As for the resort itself, Hulick points out that everything is centrally located, which gives it a close and quaint feel. "Avon's down the hill. There's everything you need as far as restaurants and children's ski school. It's family-oriented," he says, "which is probably what makes it so accessible on weekends. People coming up from Denver are just like, 'Oh, let's go to Vail.' They don't really know about Beaver Creek, and that's why the locals tend to go there on Saturdays and Sundays." But still, you'll have to head out early if you want the fresh stashes on a powder day.
Beaver Creek does have a couple of drawbacks. The parking is far out, unless you want to pay, and then it's "spendy" — which shouldn't shock anyone who skis in Colorado. But the parking is still less of a hassle at Beaver Creek than it is at Vail if you get there late, and for those willing to pay $30, Mountain Valet will park your car at either Beaver Creek or Vail. This season, the new Riverfront Express Gondola will also provide a fast route from Avon to the resort, and another gondola, the Buckaroo Express, is opening in the kids' learning area.
General Information: www.beavercreek.snow.com; 1-970-845-9090.
Location: 110 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 167.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. through December 13; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. December 14-April 13.
Snow Report: 1-800-427-8308.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 1,805 skiable acres with 148 trails; 19 percent beginner, 43 percent intermediate, 38 percent advanced and expert. The base is 8,100', with a 4,040' vertical rise; summit: 11,400'.
Breckenridge has an assortment of parks to choose from, with a good progression from beginner boxes and little jumps to Freeway Terrain Park, Peak 8's "big boy park" and the favorite place to play for pro rider and Breck resident Ryan Thompson. "It's pretty much where I spend most of my time," he says. "They do a good job maintaining it and keeping it center stage. They give it more attention. Everything's more. The half-pipe is pretty much perfect at all times." It's so center stage and perfect that sometimes families come around to watch and oooh and aaah. Although a gawker occasionally gets in the way, for the most part the park doesn't get too crowded, Thompson adds.
Breckenridge has seen some major changes in recent years, what with the addition of the Imperial Express SuperChair — North America's highest chairlift — and the BreckConnect gondola linking the town of Breckenridge to the resort. For this season, the main addition is a new terrain park on Peak 8. Instead of having parks of differing difficulty levels scattered across two peaks, the new park has put a progression system in one place. Skiers and riders will be able to move seamlessly from Trygve's beginner park to the new Park Lane intermediate park to Freeway. Park Lane sits next to Freeway, but the run has a longer, milder pitch, making it an ideal place for intermediate hits and rails.
Even though Freeway is his favorite, Thompson says there's a lot of other terrain he likes to hit at Breck. He usually warms up cruising around Chair 6, on the south side of Peak 8, especially when the snow is fresh. "That's where you kind of weed out most of the tourists from the local people," he says. When he's looking for powder, he goes to the south side of Peak 10. "And if you're willing to take a hike, go up to Windows," he urges.
Après-ski, you're likely to find Thompson — who recently graced the cover of TransWorld Snowboarding magazine — at Clint's Bakery. "It's always super-good," he says. "Everything's homemade there, and the girls who work behind the counter are really pretty."
General Information: www.breckenridge.snow.com; 1-970-453-5000.
Location: 80 miles west of Denver on I-70, (exit 203), Colo. Hwy. 9 to Breckenridge.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-453-6118.
Lift Rates: Early-season adult day pass: $59; early-season child (12 and under) day pass: $39. Rest of season TBA.
Terrain: 2,358 skiable acres with 155 trails; 15 percent beginner, 33 percent intermediate, 31 percent advanced, 36 percent expert. The base is 9,600', with a 3,398' vertical rise; summit: 12,998'.
This will be the seventh year in a row that ESPN's Winter X Games come to Buttermilk — bringing more than 250 of the world's best ski, snowboard and snowmobile athletes along. And with the X Games committed to Buttermilk through 2010, this little mountain must be doing something right.
According to Peter Olenick, a Carbondale freeskier who competes in the games, that something is the superpipe, considered the best in the world. "It's perfect," he says. "They have it up year-round in great condition. It's like three whole hits longer. Most pipes are four, maybe five hits, and this one is like seven or eight hits."
Like the local kids, Olenick goes to Buttermilk to lap the park all day. "I like that they have a bunch of rails you can hit all the way down before you even get to the main park," he says. "There's just rails everywhere." The last jump, which is next to the pipe, is a favorite: "It's really fun to train on that jump. It's like a sixty-footer," he says of the spot, where he'll usually attract an audience: "There's a pretty good little crew of skiers there." In all, it takes him about ten minutes to get down, and at the bottom, the lines aren't bad.