Set in Boulder's back yard, Eldora attracts a lot of kids from the University of Colorado. Kids like Jon Delk, who picked up his first $99 college pass when he was a freshman and spent his whole first season riding blue groomers. When he came back his sophomore year, he got a job as an instructor. "I can't think of a better way to become a better skier or snowboarder than to be forced into situations where you have to teach it," he says. "As I progressed as a rider, I realized there was so much more on that mountain. If you want to truly appreciate everything the mountain has to offer, you need to get your skills in check."
The next year, he became a skier, which opened his eyes to even more options on the mountain. Now that he's graduated from CU, he works as the private lesson supervisor at Eldora while still finding newer and crazier places to ride and ski. For starters, he recommends West Ridge. "Read between the lines. Don't get caught up on the runs," he says. "Definitely spend time in the trees. There's always good stuff in the trees."
Don't ignore the trees on the front side of Challenge Mountain, either, he says. And if you really want to learn the mountain, take a lesson or even apply for a job. "We're looking for good people," he says, "not necessarily great skiers." Because that will come.
But Eldora isn't just for college kids. "We continue to grow and become more and more popular as I-70 continues to become more and more of a parking lot versus an interstate," says the resort's Rob Linde. The traffic situation has encouraged many Denverites to discover Eldora, where they find a range of terrain, including backcountry.
"We have two out-of-bounds Forest Service gates off the top of the mountain, on the CoronaBowl side, that access some pretty amazing terrain, with an access gate at the bottom to get back in," he says. "It's becoming more popular for thrill-seekers looking for the inbound/outbound experience. That's certainly a trend right now. I find myself going out there more and more. Lost Lake is out there, and if you can find it, some chutes above Lost Lake are as steep as it gets in Colorado."
Location: 45 miles northwest of Denver via I-25, U.S. Hwy 36 west and Colo. Hwy. 119; 21 miles west of Boulder.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 303-440-8700.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 680 skiable acres. The base is 9,200'; summit: 10,800'.
Eleven years ago, Brad Russer came to Colorado to be a lift operator and figure out what he was going to do with his life. "And, of course, I'm still here," says the Keystone patroller. "Or you could say I figured out what I wanted to do as soon as I got here. There's no way I'd ever leave. I love Summit County, and I ooze Colorado. My patroller friends have become my family and my life."
And after seven years at Keystone, Russer knows the resort like the back of his hand. "I try to ski 150 days a year," he says. The front side is all pretty easy stuff, except for the terrain park, which is one of the best in the state — and a little too good for him. "I can't go to the terrain park," he says. "I'm too old. I have an easy time hurting myself. Four surgeries in four years. I just shattered my clavicle mountain biking a few months ago."
Instead, Russer frequents the backside of Keystone, with laps on Bushwhacker and NorthBowl and SouthBowl. Since it only takes eight minutes to get up there on the express chair, Russer could happily ski those runs all day long. "The access, how fast you can get out there, is pretty amazing," he says. "I can find tons of stuff to get in trouble with at work. You can find as good tree skiing at Keystone as you can anywhere."
When he has a little more time, he heads out to Bergman Bowl, Erickson Bowl and Independence Bowl. The more than 1,000 acres of trees, chutes, bowls, ridges and powder in the three bowls can now be accessed by snowcats, or good old-fashioned hiking. Russer and his friends have been hiking to these bowls for years, but now he'll jump on the cat to catch a ride any chance he gets. Skiers willing to pay to ride on a cat this season will also get to use the 25-by-35-foot deck Russer just finished building at the bottom of Independence. The deck is topped with a yurt. "It will be a warming hut for the cat ski program," he explains. "I'm about as happy as I can be with the work we've done down there."