Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $27-$52; teen (13-15) day pass: $20-$32; junior (7-12) day pass: $15-$20; senior (62-69) day pass: $18-$28; children 6 and under and seniors 70 and over: free.
Terrain: 1,000 snowcat acres, 800 skiable acres, with 63 trails; 14 percent beginner, 28 percent intermediate, 27 percent advanced, 31 percent expert. Base is 10,790', with a 1,162' vertical rise; summit: 11,952'.
"People look at smaller places and think they're going to get bored, and it's not true," says Leah Allard. "There's tons of great runs to explore, and always stuff to get better on." Allard, a student at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, calls Powderhorn her home mountain. It has all the terrain she needs: glades, carved runs, powder, small moguls. And with one main lodge where everyone gathers, she sees familiar faces all the time.
"Powderhorn doesn't have any real backcountry skiing, if you compare it to places like Telluride and Crested Butte, but they're expanding the boundaries so that the stuff the locals would usually ride, you can get to it with greater ease," she says. "It's nice to go to big places, but it's always nice to come home. The stuff you get tired of on vacation, like that was great for a weekend but there were too many people and it was too expensive.... Powderhorn takes all the great stuff you love about powder and great runs and takes all that extra crap away."
As for those great runs, Allard's favorite long groomer is Bill's Run. She knows where to find the powder stashes, and identifies them by landmark and practice. "There are some stashes that are not on the map, like Ben's Bend is a great powder run that's not marked," she says. "You've got to know which tree to get by." The lift on the far west side of the resort, which locals call West End, is the place you want to go on a powder day. "It's not right by the main lodge, so you kind of have to work your way there," she explains. "You just want to stay over there all day. There are a couple of intermediate blues, but a lot of blacks and a lot of glade skiing. You can't see the lift or too much of the terrain from the day lodge, so you kind of feel secluded in your own area, and beginners don't work their way to West End."
Feeling secluded is nothing new at Powderhorn. There's rarely a lift line, even though those lifts are slow. Some people complain about that, but the way Allard sees it, a slow lift keeps people dispersed. "If we had a high-speed lift, everyone would be there at the same time," she says. "What I love about Powderhorn is you can sometimes have a run completely to yourself."
General Information: www.powderhorn.com; 1-970-268-5700.
Location: 250 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 49 to Colo. Hwy. 65.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-268-5300.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $49; student (7-18) and senior (60-69) day pass: $39; seniors 70 and over: $15; kids 6 and under: $10.
Terrain: 600 skiable acres, with 40 trails; 20 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 15 percent advanced, 15 percent expert. Base is 8,200', with 1,650' vertical rise; summit: 9,850'.
Aaron Brill is proud of the fact that prices at his no-frills, advanced-terrain ski resort haven't gone up in three years. "Our goal is to make things as affordable as possible so that people with less money can have a really good-quality ski experience," he says. "Silverton is all about the quality versus quantity, and I think that's an important thing that gets lost in the ski industry. It's all about high-speed lifts. It's a different experience here."
Sally Rockwood would have to agree. Her first experience at Silverton was before the resort opened, walking down avalanche paths, "boot packing." That was a way to punch down layers of snow, to start avalanche mitigation and increase visibility. Four years ago, Rockwood and her boyfriend were driving to the East Coast from their home in Utah when they heard about this new resort opening and stopped to check it out. Her now-fiancé decided he wasn't going back to Utah, and stayed to work at Silverton. She eventually followed.
"I love it because it's always an adventure," she says. "I love the group of people who ski up there. It's nice to see familiar faces without the ego or the scene. And I love it because there's just always great skiing to be had. I have never gone up to Silverton and not had an incredible day of skiing."
Rockwood has never skied anywhere with as much vertical or variety as Silverton, but she doesn't consider herself an extreme skier, or Silverton an extreme place. "It can be as extreme as people want to make it," she says. "Obviously, it's an extreme mountain. There are no groomers, but it can be accessible." She often hears people say they'd like to ski Silverton but they don't know if they could handle the terrain. "The people who feel intimidated are the ones who would probably be fine," she says. And she should know: Rockwood teaches second and third grade and also coaches a local ski team, and when she brought a couple of twelve-year-old girls from the ski team here, they loved it.