts. "These are more like double blacks, but Front Side has very little hopping, and the other one has no hopping and as much air as you want." She adds that Crested Butte is in the process of building a new snowboard park for the ESPN Extreme Games in January.

Gannett says that everyone should take the Goldlink Lift to the top and take a picnic. "The view is beautiful, and I think it should be mandatory to take food and spend some time there," she says. The double-black skier's view, however, can be found on the front side in the extreme area. "Go to the avalanche chutes [at the Banana Funnel] to looker's right of Silver Queen," she explains. "Head out there all the way to a place I call Sunset Ridge. It's a triple black, really challenging to get there, but it's one of the best views of the valley and the town, especially in the afternoon."

Gannett recommends either staying on the mountain for apres-ski at the Avalanche Bar & Grill or heading across the parking lot to Casey's (650 Gothic Rd.) for "good steak fries and pitchers of Anchor Steam." And another hotspot, one that Gannett says people don't usually find, is across the lot as well: the Swiss Chalet (621 Gothic Rd.), "for all your giant German beers."

The Avalanche is Gannett's pick for pizza, too, and she says it's a bummer that they don't deliver. "We have other pizza places, but it's really the best in town," she says. She also loves the Avalanche for breakfast. "Well, I go get bagels for quick a.m. stuff," she admits. "But the sit-down breakfast at the Avalanche is tops. Reasonable, good for families. We actually go up there in the summer because it's so affordable."

Gannett thinks a good lunch is subs at Local Heroes (218 Maroon Ave.) and the "enormous, $4.95 burritos at Teocalli Tamale [311 Elk Ave.]." For burgers, she likes the Wooden Nickel (222 Elk Ave.) or the Idlespur (226 Elk Ave.)--also good for prime rib--and she says the best coffee in town is at Camp Four. "They have a cart in town next to Donita's (332 Elk Ave.), and they also have a cart on the mountain," she explains. "Outside of Italy, I swear it's the best coffee in the world."

Donita's is her pick for "super-affordable Tex-Mex." She adds that it's packed every night, so get there early. "It's not uncommon to wait over an hour during the busy season," she says. "But get there at five and you're in. You can order a la carte there for under $4, and their full dinners are phenomenal as well. And if you can go there just for dessert, the sopaipilla sundaes with homemade honey-cinnamon ice cream and caramel Kahlua sauce is to die for."

Another good tip: Gannett says there are two good sushi places in town, but the best sushi can be reeled in on Monday nights at the Backcountry Gourmet (435 Sixth). "They fly it in special, just for that one night," she reveals. "It's really, really good."

The "most unbelievable chocolate souffle in the world" is available at The Timberline (21 Elk Ave.), Gannett's choice for a fine-dining experience. "It's a little bit French, more like New American," she says. "It's so beautiful, too." The new Timberline Cafe (425 Elk Ave.) is an extension of that restaurant, she adds, and it's "really affordable for big salads and sit-down dinners for around $10."

For after dinner, Gannett names three places that qualify as local hangouts: "Talk of the Town [230 Elk Ave.] for the youngest crowd, Eldo [215 Elk Ave.] for the 25-to-30 set, and Kochevars [127 Elk Ave.] for the oldies." She usually goes to the Eldo for music, or to the tourist bar, The Rafters Restaurant & Nightclub (at the mountain in the Gothic Building). "With everything I have going on, though," she adds, "I just go home and crash."

General Information: 1-800-544-8448.
Snow Report: 1-970-349-2323.
Location: 230 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285, U.S. Hwy. 50 and Colo. Hwy. 135.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 27 to April 20.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 24% beginner, 57% intermediate, 19% advanced. 2,775' vertical drop. Base: 9,100'; top: 11,875'; longest run: 2.6 miles. Additional 550 ungroomed acres for experts.

Lifts: 2 high-speed quads, 3 triple chairs, 4 double chairs, 4 surface lifts.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $47; child full-day pay age per day with paying adult; senior $23.50; senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Adult ski package $14; child ski package $10; snowboard package $22.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call
Special Events: Christmas Torchlight Parade, Dec. 24; ESPN Winter X Games, Jan. 15-18; US Extreme Free Skiing Championships, Feb. 8-12; US Extreme Snowboarding Championships, Feb. 22-25; Disabled American Veterans Winter Sports Weekend, March 22-27.

Cuchara Mountain Resort
Eric Bachman has had to bide his time waiting for Cuchara Valley to grow an economy. "I'd always wanted to live there," he says. "I was there in the early Seventies, and there was really no way to make a living. So I started a real estate company in Vail, but I knew I always wanted to move back to La Veta."

Bachman came back in 1988, bringing with him Bachman & Associates, his real estate venture that serves "people looking for getaways," the 49-year-old explains. "Finally, this area has found its niche, and there are people who are ecstatic to find this beautiful area."

Meanwhile, the Cuchara Valley ski area has found another buyer, after a series of owners who bought it merely to flip it, making money on it without putting much into it. "It's been more than a decade since there's been an owner who's had any interest in the area itself or its employees," Bachman says. "We're hoping this one will be different." He's also hoping that the new regime will target what he thinks is the most likely group to frequent Cuchara: the 42 percent of Americans who are single--of which he is one. "This seems like a great place for singles to come and learn or come with other beginner friends and not be intimidated," Bachman adds. "They wouldn't be coming here for entertainment or shopping, but for the majesty of the area, the lack of crowds, the bonding in an intimate atmosphere. A bunch of friends could get together and rent a condo for so much less than at Vail or Aspen."

Bachman says that Cuchara is a beginner/intermediate mountain. "The only tough runs are Upper Diablo and Ultima," he explains. "And the Lower Bear Bumps and Lower Diablo, when there's good snow." In the intermediate range, though, there are plenty of choices. Bachman's favorite cruiser is Grandote, "a big, sweeping run that comes down the mountain." He adds that some of the other good cruisers "historically haven't been taken care of by the owners, so we'll have to wait and see if they will be now." Grandote also offers the most spectacular view. "It feels as if you can see Kansas," Bachman enthuses.

Bachman says he avoids Diablo most of the time--"That's a serious run," he says--because of the bumps, but he does say that when there's a lot of snow, it can be fun. And Rattlesnake sometimes gets bumped up, "depending on whether it's groomed or not." Bachman says it's labeled an intermediate run, but there are a few steeps on it. For trees, he likes The Burn, an area off to the east that's not patrolled or groomed. "There are some trails," he adds. "You can do some tree skiing there and some open deep-snow skiing." And gentle bumps can be found on Eclipse and Devil's Stairsteps, both runs that Bachman says are "seldom skied by the tourists."

Off the mountain, those looking for local flavor should head to the Ryus Avenue Bakery (129 W. Ryus Ave. in La Veta). "It's the gathering place," Bachman says. "It's only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and most people arrange their schedules around that. You'll find mostly locals there, sitting around a wood stove and drinking coffee."

For what Bachman calls the "hearty big eater cowboy set," there's The Covered Wagon (2055 Main in La Veta)--also good for a burger--but for a fancier time, he recommends two "nice restaurants" up in Cuchara, The Timbers (23 Cucharas Ave.) and The Silver Spoon (16984 Hwy. 12), "The Spoon is right on the Cuchara River, which is right outside the windows," he adds. "Both places are top-notch fine dining."

Bachman believes the best restaurant around, though, is about to move from La Veta to the ski resort. Called Legends Park (9025 S. Oak), the tiny eatery owned by two women, who also run a cooking school there on the side, is going to get a bigger space and probably a bigger audience, according to Bachman. "I don't know if they're going to change the name of the restaurant space they're taking over," he says. "The former name was Baker Creek. But, whatever, it's still going to be great, I'm sure."

More local color can be found at the so-called Dog Bar in Cuchara, the real name of which is The Boardwalk (34 Cuchara Rd.), but no one calls it that. "They're not supposed to let dogs in there, but they do," Bachman admits.

"People need to discover how much charm there is in this place," he says. "You can come right down I-25, it's safe, there's no mountain driving, no having to deal with masses of tourist traffic. How can you sit on I-70 for half your life?"

General Information: 1-719-742-3163 or 1-888-282-4272.
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: Mid-November to mid-April.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Night skiing 6-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Terrain: 40% beginner, 40% intermediate, 20% expert. 250 skiable acres with a 1,562' vertical drop. Base: 9,248'; top: 10,810'.

Lifts: 4 chairs, 2 surface lifts.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $29.95; child full-day $19.95; child under 6 and senior over 65 free.

Rentals: Adult full package $13; child full package $10.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-888-282-4272 for information.

Special Events: Call resort for information.

Eldora Mountain Resort
When Chris Pappas used to travel around the country with his snowboard in the early Eighties, there were so few snowboarders that they all knew each other. "I'd be in, like, Texas, and see someone with a 'board on their car, and I'd be able to call them by name," he remembers. Pappas, who grew up in Boulder with his eleven brothers and sisters, says he started snowboarding because it seemed like a natural progression from skateboarding. "With eleven kids, skiing wasn't going to happen, you know," he says. "So when snowboards were invented, it was a cheaper way to get on the mountain."

Pappas, 34, still lives in Boulder, and he says he hits Eldora the most for two reasons: its awesome back side and the fact that, once he's put in a day of 'boarding, he's a half hour away from his couch. "I just don't understand people who say they want to be the best snowboarders ever and then spend half their day sitting in traffic," he says. "And I get so sick of people who say Eldora sucks. I ask them, 'Have you been on the back?' and they always say no. So then they haven't been to Eldora."

When he isn't 'boarding on Eldora, Pappas is teaching 'boarding at Eldora. "I paint in the off-season," he explains. "And then I go back to the mountain." And Pappas should know how good Eldora is: He's competed in the snowboarding world competitions since 1986--he learned on Berthoud Pass, the first ski area in Colorado that allowed 'boards--and he spent five years teaching at Jackson Hole. Since he's had a kid, he's slowed down the competitions, but he's never let up 'boarding at Eldora since 1983.

And he thinks it's gotten better since then. "There's that new chair on the back, where the runs don't get quite as wind-pounded," he explains. "There's definitely some windy days, and the front gets ice. It's so popular, the snow just gets packed. That doesn't happen on the back, 'cause there's not as much traffic." He does, however, like to do loops on the front. "Carving and ripping," he says. "There are a couple of good moguls on the front, like Jolly Jug Glades. It loops around, and then there's Windmill. We whip down and practice our turns; they're so wide open."

There is one spot on the front that Pappas avoids, though. It's the one next to the chair lift on the lower part, a shaded tree area that stays really icy. Pappas broke his legs there after he slid off the run and clipped a tree. "That's the same gully where a guy died last year," Pappas says. "People seem to think snowboarding's safer than skiing or something, and I'm here to tell you that anytime you move your body over the surface of the earth at high speeds, surrounded by objects, there's potential to get hurt."

But that didn't change his feelings about Eldora. "I just love it," he says. "Like, I love the beginner area, love to teach there. They have the most awesome beginner area, perfect fall line, great run, smooth, perfect steepness. And there's all kinds of terrain there, so it's not like you're doing all smooth, flat stuff and then you get a shock when you go on something with bumps."

The back, however, is his favorite. "There's Salto Glades and Moose Glades," he says. "Moose has loopy-loos and kickers--we call it the motocross run. Killer wind lifts, up and down on these ridge lines, you get all these hits. It's just like a gnarly run at any huge ski area." He adds that Moose and Salto are double blacks that don't get hit much on weekdays. "When there's no people and there's powder, it's crazy good there," he says.

Salto has wide-open trees that funnel into tight trees with mogul lines between them, "like extreme-type riding," he says, and Bryan Glades are the "real tight trees." And Moose is also the best air. "Not very many rocks, but there are a couple of fifteen-footers to jump off there, lots of good rollers--wheeeeeeee. I'm always there."

He also tries not to miss Corona, the groomed run under the chair, especially early in the morning. "You can cut real big GS downhill turns--it's one of the widest I've ever seen," he explains. "Really steep. They actually call it a black run, but it's groomed, so it's more like a solid blue-black."

For those unfamiliar with Eldora, Pappas suggests a progression. "Okay, start with Windmill at the top; it's got a long and consistent fall line that doesn't change. Then do La Belle Dame. You go right at the top of the chair, and you can see the whole run out in front of you. Then, if you can do those, go around to the back and ride down the runs back there. You don't have to go down the steeper runs. Maybe work your way over to Corona. If you feel comfortable there, venture off to the off-trail stuff, all the little short cutoffs."

Pappas says it's hard for him to accept that the majority of 'boarders in Boulder have never been to Eldora. "There's just the wrong impression of this place," he says. "Anyone I've ever gotten up here has been hooked."

General Information: 1-303-440-8700.
Snow Report: 1-303-440-8700.
Location: 45 miles northwest of Denver via I-25, Colo. Hwy. 36 west and Colo. Hwy. 119, 2 miles west of Boulder.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 14 to mid-April.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 20% beginner, 55% intermediate, 25% advanced. 495 skiable acres with a 1,400' vertical drop. Base: 9,200'; top: 10,600'; longest run: 2 miles.

Lifts: 1 triple chair, 5 double chairs, 3 surface lifts.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Rentals: TBA.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-303-440-8700 for information.

Special Events: Special Olympics Northern Colorado Regional Games, Feb. 9; University of Colorado Laura Sharpe Flood Invitational Ski Races, Feb. 27-28; Eldora Skiesta, April 4.

Keystone Resort
Pro skier Bruce Ruff thinks Keystone has it all.
"Three mountains, the front side mellow, mostly groomed, and then North Peak has everything plus some steep bump runs, and then there's my favorite, the Outback," he says. "Trees, bumps, powder. It's a good mountain, and it's not crowded. To top it all off, they have night skiing. It's a real kick in the butt to go over and cruise in the dark."

Ruff, 41, has been skiing Keystone for twenty years, ever since he moved from upstate New York to Frisco. "I came out to ski on the Pro Mogul Tour," Ruff says. "I've retired from the tour, but I still ski professionally." Ruff also works as a pro ski model, writes a column for the Summit Daily News and has a local ski show called Better Skiing With Bruce Ruff. So he knows his skiing.

And he's convinced that Keystone has something unique that makes it one of the best. "By grooming a blue run down the center of each mountain, a good skier can ski with beginners," he explains. "It's kind of neat that they keep half of a run totally groomed, so someone who doesn't enjoy steep bumps can take it easier."

He likes the Outback the most because of its more difficult terrain, but he also points out a mellow blue bump run that's great for training: Big Horn, which Ruff says is "about as fun as I've ever been on. It's just endless and gives the opportunity to dig down deep and practice. They're not huge bumps. I go over and just have fun on it."

He especially likes skiing the north side of the Outback for its trees and bumps. Bushwacker, Timberwolf and Badger are all runs that he says get little traffic. "It's still softer there," he adds. "It holds the snow really well, because it's not susceptible to wind and sun. The snow conditions there are excellent after a storm. They're actual cut trails, sort of cut/gladed, with all kinds of nooks and crannies, lines through sections of trees. And because it's gladed, there are places where it's fairly tight."

For a fast cruising run, Ruff points out that Star Fire is where the U.S. Ski Team trains early in the day. "They get that thing smooth as a baby butt, and it's got such a consistent pitch to it," he says. And on the front side, there's "run after run of corduroy, just groomed out." He adds that you can "rip some big arcs on that side, like on Wild Irishman and Frenchman."

For all his love of Keystone, though, Ruff doesn't always stick around there to eat. For instance, in Breckenridge he's found a "neat little place that's so reasonable, called Rasta Pasta. It's kind of like a Cajun or spicy-Southwestern pasta place, and the prices are so reasonable."

In Frisco, Ruff likes Barclay's Basement Cafe (620 Main) for Mexican and prime rib, along with its half-price appetizers during happy hour. "The place rocks," he adds. "There are bands, and all locals all the time. Plus reasonable prices. I frequent Barclay's more than any other restaurant." Also in Frisco is Matteo's (106 Third Ave.), a "real small restaurant" that Ruff hits for "slices, calzones, and their killer, awesome Philly cheesesteaks," along with Claimjumper (805 N. Summit Blvd.), which Ruff likes for its breakfast specials. "Claimjumper's a hidden treasure for dinner, too," he adds. "Prime rib for $8 or $9, kind of like a blue-plate special. It's a family restaurant; the prices certainly are conducive to taking a family. Go there if you don't want a hassle or to spend a lot of money."

When he does want to stick close to the base, Ruff is fond of the Snake River Saloon (23074 U.S. Hwy. 6). "It's been there for twenty years," he says. "You wouldn't know that it's an excellent restaurant because it's so divey-looking, but they've got nice crystal and awesome steaks, excellent service, the works. It's pretty well-known for its nightlife, but not everyone knows about the food. It's also a big locals bar."

Ruff also thinks most of the locals go to Precision Ski, either the location right at the base of the mountain or the one in Frisco (817 Summit Blvd.). "They do the most awesome tuneup," he says. "The guy who owns it, he's like the guru of ski tuning, I swear."

General Information: 1-800-258-9553.
Snow Report: 1-800-248-0732.
Location: 90 miles west of Denver via I-70 to exit 205 at Dillon, 6 miles east on Hwy. 6 to Keystone.

Opening and Closing Dates: October 21 to early May.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Night skiing beginning November 18 until 9 p.m.
Terrain: 13% beginner, 36% intermediate, 51% advanced. 1,749 skiable acres with a 2,900' vertical drop. Base: 9,300'; top: 12,200'; longest run: 3 miles.

Lifts: 2 high-speed gondolas, 3 high-speed quads, 1 quad chair, 3 triple chairs, 6 double chairs, 5 surface lifts.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $30-49; child full-day $15-17; senior $30; child under 4 and senior over 70 free. Also includes Breckenridge.

Rentals: TBA.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Keystone Nordic Center at 1-970-238-9553 or 1-800-238-9553 for information.

Special Events: Holiday events, Dec. 19-25.

Loveland Ski Area
When he was eighteen, Terry Wehnes left Santa Monica looking for a ski job. "I had interviews scheduled all over the place," Wehnes recalls. "It just worked out that there was a job here, and that's how I wound up in the Georgetown area," the 35-year-old Evergreen paramedic says. "And now I've been here for seventeen years."

Wehnes, who now lives in Silver Plume, works part-time on the ski patrol at Loveland, his mountain of choice. "Loveland's got a good, long season--six, seven months--and there's quality snow all year round," he explains. "And it just doesn't get the high-volume traffic and the wear and tear on the runs like the bigger resorts do. Its got 180 degrees of snow the way the bowl comes around, and with all those exposures, you can always find powder in there somewhere."

He's down to 120 days of skiing and snowboarding from the 180 he managed when he worked on the mountain full-time, but he says he likes that better because he can go where he wants to instead of having to go where people are stuck. "I avoid the bumps since I ski so much," Wehnes says. "I'd rather get on a good cruiser." So he heads to the top of Lift No. 1 for Spillway and Richard's Run, or Lift No. 8 to get to Zip Basin Street. "Those are intermediates, pretty wide open," he says. And for a real steep ride that's bump-free, he goes Over the Rainbow and in the newly opened area to the east, off Lift No. 1. "It's north-facing, so it's always got good snow," he adds.

Cordial bumps pop up over off of Lift No. 4, according to Wehnes, especially on Scrub, the tail end of Perfect Bowl. "That's an intermediate, kind of a showboat because it's always in the sun," he says. "You can get off at midway, which is a good tip, because that'll keep you out of Loveland's infamous wind." He adds, "This is a mountain where we dress for function, not fashion." Which is why he points out that although Splashdown, off Lift No. 4, is one of his all-around favorites, that's only on a powder day. "It's an intermediate run unless you get the wind, which at Loveland can always put a nasty crust on everything and makes all the runs go up a notch in toughness," he explains. "But when there's powder, Splashdown's got a really nice fall line all the way down."

Also good on a powder day, Wehnes says, is the ridge up off Lift No. 1. "That's going to be the new hot spot," he adds. "Bump-free powder skiing. The sky's the limit up there." Also off Lift No. 4 is what Wehnes considers to be Loveland's top tree skiing, Fail Safe Trees. "They've got some chutes cut in 'em, and they're not too tight," he says. "If they do want the tight trees, West Ropes is a good one." And Lift No. 4 is 'boarder haven, too, because of runs such as Creek Trail, which Wehnes describes as "big jumps that go through the valley. You can roller coaster back and forth all day." He laughs. "I know that's where the 'boarders go, because that's where the ski patrol picks them up every day."

Wehnes picks up where he left off with the other locals at The Plume Saloon & Restaurant (776 Main St.) in Silver Plume. "That's your eating and drinking spot--quaint, with the local feel," he says, adding that it's perfect for happy hour or to get a burger. "If you're looking for the more family, sports-oriented place, that would be the Red Ram Restaurant & Saloon [606 Sixth St.] in Georgetown."

But fine dining is farther away, at The Peck House (83 Sunny Ave.) in Empire. "That's where you go for your fancy, expensive, special-occasion meal," he says. "Now, I also go to El Rancho [29260 U.S. Hwy. 40], in Evergreen, where they have a real good prime rib night."

A cheap lunch is available at Pizza Crossing (1200 Argentine) in Georgetown--"They're real reasonable, and they have good subs," Wehnes says--and he likes the pizza at The Buffalo Bar (1617 Miner) and Beau Jo's Pizza (1517 Miner) in Idaho Springs. "Oh, and also in Idaho Springs, Java Mountain Roasters (1506 Miner) is probably the best to-go cup of coffee going," he adds. "It's right there next to exit 240, a real gorp-head kind of place, but you can pop in there and out on your way."

And while he isn't much of a morning man, Wehnes says he does occasionally eat out for breakfast. "I'll either go to The KP Cafe [429 Main St.], in Silver Plume, or if I feel like going to Georgetown, I'll eat at the Full Circle Cafe [511 Rose]. I just don't do much breakfast."

General Information: 1-303-569-3203, 1-800-736-3SKI or 1-303-571-5580.
Snow Report: 1-303-571-5554.
Location: 56 miles west of Denver on I-70, exit 216, 12 miles east of Summit County.

Opening and Closing Dates: Mid-October to mid-May.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends.
Terrain: 22% beginner, 55% intermediate, 23% advanced. 2,135 skiable acres with 1,680' vertical drop. Base: 10,600'; top: 12,280'; longest run: 1.5 miles. Additional 550 ungroomed acres for experts.

Lifts: 2 quad chairs, 2 triple chairs, 4 double chairs, 1 Poma lift, 1 Mighty Mite.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $25-35; child full-day $10-17; senior $23-26; child under 5 free; senior season pass $25.

Rentals: Adult ski package $14; child ski package $10; snowboard package $23.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-569-3202 for information.

Special Events: 4th Annual Colorado Ski Games, Nov. 30; Uvex/Bula Series ski racing, Dec. 13-14; Rocky Mountain Masters Series, Jan. 3; PEAK weekend, Jan. 3-4; USSA age class racing, Jan. 4; USCSA racing, Feb. 7-8; 7th Annual Loveland and J.C. Keepsake Mass Wedding Ceremony, Feb. 14; Masters racing, March 7; KTCL's 6th Annual Big Air Weekend, April 25.

Monarch Ski & Snowboard Area
Chris Hanes has been skiing for 28 years. And he still loves it.
Hanes was born in Kansas, but he moved to Colorado Springs in 1967, and then Salida in 1985. "I tried out a few other places in between," the fifty-year-old says. "But when I kept coming back here, I figured it was telling me something." So he and his family, which includes two kids who can "ski the pants off me," Hanes says, hit Monarch as often as they can.

Since Hanes has a day job at Western Control Systems, that isn't as often as he'd like. "I probably only get out a dozen or so times a year," he admits. "But when I do, I make it count."

Hanes says he's a cruiser type of skier. "I start out doing a couple of greens to warm up," he says. "Then I move up to some blues, and I might do a couple of blacks if I'm feeling good. Then, mid-day, I start to work backwards."

His choice for a cruiser is Lower Christmas Tree, which he says can work up a few bumps but mostly offers curves, a few hills, and shaded, not-too-open skiing. "You kind of have to know where it is," Hanes says, "or you'll ski right past it. And the snow's always good there."

He does do bump runs occasionally for the challenge, taking on Mirage and Picante, the latter because "it's short, and you can go from top to bottom without stopping, or maybe only stopping once." And when he's feeling lucky, the black he dances with is Tango. "Well, it's mostly a nostalgia thing with that one," he says. "It was there twenty years ago; I remember it from my early days of skiing. It's kind of open, real steep, with big bumps at the beginning before it mellows out. It's more like a hard blue after a while. The really bumpy steep part is short, and since it's fairly open and wide, you have room to make that turn you didn't make when you were supposed to."

Hanes says he doesn't do trees very often, but there are a few off Sleepy Hollow that are fairly easy. "Off Snowburn and the Panorama Lift, I've seen places where brave people go through the trees," he adds. Beginners can make the transition to blue at Slo-Motion and Little Mo. "They're fun and really long," Hanes explains. "A long time ago they were hard greens, but now they're fairly easy blues. They offer short bumpy sections, only sort of steep, and they're longer, gentler runs where you have time to get it together."

Quite a bit tougher is an area that Hanes says isn't on the map. Called Pinball, it's a spot popular with kids and snowboarders. "It's a stream, with narrow wall places and real short, close bumps, hills and tight turns," he says. "It's perfect for short skis and snowboards; you can do it on long skis, but you have to make sure it's not crowded, because if you stop and your skis are hanging out, you'll get whacked or forced into the trees." Hanes adds that you can buzz in there and get quite a workout. To get there, go to the area where Sleepy Hollow and Turbo come together. "It's off of a corner there," he explains. "You'll always see somebody zooming through there. You've got to have your act together, though, because you can't stop easily. Sometimes you're just committed."

Monarch is about eighteen miles from Salida, where Hanes breakfasts at the Patio Pancake Place (640 E. U.S. Hwy. 50). "They have all kinds of breakfast and are open earlier than some of the others," he says. "It's convenient, on the highway for people staying in a motel. But it's only open until about noon." For a later meal, the Country Bounty Restaurant (413 W. Rainbow Blvd.) is open all day, and Hanes says "they have good food, but no drinks, so it's not for supper."

To drink beer in the evenings, Hanes heads to Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza & Brewpub (136 E. Second Ave.), where they also offer "fairly good Italian food." Another of Hanes's bar favorites is the Victoria Tavern (143 N. F St.), where they've had "live music since 1903."

Two other spots Hanes thinks are tops: the First Street Cafe (137 E. First) for lunch and dinner, "where a lot of the local art types hang out," and Crossroads Cafe (113 E. Sachett Ave), "where they have a lot of natural food and good buffalo burgers." And he likes to go with a big group to the Gourmet Chef (710 Milford) for "fairly good Chinese." He adds that it's a good place to order a lot of different dishes to share.

General Information: 1-719-539-3573. 1-719-539-3573, or 1-888-996-SNOW.
Snow Report: 1-800-228-7943.
Location: 175 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285 to U.S. Hwy. 50 on Monarch Pass.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 23 to April 6.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 21% beginner, 37% intermediate, 42% advanced. 670 developed acres, with a 1,160' vertical drop. Base: 10,790'; top: 11,950'; longest run: 2 miles.

Lifts: 4 double chairs.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $26; student 13-18 full-day $22; child 7-12 full-day $17; senior $18; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Adult basic ski package $9; child basic ski package $8; snowboard package $22.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-719-539-2581 for information (no cross-country rentals at ski area).

Special Events: TBA.

Powderhorn Resort
Brittany Gilman has the ideal high-school situation for someone who lives 45 minutes away from Powderhorn. The fifteen-year-old sophomore attends Fruita Monument, a year-round school that allows students to choose when they want the bulk of their vacations: summer or winter.

"Believe it or not, most of the kids want summer," Gilman says. "Only the serious skiers and snowboarders want the winter--which is December to March--off." Gilman puts herself in the latter category; she's been skiing since she was two years old, but she gave that up to snowboard exclusively three years ago. "I'm gonna try to compete more this year," she says. "Professional snowboarding is my dream job." Once school's out, Gilman says she's usually on the slopes every day.

And one of her cherished runs is through the trees. "We have this one in Mudslide," she says. "It's just a little area, this one part of it, and then there's a trail off Maverick, near the top, that's pretty good. We always get into trouble for going in there because we have to go under the ropes, but there's always some nice powder there and it's filled with boulders." She adds that there's "lots of air" in those spots.

Gilman says another area for powder aplenty is "at the top, when you're going toward Bill's Run," she explains. "Right before you get to Bill's, take a left and then hike up. Lots of powder." Bill's also figures into Gilman's favorite cruiser, which runs from there to Lower Equalizer to Midway. "It has lots of jumps that I like to hit on the way down, and you can get up speed," she says. And Bill's is also where Gilman thinks the best view is. "You can see the valley; you can see everywhere."

If you're just learning to snowboard, Gilman says, you should "definitely go on the bunny hill, like Easy Rider, and then move up to Midway." For a transition from blue to black, she suggests trying Equalizer or Racer's Edge. "They're not too steep, but not really flat," she says. "Equalizer usually has some bumps." And a good solid black would be either Mudslide or Yoohoo, especially, she says, "Yoohoo in the trees." She adds, "Yoohoo has quite a few good jumps, and you can go really fast; Mudslide is through the trees also, with some pretty steep parts and a bunch of little trees you can just jump right over."

And right after a big snow, Gilman says she always finds stashes in Snow Cloud. "If the snow's really heavy, you can get stuck, but if it's not too deep, there are great trees."

After a hard day of 'boarding, Gilman says she and her friends go to her hometown, Grand Junction, to get a pizza at Old Chicago (120 North Ave.). Although she's a vegetarian, she says her friends like Chelsea London Pub & Grill (Mesa Mall) for a burger, and she and her family often go to Gladstones (2531 N. 12th) for sandwiches and steak. Papa Murphy Take 'n' Bake Pizza (569 32nd Rd.) is their choice for Italian, and for Chinese, Gilman says she loves the vegetarian fare at Shanghai Garden Restaurant (715 Horizon Dr.). What Grand Junction seems to have the most of, though, is Mexican. "There are four really, really good places," Gilman says. "Todo Bien [Mesa Mall], Dos Hombres [569 32nd Rd.], Los Reyes [811 S. Seventh] and La Mexicana [1310 Ute]. They're about equal in goodness, really."

Before 'boarding, the best sit-down breakfast is at the Crystal Cafe (314 Main St.), she says, and "there are a lot of bagel places. I like Main Street Bagels [559 Main St.]." And a good local coffeeshop is the Common Grounds (1230 N. 12th), across from the college. "It has a nice atmosphere, and they have these little couches and really good bagels." And while Gilman hasn't been to a lot of fine-dining establishments, she did go to The Winery (624 Main St.) for a school dance and thought it was good. "Well, I was nervous, and I didn't eat very much--just a salad and mushrooms," she says. "But everybody else had all this great-looking chicken and steak and seafood. And it's a really nice place. Decent prices."

Cost is, of course, a consideration for any fifteen-year-old. "I think most places that tune your 'board rip you off," Gilman says. "So I do it myself and save twenty bucks." She also likes to shop for clothes at Twice as Nice (807 N. First) thrift store. "They have some pretty neat clothes in there," she explains. "You can get more stuff for your money."

General Information: 1-970-268-5700 or 1-800-241-6997.
Snow Report: 1-970-268-5700.
Location: 250 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 49 to Colo. Hwy. 65.
Opening and Closing Dates: Thanksgiving to April 6.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 15% advanced, 15% expert. 1,650' vertical drop. Base: 8,200'; top: 9,850'; longest run: 2 miles.

Lifts: 1 quad, 2 double chairs, 1 surface lift.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $16-31; college-age full-day $16-27; student/senior $16-$23; child under 6 and senior over 70 free; beginner lift E-Z Rider always free.

Rentals: Adult $12; child $8; snowboard package $30.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-268-5700 for information.

Special Events: TBA.

Purgatory Resort
A lot of ski resorts claim to be "family-friendly," but Jackson Clark II says he's living proof that Purgatory really is. Clark, 47, was born in Durango and has been there ever since. He and his family skied the mountain the first year it opened, in 1964, and now Clark's own family, his wife and two boys, ages fourteen and sixteen, ski it. "Purgatory has grown a lot as far as terrain and lifts," Clark says. "Overall, though, it has remained the ideal family mountain. The beginner, intermediate and expert sections are all great, but it's not like at some other resorts where they're all on separate mountains. Here it's intermingled."

Clark adds that because of the limestone ledges and pitches, "you can have a beginner's run that goes right next to an intermediate, and an expert run can be only sixty yards away from that." He also thinks Purgatory has perfect weather. "We're next to the high plateau of the desert," explains Clark, who owns Toh-Atin Gallery, which deals in Navajo rugs and art, "so we get light, fluffy, soft snow, and our temperatures are always ten degrees warmer than anyone else's. No big winds, protected, lots of sunshine. Kids can take our weather and ski all day. Perfect."

Clark started skiing when he was six, and he started snowboarding when he was forty. Now he does both. "You get different exercise with each," he says. "And you get a different experience on the same runs." But regardless of what's under his feet, he always knows exactly where to go and when. "One of the secrets to skiing Purgatory is, most people get up on a mountain and they go directly to the back side," he says. "But the front side of Purgatory has some of the best runs and terrain, and you can ski there all morning, with no crowds. Then, in the afternoon, when everyone on the back side comes to the front, you can go to the back and catch the afternoon cruising. Again, no crowds."

He also thinks Purgatory has a large proportion of good bump runs. "I especially like Elliott's," he says. "It's not only bumps, it's rolled. It's kind of like a gully. Another one is Bull Run, which I think is the steepest pitch in the state. Hit that one in the morning." He adds that Bull Run is his favorite double black overall, because "it's big enough, wide enough and easy to get to," he says. "It's right at the top of one of the better lifts, with easy access, so you can do it over and over." He also likes to drift off into the trees as he comes down to the midway off Lift 8 (Legends Lift). "There's kind of like a 'Cat track that all of a sudden drops off really steep, but the neat thing is that no one ever skis it," he says. "And, wait--Wapiti is another good bump run. That's where they have all the bump-offs."

When his knees are too tired for bumps, Clark says he cruises Chet's or Sally's Run. "But in the morning, when I'm fresh, Ray's Ridge is long, fairly steep and narrow, and a good place to get up some serious speed." Another fast line is Lower Hades, Clark's choice for best solid black--and also where he thinks the "best view in the world" is. "They had the NCAA Giant Slalom there," he adds. "It's a wide-open run halfway down the mountain, with a huge face. If it snows powder, you can still catch untracked stuff in the afternoon on a weekday there."

For intermediates looking for a kinder black, Clark says to go straight to Upper Hades. "That's a real nice one," he says. "And you can cruise off and catch Tinker's Dam--or even Dead Spike is a good intermediate transitional run. You can really wear yourself out there." And for beginners seeking an easier blue, Clark names Westfork and Limbo as good possibilities. "They're cruisers, with real gentle slopes, and then they'll drop into a steeper part and then they'll flatten out again. It gives the skier the ability to accelerate, but since it levels out again, they never get out of control."

For terrific trees, Clark points to Paul's Park. "It was named after a guy who was one of the original heads of the ski patrol here," Clark explains. "He loved skiing powder and in the trees, and this is ideal. Nice, open tree skiing, with the trees cut six or seven feet apart. All this room, and the powder will stay there for days and days."

Since many of the runs at Purgatory were named after the old-timers who carved out the mountain, it's appropriate that one of the locals' hangouts in Durango is Olde Tymers (1000 Main Ave.). "That's where to go for a burger in the evening," Clark says. He adds that their specials are good, too. "They have one every night," he says. "I love their chicken-fried steak."

The best "greasy-spoon burger," according to Clark, is the one at the Durango Diner (957 Main Ave.). "They do breakfast and lunch," he adds, "It's good for great, greasy breakfasts, too. A lot of people go to Carver's Restaurant & Brewery [1022 Main Ave.] for good breakfasts, and for coffee, the Durango Coffee Co. [730 Main Ave.] is good."

And since Clark is big on Purgatory being a family mountain, he wants to put forth a spot that's family-friendly. "The best place is Pronto Pizza & Pasta [160 E. Sixth]," he says. "They have pizza and pasta, really good, and they don't care if you make a mess with your kids. All the college kids eat there, because they do these cheap pizza buffets." College-age types also like Farquahart's [725 Main Ave.] for pizza, Clark says, and it's also a "rock-and-roll nightclub in the evening."

The "cheap dinner in Durango," Clark says, is at Francisco's Restaurante and Cantina (619 Main Ave.). "That's a great Mexican, and they have terrific American food, too," he says. "Don't miss the margaritas, either." And he thinks the top Chinese is The May Palace (909 Main Ave.). "They do everything well," he adds.

Along the lines of fine dining, Clark recommends several eateries. "Ariano's [150 E. Sixth St.] for Italian," he says. "It's real nice." And then there's Chez Grand-Mere (3 Depot Place), which he says is owned by Oprah Winfrey's old chef. "And for a real neat Mediterranean place, there's the Cypress Cafe [725 E. Second Ave.]. It's medium-priced, in an old house out of the way, very popular with the locals." For a more intimate meal, Clark suggests Randy's Restaurant & Bar (152 E. College). "First of all, they have the best prime rib," he enthuses. "And it's kind of neat because they have these private booths. And it's one of only a few places that takes reservations in Durango."

After dinner, Clark says the locals drink at either Olde Tymers or the Diamond Bell Saloon (699 Main Ave.) in the Strater Hotel (699 Main Ave.). "A lot of people go to the Red Lion, but now it's called the Doubletree [501 Camino del Rio]," he adds. "It's a surprise, since it's a chain hotel, but the bar is nice." Apres-ski, he says, everyone goes to the Ore House (147 E. College).

"There's also this burger bar they put in at the base of the mountain, so that's a good spot for a cheap lunch, especially if you have hungry kids. And also down there, if they get tired of skiing, Purgatory just put in a new sledding area with a lift," he says. "It's good for nighttime, too, because it's lighted. See? I told you it was good for families."

General Information: 1-800-525-0892.
Snow Report: 1-970-247-9000.
Location: 340 miles southwest of Denver via I-25 to U.S. Hwy. 550 north to Purgatory.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 27 to April 6.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 23% beginner, 51% intermediate, 26% advanced. 2,029' vertical drop. Base: 8.793'; top: 10,822'; longest run: 2 miles.

Lifts: 1 high-speed quad, 4 triple chairs, 4 double chairs, 1 surfact lift.
Lift Rates: TBA
Rentals: TBA

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Purgatory Cross-Country Center at 1-800-525-0892.

Special Events: TBA

Silver Creek Resort
"It's kind of like the way skiing used to be," Julia Stephens, 39, says about Silver Creek. "More intimate. Groomed trails. Not too big, and since all of the trails emanate from the same base area, it's real easy to keep track of kids and friends."

Stephens, who lives in Alaska during the summer, has lived in the area for thirteen years, finally settling on Frasier, fifteen minutes from Silver Creek, for her winter home. She now telemarks exclusively, for which she says Silver Creek is ideal. "There's so much backcountry available," she explains. "And who can argue with cheaper lift tickets?" She adds that it's mostly geared toward the intermediate. "Even the steepest parts are nothing that's going to scare your pants off," she says. "They have maybe three or four advanced runs, and they're good ones, but it's mostly blues. So it's great for beginners because of the low-key atmosphere, and you don't feel intimidated."

For those intermediates looking to move up, Stephens recommends either Speculator or Skydiver. "Again, these are blacks, but they're not going to do you in," she says. And for people just starting bump runs, Spare Parts and Widowmaker are good bets because they're "not too long, and they can bail off of them pretty easily," she adds. "And because people don't get over there as much, they hold the snow longer. Nice, rolling blue runs, where the pitch isn't too steep."

Another area that hangs on to the snow is Hangman's Glade, Stephens says. "Get off the Conquest lift and take a skier's left. Hangman's doesn't get too windblown, and sometimes you can find powder stashes in there. Anyway, it's a good place to start looking."

Off the mountain, between the towns of Frasier and Granby, is what Stephens considers to be the best place for those looking for romance. The Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort (3530 County Rd. 83 in Tabernash) sits at the foot of the Continental Divide, "a working ranch people can stay at, or they can just eat there," she says. "It's surrounded by cross-country trails, and the restaurant, The Ranch House, has windows all around the back so you can see the Divide. It's truly breathtaking. Go at sunset; it's incredible. And the food's good, too: chicken, trout, wild boar, quail." She adds that it's only a fifteen-minute drive from Silver Creek.

Right up the road from the mountain is another of Stephens's favorites, Paul's Creekside Grill (at Silver Creek). "It's probably one of the best restaurants in Summit County," she says. "It's at the Inn at Silver Creek. Paul's does stuff like grilled trout and smoked-salmon appetizers, sort of hearty California-style food. People from Winter Park actually make the drive to get there."

For the real flavor of Granby, though, Stephens proposes The Longbranch Restaurant (185 E. Agate Ave.). "It's famous in these parts for their steak, and it's such a colorful atmosphere." She adds that the Longbranch does pizza, too, or "you could eat at Schatzi's Pasta and Pizza [183 E. Agate Ave.], located right there at the Longbranch." And the Longbranch is considered to be one of the locals' bars, along with the Silver Spur Saloon and Steakhouse (15 E. Agate Ave.). "They've got classic steak and baked potatoes, a country-Western atmosphere, always filled with rednecks--the nice kind," Stephens says.

She has another idea for pizza: "A lot of people who stay in the Silver Creek area order pizzas from Jimmy's Homemade Pizza [541 Zerex] in the Safeway Center in Frasier," she says. "They deliver in Frasier and out into the Silver Creek region." And then she thinks of another upscale spot, Caroline's Cuisine (9921 U.S. Hwy. 34). "It's a little drive, up at the Soda Springs Ranch on Highway 34 between Granby and Grand Lake, but it's a beautiful drive, and their homemade soups and fresh breads are wonderful," she says.

But the finest fresh breads, according to Stephens, come from a woman who bakes at the Mega-Mat, a Conoco station at the end of town toward Steamboat Springs. Called The Showboat Bakery and Deli (308 W. Agate Ave.), this little bakery "puts out the most amazing breads, like the cheddar-cheese-and-green-chile loaf I picked up this morning. Get there in the morning, when it's just out of the oven."

Also in the a.m., Stephens urges out-of-towners to eat breakfast at The Columbine Cafe (395 E. Agate Ave.). "You could say it's Western decor," she muses. "It drives me crazy, because I don't smoke, but you'll get your local flavor here. All the guys who work in construction go there." She prefers the Sunrise Grill (729 W. Agate Ave.) for fresh-squeezed orange juice and breakfast burritos, and "they do a good lunch, too." The other lunch spot Stephens recommends is Mad Munchies (420 E. Agate Ave.). "Several years ago some locals started it, and that's what I mean about this area being more intimate," she says. "Anyway, they do great subs and sandwiches that retain their homemade flavor. All the local office people go there."

General Information: 1-800-754-7458, 1-970-887-3384 or 1-970-629-1020.
Snow Report: 1-800-754-7458.
Location: 78 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 (exit 232) and U.S. Hwy. 40 west.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 26 to April 12.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 30% beginner, 50% intermediate, 20% advanced. 252 developed acres with a 1,000' vertical drop. Base: 8,202'; top: 9,202'; longest run: 1.5 miles.

Lifts: 2 triple chairs, 1 double chair, 1 Poma lift, 1 surface lift.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $32; teen 13-17 full-day $28; child 6-12 full-day $15; senior 62-69 $18; child under 5 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Adult $13; child and senior $7; snowboard package $22.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Silver Creek Cross-Country Center at 1-970-887-2152.

Special Events: Ski With Santa, Dec. 21-24; Christmas Eve Service, Dec. 24; New Year's Eve Parade and Fireworks, Dec. 31; Pineapple Days, April 6-12.

Ski Cooper
When Steve Everitt decided to quit teaching, he asked his family where they wanted to move to from their home in Carbondale. He says Leadville was the unanimous reply.

The Everitt family was already familiar with Leadville, since Dad had taught there for four years before they moved. In 1985, Everitt says, he'd had enough of teaching, and he started working for Ski Cooper as a professional ski patrolman and, later, as a mountain manager. He's been skiing for more than forty years, many of them at Cooper. "I love this mountain," Everitt says. "There are about 480 skiable acres, most of them beginner and intermediate runs. The expert runs are shorter, and good intermediate skiers can probably ski all over the black runs and enjoy them, except for Kamikazee. And there are basically no lift lines."

Everitt adds that the powder and tree skiing are both "unbelievable, with lots of hidden pockets that have glades in them." His favorite tree run is One and a Half. "It's funny how that got that name," he says. "Back during the Second World War, the Tenth Mountain Division, which was then the Cold Weather Training Division, was on the mountain. The training sergeants were afraid the troops wouldn't remember the names of the trails, so he called them one, two, three, etc. And One and a Half was the marvelous glade between what is now Molly Mayfield and Sitzmark." Another glade he appreciates, one with "more open glade skiing," is Powder Keg, just west of Kamikazee.

"Kamikazee is the bump run," Everitt says. "It's a solid black, and while it's not always bumped up, I'd say it is about 99 percent of the time. They only groom it early in the year to get it packed down, and then they don't groom it again." When the snow is deep, though, Everitt always takes Last Chance. "No one knows that it's really there, and I can go in two or three days after a storm and always find fresh snow," he says. "It's a challenging trail with a double fall line, so you get twice as much powder skiing on one run. Ski the fall line and traverse back, and you get another shot at a straight fall line." Last Chance is also Everitt's pick for the best view on Cooper.

Ambush is another one Everitt says he always hits. "That's good for beginners moving up to intermediate," he says. "That and Burnout are a little steeper than the greens, a little narrower, and they don't get groomed as often. You might even run into a few small bumps. And Ambush is the one I use to get away from other skiers, because it's never tracked up." And for intermediates making their way to expert, he suggests Mother Lode, because "it has a very short face on it, and that face will bump up," he explains. "But you can get out if you need to, and the rest of it's more like a blue."

According to Everitt, if Cooper is known for its trees, then Leadville is famous for its Mexican food. "There are four unbelievable Mexican restaurants here," he says, and he lists them: La Cantina (1942 U.S. Hwy. 24), The Grill (715 Elm), Casablanca (118 E. Second) and Matilda's (323 E. Fourth). "The Grill is almost world-famous," he boasts. "There's sometimes a wait, it's so popular, so then I usually head over to La Cantina."

For breakfast, Everitt goes to the Old Glory Cafe (222 Harrison Ave.) for "reasonable diner food--not real fancy but good--and they do these different scrambles mixed with avocado and jalapeno-Jack cheese," he says. "They also have my favorite lunch, the BLT, with turkey, bacon and avocado on wheat bread. It's excellent." He also favors the Homestead Bakery (714 Harrison Ave.) for doughnuts and breakfast fixings on homemade bagels, "and their pecan rolls are out of this world," he adds.

At either lunch or dinner, Everitt likes the High Country (115 Harrison Ave.) for a burger, and also Wild Bill's Hamburgers & Ice Cream (200 Harrison Ave.). And for pizza, he names The Pizzeria (715 Harrison Ave.) and the High Country as two good choices. "Our Pizza Hut burned down this summer," he laments. And when the Everitts want a special night out, they go to The Delaware Hotel (700 Harrison Ave.). "It's very elegant, fairly expensive," he says. "The food and service are exquisite, and they have an excellent wine list. And the desserts are unbelievable." He adds that the bar at the Delaware is the locals' hangout, along with the Silver Dollar Saloon (315 Harrison Ave.).

Everitt would like people to know that Ski Cooper serves breakfast, lunch and dinner on the mountain by special request. "Call the night before and we'll get you set up," he says. "That's the thing with Ski Cooper--we can still be so guest-oriented and personal."

General Information: 1-719-486-3684.
Snow Report: 1-719-486-2277.
Location: 100 miles west of Denver via I-70 (exit 195), 24 miles west on Colo. Hwy. 91 to U.S. Hwy. 24, 9 miles west.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 22 to March 29
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 30% beginner, 40% intermediate, 30% advanced. 385 developed acres with a 1,200' vertical drop. Base: 10,500'; top: 11,700'; longest run: 1.4 miles.

Lifts: 1 triple chair, 1 double chair, 2 surface lifts.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $25; child full-day $15; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Adult novice package $12; adult performance package $25; child $8; snowboard package $25.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Piney Creek Nordic Center at 1-719-486-1750 for information.

Special Events: 8th Annual Off-Track, Off-Beat Snowshoe Run, Dec. 13; Buddy Werner Invitational Race, Dec. date TBA; Special Olympics Regional Race, Feb. 4-5; Rocky Mountain Age Class Championship Race, March 12-14; 10th Mountain Reunion and Ski-In, March 20.

Snowmass
As the 1996 World Champion extreme skier, Chris Davenport knows a thing or two about the sport--and about what makes a good mountain. "Snowmass is one of the most underrated ski areas in the West as far as steep skiing and black diamond terrain," Davenport, 26, says. "It is so notorious for big open cruisers, but it has this excellent other space, in-bounds and out. So it's really great for the locals that know about it, so we don't get a huge horde of people tracking it up."

The Aspen resident has been skiing Snowmass for four years, although as a professional, he skis many of his 220 days a year in New Zealand and Argentina, as well as Europe and Alaska. But the backcountry at Snowmass remains one of his favorites. "This has the best lift access to 12,000 feet," he says. "Open gates to access thousands of acres of incredible backcountry. It's the best in the state for sure, maybe in the country."

Davenport is originally from Massachusetts, but he went to the University of Colorado in Boulder, and when he graduated, the father of one of his roommates offered him a job running the race department at Snowmass. "This girl's dad was the mountain manager there," Davenport says. "I've been ski racing my whole life, which is why I went to Boulder--to ski race for the college. In retrospect, I'm so glad this guy brought me here, because not only is it a real town, but it's a real place with a sense of community. And the Aspen Ski Company is very proactive, which is not something you can say about every ski area. And I just like Snowmass mountain."

There are two cruisers there that Davenport really enjoys. "On the Big Burn, there's Sneaky's, a really long, moderate, very-much-intermediate cruiser that, when it's groomed to perfection, is really fun for carving," he says. "It's got probably the best view of any run at Snowmass; it falls away about 2,000 feet to this creek, and the view of these mountains right there is beautiful." His other top pick for cruising is right beneath Sam's Knob Lift, "because it's a black diamond, but they groom it, and it has a consistently steep slope, the same pitch the whole way down, like twelve or fifteen hundred feet. And it has a high-speed quad going right next to it, so you can do eight or ten runs on it in an hour."

And while Davenport's not a huge bump skier, there are two of those that he favors as well: "On a powder day, probably Reidar's, on High Alpine," he says. "And in the spring, when the bumps are softer and slushy, I like skiing them on Wildcat." He adds that powder's always stashed in Hanging Valley Glades, to skier's left of Hanging Valley Wall. "There's always lots of untracked lines in there," he says. "It's like a microclimate that seems to get more snow than other places on the mountain, and there's always lots of hidden pockets of deep snow." Hanging Valley Wall is also home to one of Davenport's favorite in-bounds extreme experiences. "On the far skier's right, there's a combination of two runs called Adios Ridge to Rayburns," he says. "It's out there. Multi-terrain, beautiful views, steep and good powder. It's a good spot for 'boarders, too."

Davenport thinks another place skiers should check for "good cruising corn" is Powderhorn, off to the side of the Campground lift. "That's an out-of-the-way one," he explains. "It's one of the least-used runs on the mountain. The lift is like eighteen minutes, but it's totally worth it, because the run is really, really long, with tons of different terrain, natural half-pipe things. It's got to be 2,400 vertical. It's sort of an adventure, one of those ones you have to stop ten times because it's so long." He adds that, for 'boarders, the double-black Powderhorn also has a lot of hits.

Gowdys is another double black Davenport likes, mainly because of the cornice on top and, although it's short, "it's pretty steep, maybe 48 degrees all the way down," he says. "It's a good test-your-limits run that's usually in good condition."

After he's done testing his limits, Davenport, who's a vegetarian, likes to feed his hunger at Cache Cache (205 S. Mill). "That's one where so many locals go, you see the same people there, and the bar menu is half the price of the regular menu," he says. "We're talking exquisite bistro food for really cheap." And although he calls both Farfalla Trattoria (405 E. Main St.) and Mezzaluna (600 E. Cooper Ave.) "a little bit pricey," he still thinks the cost is normal for Aspen and says both have great "L.A.-style" Italian food. For cheaper eats, Davenport recommends GoodFellas (100 Elbert Lane in Snowmass Village) for pizza, and in Aspen, Su Casa (315 E. Hyman Ave.) and La Cocina (308 E. Hopkins) for Mexican food.

Before dinner, though, one of the best happy hours in the Aspen area, according to Davenport, is at La Pinata (65 Daly Ln. in Snowmass Village). "The food's lousy at La Pinata and at The Mountain Dragon (67 Elbert Ln.), too," he cautions. "But they're very popular apres-ski. I'm predicting, though, that The Cirque Cafe, which is new this winter, will be the big hotspot this year."

After dinner, Davenport says, the Double Diamond (450 S. Galena) is "the premier livemusic club," and if he wants a more intimate setting, he sits down for a drink and live tunes at Howling Wolf (316 E. Hopkins Ave.). Another place he likes, early or late, is Pacifica (307 S. Mill), which he calls "a very trendy, super-upscale fish house with a killer raw bar." He adds, "It's the coolest setting, and sometimes I just love to sit at the bar and have a martini."

In the morning, Davenport often skips breakfast. "I'd just as soon not fill up before I go up on the mountain," he explains. But when he does decide to fill up, he loves the Weinerstube (633 E. Hyman Ave.) and Poppycocks (609 E. Cooper Ave.) in Aspen, or sometimes he just gets a bagel and coffee at the Aspen Cafe Ink (520 E. Durant Ave.) or at the location in Snowmass. "Sometimes it's not a good idea to ski empty," he says.

General Information: 1-970-925-1220 or 1-800-525-6200.
Snow Report: 1-970-925-1221 or 1-970-923-1221.
Location: 209 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.
Opening and Closing Dates: November 22 to April 19.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Terrain: 10% beginner, 52% intermediate, 18% advanced, 20% expert. 2,655 developed acres with a 4,260' vertical drop. Base: 8,104'; top: 12,310'; longest run: 4.16 miles.

Lifts: 7 high-speed quads, 1 triple chair, 7 double chairs, 2 platter pulls.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $59; child full-day $35; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Available at base of mountain.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-923-3148 for information.

Special Events: Christmas Eve Torchlight parade with Santa on Fanny Hill, Dec. 24; Snowmass Day Winterskol, Jan. 15; Snowmass Mardi Gras, Feb. 24; Snowmass Banana Season, March 27-April 4-5.

Steamboat
When Cathy Hillman was in high school and she came to Steamboat Springs to ski, she always lied to people she met on the lifts. "I always told strangers that I lived here," she remembers. "I had been coming to Steamboat to ski almost every other weekend since 1986, and I loved it there so much that I guess I just wanted it to be true."

And now it's true. Hillman, 27, who teaches third grade, moved to Steamboat for good in 1994. "I just like the small-town atmosphere," she explains. "You get to know everybody, and as far as skiing goes, the powder here is incredible, with a lot of great bump runs."

So, not surprisingly, bumps runs are the ones the skier and telemarker is most well-versed in. "When I'm on my alpines, I like what the locals call the 'Bumper Migration Trail'--the BMT," she says. "You start from the top of Hurricane, which is a fun run, then cut over to White Out, then cut over to Surprise, which is a total ego run--not too steep, but bumpy." She adds that some Steamboat folks say the BMT starts at Tornado and that Surprise is one of the gentlest bump runs on the mountain. "I've had three ACLs, so Surprise is one I hit when I'm feeling weak," she says. "It's also one I always have to do, along with Center Field, on Storm Peak Face, which is mainly bumps, too. They groom part of it, too, so when my parents come, my dad and I do the bumps while my mom does the groomer."

And the Priest Creek lift line has become one of her favorites as well, along with Sideburn. "Wait, that might be a local name," she says. "Let's see, it's Storm Peak Face, off to the left near the trees. Those are the greatest bumps, and you can shoot into the trees. Not many people know about it, so you can often catch the freshies."

When it's not groomed, Vertigo is Hillman's top pick for a cruiser. "Rainbow is fun, too," she says. "If you start from the gondola, there are actually a bunch that connect." She adds that although Heavenly Daze is the fast cruiser everybody knows about, what they might not know is that it's worth checking out at the end of the day, when the ski patrol is doing sweep. "Then you can just cruise down it," she says. "Fast."

For easy trees, Hillman urges beginners and intermediates to go off Tomahawk. "There's lots of trees there that you can just dive into, and you can make your own runs between runs there," she adds. "And by One O'Clock and Two O'Clock, too, you can jump right in there." Tougher, but with "incredible trees" are Shadows and the Closet, in the Christmas Tree Bowl. "That's kind of off the beaten path, so not many people go there," she says. "There are gorgeous views there, too."

While Hillman insists she still loves alpine skiing, she also makes time for "telemark Sundays," when she and a group of friends telemark Steamboat. On those days, Gate D is one of her top picks. "I love going out there," she enthuses. "You kind of have to do a little hiking to get there--the lift gets you halfway--but it's worth it, and it's great exercise." She also likes to tele the trees on Shadows, where it's "aspens, more open," and the Closet, where "it's a little tighter." She adds, "There's usually great powder there, and on powder days I have to tele those."

Once the group is done for the day, the first place they head is Slopeside (at the mountain). "We go there on tele Sundays right away," she says. "And sometimes afterward we go to Dos Amigos (1910 Mt. Warner Rd.) for margaritas and great chips and salsa, and maybe a quesadilla."

La Montagna (2500 Village Dr.), though, is her preference for Mexican, and the sushi at Yama-Chans (635 Lincoln) is another favorite. "This one guy does it all himself, so sometimes there might be a wait," she adds. "But it's worth it." And next door, she likes Mocha Molly's (two locations) for "coffee and couches." She throws in Off the Beaten Path (56 Seventh), too, as "a nice coffeehouse with a cool bookstore."

The coffee and water are always on the table when she sits down at her favorite breakfast eatery, The Shack (740 Lincoln Ave.). "They're fast and good," she says. "The waitresses there are amazing, they're so quick. I try to go there every Sunday morning for this home-cooking type of breakfast with, like, great blueberry pancakes and a veggie hobo with eggs and hash browns and veggies all scrambled together and grilled."

Quick, too, is the way Hillman describes the lunch at the Steamboat Brewery and Tavern (435 Lincoln Ave.). "You can get great beer, great Scottish, and the porter's great, too," she says. And there's such a variety, like good pizza by the slice, hummus, fish tacos. I sit in the bar and get it fast and cheap." That's where Hillman heads for happy hour during the season as well, especially on "pizza and a pint" Wednesdays. "You get a pint for whatever the going pound rate is," she explains. "The Slopeside's good for happy hour, too; you get pizza for $5, $1 pints."

But her all-around favorite place to eat is Cugino's (825 Oak St.) for Italian. "It's really popular, though," she laments. "You have to wait forever to get in there. It's family-style Italian, pretty small, but their calzones are huge, and they do great specials. Get there at five, though, or you'll wait."

General Information: 1-970-879-6111 or 1-800-922-2722.
Snow Report: 1-970-879-7300.
Location: 157 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west to Colo. Hwy. 9 (exit 205) to U.S. Hwy. 40.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 22 to April 12.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 14% beginner, 56% intermediate, 30% advanced. 2,679 skiable acres with a 3,668' vertical drop. Base: 6,900'; top: 10,568'; longest run: 3 miles.

Lifts: 1 Silver Bullet gondola, 1 quad chair, 2 high-speed detachable quads, 7 triple chairs, 7 double chairs, 4 surface lifts.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $48; child full-day $28; senior $29; senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Adult conventional $17; adult novice $21; adult performance $30; child $13; child performance $19.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Steamboat Touring Company at 1-970-879-8181, or call 1-970-879-0740 for other businesses and lodges.

Special Events: MTV's Winter Lodge, Nov. 23; Sprint Ski Town USA NC World Cup, Dec. 11-14; 24th Annual Norwest Bank Cowboy Downhill, Jan. 20; Jimmie Huega Ski Express, March 8; Cardboard Classic, April 12.

Sunlight Mountain Resort
Craig Amichaux thinks that Sunlight has the right attitude.
"The people who work there, the setup, everything's just so laid-back, it's a blast," Amichaux, 31, says. "Down-to-earth, no crowds. I love skiing there because of the attitude."

Amichaux grew up in Glenwood Springs, and he's skied just about every mountain around. He left to go to college and then moved to Seattle for five years. "I really wanted to get back to this area," the insurance adjuster says. "I'm so happy to be here again."

And he's especially happy to ski Sunlight. Amichaux started skiing when he was nine, and although he calls himself an intermediate skier, he's also a speed demon. "I just like to go fast," he admits. "I like the big, windy turns, and I just point my skis downhill and go."

For fast rides, Amichaux says he navigates Sun King and Peace Pipe. "They're wide open and have a few small jumps," he says. "Real nice terrain." He also favors Defiance, which he describes as "a little more advanced, very challenging."

For sheer difficulty, though, he says he has to mention Primo. "I ski on 210s, so Primo is a little rough for me," he confesses. "It's major bumps, straight down. You need to be an excellent skier for Primo." Friendlier bumps can be found on Ute. "We're talking about a lower-skill run. It's more for the intermediate, but it's a good one," he explains. "It's about a two-mile run that loops around the hill; you can go consecutively from start to finish and be totally exhausted at the bottom." He adds that the cutoff to Ute offers tremendous tree skiing. "There's an area where you have several small runs, and they all eventually end up connecting to the bottom of Ute. And there's a couple of areas where you can just blast through the trees on big powder days. I've been in there and gotten stuck, though, in serious powder."

A run similar to Primo, but not as "ferocious," says Amichaux, is Zephyr. "That's where you can get the best view of the mountain, just standing up there at the top of Zephyr. You can see the whole valley, the base of the mountain, Four Mile Park. And Zephyr's a black diamond, but it's nothing like Primo as far as bumps. But it's still a high-skill run."

Since Amichaux lives in Glenwood, he hits Daily Bread (729 Grand Ave.) before he heads to the mountain. "They have a good sit-down breakfast and lunch," he says. "They do all the standards, and the quiche is excellent." Another favored lunch is the one at the Eighth Street Deli (207 Eighth St.), which Amichaux says has "fantastic takeout. They serve some unbelievable lunches, with soups, sandwiches, something special every day. You can head up there in the a.m. to get something to take up onto the mountain."

But his top choice for dining is at the Italian Underground (715 Grand Ave.), a red-sauce, casual Italian spot with "great food and wine, in a really neat place located in a basement," he says. "But expect a wait." To go all out, he recommends Sopris (7215 Hwy. 82). "High-end, wonderful food, saucy-type stuff," he explains. "But you pay. That's where we always have our work Christmas parties." Not too expensive is the "incredible prime rib" at the Riviera Supper Club (702 Grand Ave.).

For drinks before or after dinner, Amichaux suggests one of the brewpubs--such as Defiance Station (308 Seventh)--or Los Desperados (55 Mel Ray Rd.). "They make the best margaritas in the world," he says.

General Information: 1-970-945-7491 or 1-800-445-7951.
Snow Report: 1-970-945-7491.
Location: 167 miles west of Denver via I-70 to Colo. Hwy. 82 south and County Rd. 117 to Glenwood Springs.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 26 to April 12.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Terrain: 20% beginner, 55% intermediate, 25% advanced. 440 developed acres with a 2,010' vertical drop. Base: 7,885'; top: 9,895'; longest run: 2.5 miles.

Lifts: 1 triple chair, 2 double chairs, 1 surface lift.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $28; child full-day $19; senior $19; child under 5 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Skiing and snowboarding equipment available. Call 1-970-7491 for information.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Sunlight Mountain Resort's Cross-Country and Nordic Center at 1-970-945-7491 for information.

Special Events: Warren Miller/Sunlight Mountain Resort Ski and 'Board Fest, Nov. 8-9; Winter Festival and Torchlight Parade, Dec. 20; Slopstyle Snowboard Competition, Jan. 18; Telemark Weekend, Jan. 24-25; Trench Warfare Ski and Snowboard Competition, Feb. 1 and Feb. 28; Snowboard Weekend, Feb. 21-22.

Telluride
A boyfriend talked Lisa Molloy into moving to Telluride, but she decided to make it her home all on her own.

Her family had moved to Parker in the Seventies from L.A., and in 1989 Molloy made the move to Telluride. "Oh, we broke up, but I say, hey, it was worth it to wind up in this incredible place," Molloy, 34, says. At first, though, there was some question as to whether she could find work. "I stopped there to study my boards and so fell in love with the place," she remembers. "But once I was ready to practice veterinary medicine, I found that the vet in Telluride didn't need any help. But the vet in Norwood, about thirty miles away, did. So here I am."

She's still with that vet and is now a partner in the Telluride Veterinary Clinic, an arrangement that suits her well, because she gets Thursday mornings to ski while her partner covers for her, and then she stays late that night at the clinic to help people who can't get their animals in during the day. "I go skiing on the weekends, too," she adds. "But every single weekend, I get pulled off the mountain to take care of an animal."

Not that she's complaining, because being on the mountain for a short time is still always a thrill. "There is just such challenging terrain here," she says. "Very few lift lines except at Christmas, and everybody knows everybody, even if you're from out of town, so it's just a party up there on the mountain. And the conditions change so much here that even on your favorite runs, you might be challenged to do it better next time, when it's a different setup."

That run for her would have to be what Molloy calls "Happy Glades," the trail between Happy Thought and Silver Glade. "At first it's in the trees, and then it opens up," she says. "And especially when there's fresh snow, no one ever goes there, so there are usually pockets."

Molloy also likes her bumps, so even her chosen cruiser, the Plunge, is only half-groomed; they leave it bumped up on the other side. But it's all bumps on Kant-Mak-M and Silver Glade, the latter of which she says is a good one to learn bumps on. "You have to be feeling real good to go on Kant-Mak-M, though," she adds. "It's right under the lift, so everyone knows you're there, and they'll yell at you." Kant-Mak-M is also part of what Molloy says residents call the "locals' loop." From the top of the run, she explains, "you have to go to Joint Point, and then you go all the way down, ski through the trees and get to Spiral Stairs, then lower Plunge. It's kind of three bumps in a row. You'll be so glad that Chair 9 is slow so you can rest after all that."

A good workout can also come from Gold Hill. "It's worth the walk," Molloy says. "A good twenty-minute hike up, and then you're above the tree line and jumping down into delicious snow, usually over your knee and crystallized enough that you can just float, steep enough that you really feel like you're flying. If you can do it three or four times, you're in really good shape."

A little less taxing is Logpile, the locals' name for a tree run above the West Drain. "It's pretty easy, not really steep," Molloy says. "You can also try the trees between Kant-Mak-M and Mammoth, one of my favorite black runs." And she reveals that the area in Apex glade, above Sully's, is "so forgiving, slush bumps in the spring that are easy on tired knees," and she says intermediates who are feeling a little brave should try Palmyra. Sully's is also the place she and her friends head to for a bottle of wine and a picnic in the spring, under Chair 6 on Sundays.

If you want to meet someone who lives in Telluride, Molloy says to head to the post office. "No one has deliveries, so sooner or later everyone will end up there," she says. "That's where we catch up on gossip." But the local hangout for drinks is the bar at The Sheridan (231 W. Colorado Ave.). "That's the classic older-time Telluride, where you'll just meet all sorts of people." She also says that on Friday nights, locals go to the Swede-Finn Hall (472 W. Pacific Ave.) for great margaritas. "Oh, and Leimgruber's Bierstub [573 W. Pacific Ave.] serves these huge mugs--you'll get lightheaded on one--and they have a boot they pass around that's full of that dangerous German beer."

Sofia's (110 E. Colorado Ave.) meets Molloy's criteria for quality Mexican food, and it's also her pick for a good breakfast. She likes the "fancy breakfast" at Bistro Nouveau (115 W. Colorado Ave.), and for "things covered with hollandaise sauce," she recommends The Excelsior (200 W. Colorado Ave.). "And then there's the Pacific Street Market [627 W. Pacific Ave.] for a fast breakfast sandwich you can eat on the way," she adds.

Another on-the-fly possibility is the burger from Rose's Victorian Market (700 W. Colorado Ave.). "It's the cheapest, and you can get it to go and eat it on the lift," she says. "They're a little juicy, though." She adds that the aforementioned Bistro Nouveau has excellent burgers and fries as well. "And The Roma Bar & Cafe [133 E. Colorado Ave.] is the place to go for pizza," she says. "But for slices to go, go to Baked in Telluride [127 S. Fir]." The ultimate skier's lunch is the barbecue at Fat Alley Barbecue (122 S. Oak)--"The vegetarian potato is real good, and so are the pork and beef barbecue sandwiches," Molloy says--and she thinks "amazing, middle-price-range, incredible vegetarian dishes" can be had at Honga's (138 E. Colorado Ave.), where she says they also do a sushi bar. "The other good sushi and Japanese food place is Suehiro [126 E. Colorado Ave.]," she adds.

But Telluride is, of course, best known for its upscale dining. "Okay, La Mamot [150 W. San Juan Ave.] is really good French food, consistently amazing, the best creme brulee I've ever had," Molloy enthuses. "It beats the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, but there's still a debate about whether La Mamot or 221 South Oak [221 S. Oak] here is better. 221 always has such interesting food, and there's always something on the menu you've never even thought about putting together."

For Italian, Molloy digs Campagna (435 W. Pacific Ave.) and for steak, she likes The Powder House (226 W. Colorado Ave.). "And down in town at the Sheridan, they serve ostrich and kangaroo," she says. "And the Cosmopolitan Restaurant [300 W. San Juan Ave.], the 'Cosmo' to us, is often good. It's right at the base of the gondola, a good place for a nice ski lunch with a glass of wine."

But when Molloy really wants to kick back and relax, she hits the books--as in coffeehouse/bookstores. "Maggie's [217 E. Colorado Ave.] is great for coffee and pastries," she says. "And then there's Between the Covers [224 W. Colorado Ave.], where the back of the bookstore is a coffeeshop. I can really get lost in there."

General Information: 1-800-525-3455.
Snow Report: 1-970-728-7425.
Location: 335 miles southwest of Denver via I-70 to Grand Junction, Colo. Hwy. 50 south, Colo. Hwy. 550 to Ridgway, Colo. Hwy. 62 and Colo. Hwy. 145 into Telluride.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 26 to April 12.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 21% beginner, 47% intermediate, 32% advanced. 1,050 skiable acres with a 3,165' vertical drop. Base: 8,725'; top: 11,890'; longest run: 2.85 miles.

Lifts: 2 high-speed quads, 5 double chairs, 2 triple chairs, 1 Poma lift, 1 Magic Carpet, 1 gondola transportation system.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $32; child full-day $17; senior full-day $25; child under 5 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Call 1-970-728-7533 for information.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Telluride's Nordic Center at 1-970-728-4424.

Special Events: USSA Classification Races, Dec. 11-14; Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade, Dec. 24; New Year's Eve Torchlight Parade, Dec. 31; Telluride World Pro/Am Mogul Classic; VH1's Lift Ticket to Ride, Feb. 27-March 1; Olympic Ski Challenge, March 26-29; Uvex/Bula USSA Championships, April 3-5; US National Snowboard Championships and 1998 Telluride Boarderfest, April 8-12; 2nd Annual Big Air Contest, April 11.

Vail
His knees are shot, but that doesn't keep Steve Trombetta from spending his lunch hour sailing down Vail Mountain. The 41-year-old has been skiing since he was fifteen, and he wound up in Vail in 1984, after he brought some friends who had never seen snow to the area from Southern California.

He was the concierge at the Westin there, and now he's the concierge at the Vail Cascade Hotel and Club, which used to be a Westin. "I just came here and stayed," Trombetta says. "And I'm glad I did, because this is some of the best skiing in the country."

Because of his knees, he tends to stick to the cruisers, although on a good day, he likes the delicate bumps on Highline and Ricky's Ridge. What does he avoid? "Oh, Blue Ox has some pretty mean bumps," he says. "I stay away from that one."

He likes those big, rolling groomers, like Simba, Safari and Avanti. "Wide open, smooth," he notes. "I especially like Simba, because I can cruise it all the way to the bottom and come back on the trail that leads to Cascade. And since that's on Chair 26 [Pride Express Lift], it's the fastest access to the top of mountain, so you can get five or six runs in easily in an hour." He also offers this tip: "That whole area up until noon is usually empty, because everyone's trying to get to the back bowls."

On that back side is where one of Trombetta's favorite tree runs sits: Sun Down Bowl. He likes Game Creek Bowl, too, especially Woods Glade and Wild Card. "Oh, and then over in China Bowl, there's Shangri-La Glade," he adds. "Most of the time, all of those I mentioned have some stashes." China Bowl is also where he thinks the best view at Vail can be had. "You can see the whole range there, at the top of Chair 21 [Orient Express Lift]," he says.

One of his all-time favorites, though, is Northwoods. "It's a blue, but you can go into some black, steeper stuff in North Star," he adds. For a smooth move to expert terrain from intermediate, Trombetta offers Riva Ridge and Prima, both of which he describes as "mild bumps to hard bumps, and sometimes it's even groomed," he says. To move up from green skiing to blue at Vail, Trombetta sends beginners to Game Creek Bowl, either Lost Boy to Dealer's Choice or Baccarat.

True skill is required, however, for Hairbag Alley, a locals' area off Chair 11 [Northwoods Express Lift]. "If you hook up with a local, ask them to take you through there," he says. "It's trees, but it's weird the way the bumps form: Picture like a cone-shape, with the bumps sticking out from the side. The people who ski it regularly help form these great bumps." Another possibility for experts is the out-of-bounds Minturn Mile, which he suggests should be done with a local, if possible. "It's off Chair 7," he explains. "And what happens is, you end up at the town of Minturn, go get a drink at the Minturn Saloon, and then take the bus back to Vail."

Or, for those staying in Vail, Trombetta urges apres-ski seekers to try the decks at either Vendetta's (291 Bridge St.) or Los Amigos (400 Bridge St.), and also Garfinkle's (536 E. Lionshead Cir.) or Trail's End (at Lionshead). But the best happy hour, as far as he's concerned, is at Fiesta's (Edwards Plaza). "You can get six tacos for $2, and they have $1.50 drafts," he says.

That's also the location Trombetta likes for breakfast the next day: DJ's Classic Diner (616 W. Lionshead), which he says is famous for its omelettes, crepe and waffles. "Or you could try Pazzo's Pizza [122 E. Meadow Dr. in Vail Village]," he says. "They do the $3.99 eggs and bacon, sort of like your Pete's on Colfax in Denver, but without that wonderful setting." And on Sundays, Trombetta enjoys the buffet brunch at Cafe Alberg (in the lodge).

Lunch is likely to be good at the Red Lion (304 Bridge St.), which Trombetta adds is also good for apres-ski, and Pazzo's. "They do both thick and thin, but I like thin," he says. And for a quick burrito on the mountain, he pops into Los Amigos.

Cheap dinner in Vail? Well, Trombetta thinks it might be Hubcap Brewery (143 E. Meadow Dr.). "There are at least three new brewpubs coming into Avon and Edwards, so I think that's where you're going to find your more reasonable eats," he adds. If money is no object, though, his favorites are Sweet Basil (193 E. Gore Creek Dr.) and Terra Bistro (352 E. Meadow Dr.).

After dinner, the locals have been going to Zeno's (River Center Building in Edwards). "It has a great wine bar," Trombetta says. "Everyone hits it on the way home, because everyone lives down-valley now." Another place people hit on the way out of Vail is Nick's (228 Bridge St.) for dancing. "Before you leave town, you always stop at Nick's," he says.

General Information: 1-970-476-5601.
Snow Report: 1-970-476-4888.
Location: 100 miles west of Denver via I-70.
Opening and Closing Dates: November 7 to May 3.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 28% beginner, 32% intermediate, 40% advanced. 4,644 developed acres with a 3,330' vertical drop. Base: 8,120'; top: 11,450'; longest run: 4.5 miles.

Lifts: 1 gondola, 10 high-speed quads, 1 fixed grip quad, 3 triple chairs, 5 double chairs, 9 surface lifts.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day $54-56; child full-day $35; senior $45; child under 4 and senior over 70 free. Also includes Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge.

Rentals: Call 1-800-525-2257 for information.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Cross-Country Ski Center at Golden Peak at 1-970-845-5313 for information.

Special Events: President Ford TreeLighting Ceremony, Dec. 12; Hot Winter Nights and Ski Torchlight Parade, Dec. 31; Jimmie Huega's Toyota Ski Express, Feb. date TBA; UnVailed Snowboard festival, March date TBA; Warren Miller's Mad Mountain Marathon, April 4.

Winter Park Resort
"I'm one of those dreaded former Californians," says Wendy Boyer. "After I got out of school, I figured I could work for $5 anywhere, so I might as well be somewhere cool."

That somewhere is Winter Park, where Boyer has called home for the past six years. "I first came out because one of my roommates, her dad is blind, so we used to come out here for the great disabled program they have," the 28-year-old explains. "And then after school, we were like, 'Let's get out of here,' so I came here to work for the disabled program." For the first three years she did that in the winter and guided whitewater rafting tours. "Okay, I had a really cake life," she admits. "But now I'm going to school at the University of Denver, and that's a brutal commute, you know." She also works for a medical billing company that has a great policy: When there are ten or more inches of new snow, they have to close down for the day.

Although Boyer has also been known to take a "mental day" for skiing. "One time I was determined to ski every black run on the hill," she says. "It is doable. I started at the very first chair, and I finished when sweep was closing up. I couldn't stop at all; I even had to pee in the woods. But it was great."

Needless to say, she's fairly well-versed in the blacks. "Okay, my favorite would have to be Boiler, because it has a lot of different terrain on it--not just bumps--and it's got rocks and different jumps," she says. "It's just got a lot more terrain and is a fun run to play around on." She also endorses Engledive, on the Winter Park side, as a "real good, short bump run, a good place to learn and practice on." She adds, "If you're an intermediate trying to move up to blacks, you'll really feel like you've accomplished something."

Winter Park is well-loved for its trees--tight, but containing endless powder. Some of Boyer's favorites are out of bounds off Vasquez. "The whole ski area has tremendous trees; there are people who do nothing else," she says. "You'll see Helmet Jim--he's the king of trees here, and you can't miss him because, besides the helmet, he wears these big fatty skis. He just skis trees all day long, and he got a lot of people to wear them, because the trees are so tight, you'll bonk your head off."

There are easy trees, though. "They just did an easy tree run off Parsenn Bowl, to skier's right," Boyer says. "I think it's Swede's Ridge. They've really done a nice job glading it out, and when there's a lot of snow, you don't get too much speed."

Boyer's don't-miss run on a powder day is Outhouse. "You should be there on the first chair to catch it, just once," she adds. "I hit it one time when we had 24 inches of snow; it was like this frenzy down at the bottom to be first on the run. It's absolutely amazing--you go straight down and just absorb and eat snow." Stashes are possible on Gambler, too, even "in the afternoon on a powder day and it's all cut up, there's still usually some snow that's untouched," Boyer says. For cruising, she names Cranmer, on Winter Park, but only early in the morning. "When it's busy, it stinks," she adds.

Boyer also thinks it's a shame that everyone thinks Mary Jane has all the bumps. "Balch, on the Winter Park side, is one of my all-time favorite runs, 'cause no one skis on it," she says. "It's long and consistently has bumps. But everyone's doing the bumps on Jane." She does like the Mary Jane Trail over there, though, calling it her "favorite blue run on a clear day."

Boyer, a semi-vegetarian, calls herself a "PB&J-in-the-pocket kind of girl" when it comes to eating on a powder day, but she says she has been known to grab a pizza at Hernando's Pizza (78199 Hwy. 40). "It's one of those where you eat the crust with honey, and the Roma Sonoma is fabulous, with artichokes, chicken and sun-dried tomatoes," she says.

And she admits to "making my daily payment to the Moffit Bagel Station [78437 Hwy. 40]." She adds that the food is good, inexpensive and fast. "You can zip in there and get out quick," she says. For a longer, sit-down breakfast, she suggests Carver's (93 County Rd. 7) for a "hearty kind of thing." And if you have a "really, really, really long time for breakfast, The Kitchen [78542 Hwy. 40] is wonderful," she says. "But, God, one time I went in, we were the only ones in there, and we were still there two hours. One lady cooks, washes dishes, serves, pours coffee..."

At the end of the day, Boyer advises the younger crowd to head to The Winter Park Pub (78260 Hwy. 40) for a cheap dinner. "Bar food, really good pizza, Chicago-style, great nachos, and you can't beat taco night on Tuesdays for $1 tacos," she says. "It's turned into the local hangout for the younger set." The older crowd hangs out at Deno's Mountain Bistro (78911 Hwy. 40), according to Boyer, which she adds has "delicious pasta, if you can wade through the smoke to get to it." And while Boyer recommends that those looking for good ethnic "go to Denver," she does highly recommend Fontenots (78711 Hwy. 40) for Cajun. "It's got great atmosphere," she says. "It's a bit of a splurge, with entrees from $8 to $12, but the killer fish sandwiches are $5 at lunch, and the catch of the day blackened, with their blackberry butter sauce, is unbelievable."

On Sunday nights, Boyer says the place to be is The Pub, for disco. "They have a bloody Mary bar beforehand, where they give you a glass of vodka and then you can make the spiciest Mary you want. My mouth waters just thinking about it."

General Information: 1-970-726-5514 or 1-303-892-0961.
Snow Report: 1-303-572-SNOW.
Location: 67 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west (exit 232) to U.S. Hwy. 40.

Opening and Closing Dates: November 8 to April 19.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends and holidays.
Terrain: 12% beginner, 30% intermediate, 17% percent advanced, 41% expert. 2,581 skiable acres with a 3,060' vertical drop. Base: 9,000'; top: 12,060'; longest run: 5.1 miles.

Lifts: 7 high-speed quads, 8 double chairs, 5 triple chairs.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day TBA; child full-day $15; senior $22; child under 6 and senior over 70 free.

Rentals: Available at base of mountain and in town.
Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call Devil's Thumb Ranch at 1-970-726-5632 for information.

Special Events: Colorado Ski Games, Nov. 28-30; Rocky Mountain Freestyle Series Opener, Dec. 6-7; Kids Winter Karnival, Dec. 14; Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade, Dec. 24; Rocky Mountain Trophy Series, Jan. 9-11; D.U. Invitational, Jan. 23-24; 23rd Annual Wells Fargo Bank Cup, Jan. 30-Feb. 1; National Women's Ski & Snowboard Festival, Feb. 5-8; Columbia Crest Cup, Feb. 27-March 1; Rocky Mountain Freestyle Series Divisionals.

Wolf Creek Resort
"I would like to aspire to be lord of the 'boards," says Jeff Greer, referring to the contest in California where participants ski, snowboard and telemark. And he's almost there. The Pagosa Springs resident, age 42, skis and snowboards, but he gave telemarking up because he thought "the knees would last longer sticking with alpine."

Greer was nineteen when he started skiing the molehills of Pennsylvania, and after he graduated from Penn State, he knew he wanted to be where the big skiing was. So he and a friend moved to Summit County in the winter of 1978-79, and soon after a friend introduced him to Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek. And he's been there ever since.

To make a living, he and his wife started Summit Ski & Sports ten years ago, and they also started a family, which now numbers three kids, ages three to eight. "This is very much a family mountain," Greer says. "There's only one base area, so you can't lose the kids, and they have a great kids' program." But that's not to say there isn't a lot of what Greer calls "pow-pow-pow." He thinks the mountain averages 485 inches of snow a winter, and that gets divided up pretty evenly among the skill levels. "Wolf Creek is not a large area in terms of vertical drop, but the great variety of terrain is so appealing," Greer says. "And we probably average two or three days a week of new snow."

So on a powder day, Greer can be found on B-52 Jimmy's Chute, on the upper part above the tree line. "Take a short hike out to this ridge," Greer explains. "It's a steep run off the top of this little cornice that drops off to the lower part of the ski area." But if there hasn't been a storm, Alberta Face is the place. "It's a great bump run," he says, "when it does bump out. But then we get two or three feet of snow and it's gone, so you have to catch it at the right time."

An easier bumper is Gun Barrel, which Greer says is also more likely to retain the bumps. When no bumps are necessary, though, he recommends Thumper. "That's a pretty wide cruiser, with two or three or four rolls," he adds. "It has a steeper pitch, and then it flattens out, a steeper pitch, and then it flattens out. There's one big, sweeping turn on it."

Greer also speaks highly of Robert's Closet, the local name for a tree run between the Treasure and Bonanza lifts. "It's pretty tight, but our trees, because of our altitude, are big, soft, widely spaced pines, no aspens," Greer says. "It's wide open, and most of the trees have boughs that come down to the snow line, so it's a little less intimidating than the aspen trees at other places that are like a picket fence."

However, Greer says that the thing people really should try at Wolf Creek is The Waterfall Area. "What that is, you go out to the edge of the boundary rope toward the south part of the mountain, and then there's controlled access through the gates," he explains. "And it takes you into all kinds of natural snow, conditioned glade, steep rock jumps, ungroomed. You're actually skiing below the existing base area, and then when you get down at the base of the waterfall, a Sno-Cat picks you up and takes you back. And, hey, it's included in the lift ticket. That's a must-ski for intermediate and above."

And a must-do for visitors to the Pagosa Springs area, according to Greer, is a dip in the hot springs. "There's nothing like it after a day of skiing," he says. Afterward, head to one of the cool bars: The Hog's Breath (157 Navajo Trails Dr.) or The Sports Page (249 N. Navajo Trail). He recommends The Greenhouse (505 County Rd. 600) for dinner of the fine-dining kind. "They have a wide range of fresh fish, rack of lamb, steaks and a killer view," he says. "And the Chinese is pretty good at Hunan [180 E. Pagosa]," he adds.

Breakfast should be had at the Rolling Pin Bakery (214 Hwy. 160 East), where the specialty is "really hot green chile," Greer says. And either The Malt Shop (River Center), for burgers, fries and shakes, or Paradise Brewpub (164 N. Pagosa Blvd.) would be his choice for lunch. "Southfork is closer to the mountain, but it's kind of a podunk town," Greer says. "So really, Pagosa Springs has all the good food."

General Information: 1-970-264-5629.
Snow Report: 1-970-264-5629 or 1-800-SKI-WOLF.
Location: 257 miles southwest of Denver via 1-25, or U.S. Hwy. 285 and U.S. Hwy. 160.

Opening and Closing Dates: Early November to mid-April
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Terrain: 20% beginner, 35% intermediate, 45% advanced. 800 skiable acres with a 1,425' vertical drop. Base: 10,350'; top: 11,775'; longest run: 2 miles.

Lifts: 2 triple chairs, 2 double chairs, 1 Poma lift, 1 rolling conveyor.
Lift Rates: Adult full-day $28.90; child full-day $18.70; senior $18.70.
Rentals: Adult $13; child $10; snowboard package $25.

Snowboarding/Cross-Country: Snowboarding welcome. Cross-country call 1-970-264-5629 for information.

Special Events: Martin Luther King Race, Jan. 18; Valentine & Presidents' Day Race, Feb. 14; Mardi Gras Race, Feb. 21; Final Fun Race, April 11.

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