As much as he likes the skiing, he also likes the mood at Sunlight. "It's pretty laid-back," he says. "If I had to compare it, I'd say it's very similar to the culture at A-Basin." There's a great deck where you can sit and watch big air or bumps contests, and the bar features live music on Saturday afternoons.
And new this year is Pump Haus Park, with five new toys for jumping and jibbing.
General Information: www.sunlightmtn.com; 1-800-445-7931.
Location: 160 miles west of Denver via I-70, Colo. Hwy. 82 and Four Mile Rd. (County Rd. 117).
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-945-7491 or www.sunlightmtn.com/the-mountain/snowreport/.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $48; child (6-12), senior (60-69), and disabled day pass: $38; kids 5 and under and seniors 70 and over day pass: $10.
Terrain: 470 skiable acres, with 67 trails; 20 percent beginner, 55 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced, 5 percent expert. Base is 7,885', with a 2,010' vertical rise; summit: 9,895'.
"I haven't seen the world, by any means, but I know Telluride is one of the best spots on it," says Tom Watkinson. "I can't seem to leave." A 34-year resident of the town, Watkinson was a guide at Telluride for a decade. He tried to go into real estate, but got his license just before 9/11 and then couldn't make a living. But real estate wasn't his thing, anyway; he's more into selling Telluride figuratively than literally. As a guide, he liked to be sure that people appreciated where they were. "It would drive me crazy when you hear someone say, 'It's nothing like Aspen or Vail.'"
Because that's exactly the point of Telluride.
"People come to Telluride not to be seen," he continues. "It's down-to-earth, very historic. You get that true feel of what it was like a hundred years ago. Original buildings. No chain restaurants or stores. You are truly getting away from it all." Included in Telluride's history are Butch Cassidy's first successful bank robbery; world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey's first fight while he was working as a bouncer in a couple of the bars and brothels in Telluride's red-light district; and the first use of alternating current electricity. Nikola Tesla tried it in Telluride because the cost of shipping coal up to the mining areas was too high.
The skiing drops into two towns — Mountain Village and Telluride — and the terrain is split into thirds according to difficulty level, but it all links together nicely so that every restaurant and facility can be accessed by skiers of any ability level. Telluride has some of the steepest bump runs in the country, like the Spiral Stairs and the Plunge. But four expert runs are also groomed daily. There are beginner and intermediate runs, as well as an expert terrain park with a superpipe.
And this season, eight new runs are opening in the hike-to Black Iron Bowl, where previously people could only ski with guides. The area, beside the breathtaking Prospect Bowl, sits against the dramatic backdrop of Palmyra Peak, where over 200 acres of new hike-to terrain are also opening this season.
Watkinson knows that anyone coming to Telluride from Denver will pass a lot of resorts along the way. But once you're there, he says, you'll understand why the trek was worth it.
General Information: www.tellurideskiresort.com; 1-970-728-6900.
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 to Telluride.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-728-7425.
Lift Rates: Adult day passes: $64-$85; child (6-12) day pass: $39-$52; senior 65 and up day pass: $52-$69.
Terrain: 1,700 acres, with 92 trails; 24 percent beginner, 38 percent intermediate, 38 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,750', with a 3,530' vertical rise; summit: 12,255'.
Vail has everything, which translates into something for everybody. It also translates into a lot of ground to cover before you figure out what you like best. Anyone unfamiliar with the mountain tends to waste a lot of time on catwalks, trying to get around, or just stays in one place and misses what the rest of the massive mountain has to offer.
Luckily, Derek Pappas, a rep for K2 Skis, has already done the hard work for you. He knows the mountain so well — knows where all the best runs and powder stashes are to be found — that he has his daily route planned to an exact science. It starts at 7 a.m., when he gets to the parking structure well before the lifts open to make sure he's first on the mountain. He heads to Vail Village, stopping at Covered Bridge Coffee. Then he takes the Vista Bahn Express to Chair 4 to Chair 11. "I usually work Chair 11 or the Northwoods area until they open up the back bowls," he says. When the bowls are about to open, he cuts over a few runs from Chair 11 to go to Chicken Yard and work Chair 5. Two or three runs on Chair 5 gives patrol time to open Tea Cup Bowl or China Bowl. By then, Pappas is working his way over to Chair 36. He does another two runs there, and then hits China Bowl. Then it's out to Red Square or Rasputin's Revenge right after patrol does its avalanche-control work. After doing one of those runs a couple of times, it's already about noon. "By then, the mountain is skied up," he says.