There's one other spot locals like to go, he says: "It's a place called 'The Playground' on North Peak, but if anybody wants to find that, they're going to have to look for it."
General Information: www.keystone.snow.com; 1-800-468-5004.
Location: 90 miles west of Denver via I-70 to exit 205 at Dillon, 6 miles east on Hwy. 6 to Keystone.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; or 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on night-skiing days.
Snow Report: 1-800-468-5004, ext 1.
Lift Rates: Early-season adult day pass: $59; early-season child (12 and under) day pass: $39. Rest of season TBA.
Terrain: 3,148 acres, with 121 trails; 19 percent beginner, 32 percent intermediate; 49 percent advanced/expert. The base is 9,280', with a 3,128' vertical rise; summit: 12,408'.
Loveland Ski Area
Beth Jahnigen is the author of "Mountain Girl" — a tongue-in-cheek-column in Ski Press magazine about being a girl in a ski town. But she grew up skiing Loveland, a mountain with no town, and as an adult started spending time at big resorts. "In the last couple of years, I think I've rediscovered Loveland," she says. "I'm realizing how cool it was." And is.
What she loves about Loveland is its old-school feel. "You pull into the dirt parking lot," she explains. "You don't have to pay for parking. There's hardly ever a line. Two-person chairlifts. The beer is cheap. It's like the last of a dying breed. I love the big resorts, but it's the antithesis of that, which is a refreshing change after a while. I just love it because it's kind of overlooked. It's the ski experience at its most simple form."
In the early season, Chair 1 is the only place to go, and Jahnigen uses its steep groomers to get her legs back in shape. Once the snow starts rolling in, she likes the glades of South Chutes. And the area above there, and above the tree line, is well worth the hike. "It's beautiful," she says. "It sits at a high elevation. You're hanging out on the Continental Divide. It can get windy at times, so it can be chilly. But on a good day, it's by far my favorite place to be."
Loveland has added new trail signs this year, which should make the resort easier to navigate. But for Jahnigen, it will always be a familiar old friend.
General Information: www.skiloveland.com; 1-800-736-3754.
Location: 56 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 216.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends.
Snow Report: 303-571-5554.
Lift Rates: Early- and regular-season adult day pass: $42-$54; early- and regular-season child day pass: $20-$24; late season: TBA.
Terrain: 1,365 skiable acres, with 70 trails; 13 percent beginner, 41 percent intermediate, 46 percent advanced. Base is 10,600' feet, with a 2,410' vertical rise; summit: 13,010'.
Monarch Ski and Snowboard Area
You only live once, and Loni Walton named her Salida clothing store Yolo to remind people to have fun and not take things too seriously. She certainly doesn't: During the ski season, that store isn't open until at least eleven, because Walton wants to be sure to get in a few runs at Monarch first.
Walton grew up in Salt Lake City and has been in Salida the past eighteen years, skiing at Monarch all that time. "I love both the area and the backcountry skiing, especially the hiking and snowcat tours area," says the telemark skier. "It's small, but with awesome natural snow. That's definitely what kept me coming back."
She likes to lap Mirkwood Basin, which takes about a fifteen-minute hike. Now her thirteen-year-old daughter can ski Mirkwood, too, though most of the time Walton does the hike-to and steeps with her friends while her daughter does the easier terrain. She also likes Outback. "It's one you hike to a little bit, too," she says. "The snow is always fresh and awesome. It typically doesn't get tracked up at all."
This year, the hike-to and snowcat terrain has expanded, according to Monarch's Greg Ralph. "Our snowcat terrain, right on top of the Continental Divide, is 1,000 skiable acres," he says. "We've added another 300 acres on the west side of the Divide into Gunnison National Forest. Our cat terrain covers both sides with really nice, gladed tree skiing." Having runs in the snowcat terrain that face every direction ensures that after a storm, there will always be good snow somewhere. "Sitting on top of the world helps, too," Ralph adds.
He expects more people to check out Monarch's fresh snow this year because for the first time, ten of the state's small resorts are working together so that their season passes can be used for days at other resorts. "For most places it's a three-day exchange, so you could get three days here on your Loveland pass, etc.," he says. "We've had reciprocal agreements with a couple of areas in the past, but never this many. Ten areas is pretty substantial."
General Information: www.skimonarch.com; 1-888-996-7669.
Location: 157 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285 south and U.S. Hwy. 50 west.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-888-996-SNOW.