Owners Jen and Aaron Brill manage those fresh tracks by delaying openings so that four days after a storm, they're still opening an area that hasn't been touched. "Some of the best days are two or three days after a storm, when they finally get the bigger terrain open," Chandler says. "One thing that bums people out is when they see guided groups during unguided season going into closed areas. Some people get confused or mad about that, but those people are paying money to ski guided areas. There's never enough people there that it's a big deal, anyway. You're guaranteed fresh lines."
Depending on what's open, some of Chandler's favorite spots are Pope Face or the Billboard, a huge area with 2,000 feet of vertical and fresh lines to be had, and Ropedee Dope on the back side. "On days right after they've gotten a bunch of snow, they only open the lower north aspect, and there's some good runs there, like Delores or Spitski."
Just like anywhere else, Chandler says you want to get there first thing in the morning, when areas are opening up for the first time. This is especially true at Silverton, where time is of the essence. "You only get in between four or five runs a day," he says. "Some people, depending on what's open, can do six or eight runs, but eight runs at Silverton is a big day."
This season, Silverton will offer $150 helicopter drops to offset the cost of using an Astar B3 for avalanche control twice a week throughout the season. The drop terrain has 3,100 feet of vertical and several thousand acres of "nasty" chutes and open bowls.
General Information: www.silvertonmountain.com; 1-970-387-5706.
Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver via I-70, Colo. Hwy. 550 south, and Colo. Hwy. 110. Base is six miles from Silverton.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekends only, or Thursday-Sunday depending on time of year.
Snow Report: www.silvertonmountain.com.
Lift Rates: Day pass: $49; day pass with guide: $99; guided-only skiing Jan. 17-April 1.
Terrain: 1,819 acres; expert and advanced only. The base is 10,400'; summit: 12,300'; hike-to summit: 13,487'; vertical drop of 3,087' possible with hiking or helicopter.
Franci Peterson was inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame in 2001 for her work running the ski school at Ski Cooper since 1986. "It was a huge honor," Peterson says. "You never imagine, coming from a small area and never having done anything spectacular. I was never a fabulous racer. I never discovered a cure for anything. To be inducted into the Hall of Fame, it was one of the biggest honors of my life."
And she gives the credit to the resort itself. Ski Cooper, a county-owned facility with all-natural snow, where fresh tracks are still waiting to be had a week after a storm, is a small place where everybody knows one another, especially at the ski school. The instructors know the kids they're teaching — not just by name, but whether they're shy or energetic and have a background in gymnastics or dance. Some of the instructors have been with Peterson twenty years, including whole families that teach with her.
"It's just a fabulous place to ski," she says. "I determined it was where I was supposed to be, and I've stayed there."
General Information: www.skicooper.com; 1-800-707-6114.
Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70 and U.S. Hwy. 24 west.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-719-486-2277.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $42.
Terrain: 2,400 snowcat acres; 400 lift-served acres with 26 trails; 30 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 30 percent expert. Base is 10,500', with a 1,200' vertical rise; summit: 11,700'.
SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch
Steve Conrad used to be a Summit County snob. But after a while, the drive from Denver, the traffic and the lift lines got to him. Then he had kids, and shlepping them and their equipment through big parking lots and onto shuttles and gondolas became even less appealing. So, like a lot of Denver families, he came to SolVista. "We knew it was a terrific place for kids," he says. "Everybody we had ever talked to said the same thing. If you're looking for steep and deep, it's not your place. But if you like to go and be together as a family and let the kids go and know they're going to be safe and end up in the same place.... It's a terrific place for kids to learn to ski."
Everything leads to one base area, so it's really hard to lose a kid. Plus, the employees know his children's names by now, he says. "This winter, my daughter and a couple of her friends, I anticipate them skiing on their own at age five, and I'm not concerned about it."
The ski area is rarely crowded, and crowded means waiting five minutes in a lift line. Parking is close enough to put your skis on by the car and go. It's just easy. And if the kids don't get tired enough skiing, there's always the tubing hill.
"If I was going to ski by myself with buddies for six hours, it wouldn't be good," Conrad says. "But I ski with my family most of the day and then get an hour or two by myself, and it's good." There are plenty of bumps and trees and intermediate cruisers to keep him busy for two hours. And because he's not waiting in lines, he gets much more skiing in at SolVista than he has in recent years at the resorts that have more advanced terrain to offer.