So, with the backcountry gear he's also brought, Pappas then hikes into East Vail. He skis backcountry down into the East Vail neighborhood, then catches the shuttle bus back to Vista Bahn to start the whole route over again. Vista Bahn to Chair 4 to Chair 11 to Chair 36 to China Bowl... "Usually, that's a day," he says. "I'm pretty wiped out by then, and depending on how everyone's feeling, we usually go to Vendetta's for slices and beers or Los Amigos for margs on the deck."
He's followed that routine every time he's been to Vail over the past eight years, and it hasn't failed him yet. "The key is, you've got to get ahead of the crowd to get fresh tracks," he says. "And if you're ahead of the crowd, you're not going to get bogged down at Chair 5 with the crowds. And it sucks parking on the frontage road. If you're hungry for the powder, you definitely need to put the drink down early and go to bed."
If Pappas's day sounds too intense, he also describes Vail as a great place for intermediate skiers. The bowls are a perfect spot to learn how to ski powder, and there's usually a groomed lane you can escape to.
While Vail's development and parking situation continue to frustrate Pappas, he thinks the resort has done an excellent job with both its terrain and managing the numbers of skiers it gets. "The lifts are incredible," he says. "It's always pretty efficient with all the high-speed quads. They keep the lift lines down."
This year, chairs 10 and 14 have been upgraded to high-speed quads to expedite the trip to Two Elk Restaurant, China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin — cutting ride times in half. The beginner lift, Chair 15, has also been upgraded to a triple.
General Information: www.vail.snow.com; 1-970-476-5601.
Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 173, 176 or 180.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-476-4888.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 5,289 acres, with 193 trails; 18 percent beginner, 29 percent intermediate, 53 percent expert/advanced. Base is 8,120', with a 3,450' vertical rise; summit: 11,570'.
Winter Park Resort
Twenty-six-year-old Kelly Nelson is about to ski her 24th season at Winter Park. It's a family tradition: Her dad was an instructor here for 25 years, starting in 1967. Although she left Fraser to go to school at Colorado State University, Nelson studied natural-resource recreation and tourism there. "I basically went to school to play outside," she says, though she ultimately went to work for a real-estate company.
Even without her family connection to the place, Nelson says that Winter Park would probably still be her favorite resort, because she loves moguls, and moguls are what Winter Park does best. And after 24 years, there's still a bump run on the Mary Jane side that she has yet to conquer: Sterling Way. "I like to ski runs top to bottom without stopping or messing up," she says. And she often does that holding her breath, but "not on purpose. I think it's because I concentrate so much." But she's never made it all the way down Sterling Way without stopping to re-find the line she'll follow down. "It's just very challenging," she says.
She likes groomers, too, and Winter Park has great ones. When she wants powder, she tries to hurry to the far side of Mary Jane before people have had a chance to get there. "You can blindfold me, drop me anywhere on the mountain, and I know where I am just by looking at the trees," she says.
Après-ski, Nelson loves the Winter Park Pub. "It always has great music," she explains. "I'm sore from dancing. Lots of local bands; it's what they're known for." The food specials are good there, too. There's also good food at Mirasol, a little cantina and taco bar hidden next to a gas station.
Nelson has seen a lot of growth at Winter Park over the years, and she thinks it's been done pretty tastefully. She's also happy about the new, $8 million, detachable six-person Panoramic Express lift, which will be the highest six-pack in North America when it opens this season. Locals always complain when a big new lift comes in, she adds, but she's eager to ride it and see for herself what it does to improve access and shrink lift lines.
General Information: www.skiwinterpark.com; 1-970-726-5514.
Location: 67 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west, (exit 232), to U.S. Hwy. 40.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends and holidays.
Snow Report: 303-572-SNOW.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $59-$83; child (12 and under) day pass: $30-$41; senior (65-69) day pass: $50-$68; senior 70 and over day pass: $35.
Terrain: 3,060 acres, with 143 trails; 8 percent beginner, 17 percent intermediate, 19 percent advanced, 53 percent most difficult, 3 percent expert. Base is 9,000', with a 3,060' vertical rise; summit: 12,060'.
Cross-Country: Call 1-970-726-5632.
"The powder, the powder and the powder." What Jim Sutton loves about Wolf Creek is what it's best known for: getting dumped on. "It gets more snow than any other resort in Colorado," he says. Last year, that snow added up to 426 inches.