General Information: www.granbyranch.com/ski/solvistabasin.asp; 1-888-850-4615.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-800-754-7458.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $49-$54.
Terrain: 287 skiable acres with 33 trails; 30 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. The base is 8,202', with a 1,000' vertical rise; summit: 9,202'.
Last year, a record 489 inches of Steamboat's trademarked Champagne Powder fell from the clouds, and during a series of back-to-back storms and subsequent powder days, Barkley Robinson kept heading to the Closets for tree skiing. "It's an amazing place to be up there after a storm," he says. Even without a storm, though, Robinson, a local, is partial to the Closets. Like a lot of Steamboat, its snow conditions are always pleasant. "It's either nice and soft because it's fresh, or nice and soft because it's a relatively warm day out," he says. "Rarely do we get hard-packed conditions, which is a little different than the rest of the state."
Robinson was a ski racer growing up in Summit County, but he always loved coming to Steamboat. "I thought this place was special," he recalls. "There was a real sense of community. I liked the town, and the locals I met here seemed really genuine." After college, he was hoping to land a job in a resort town and was thrilled when he found one in Steamboat. Now a real-estate broker who also races bicycles and owns a barber shop in town, Robinson's been in Steamboat ten years. He still loves it, both for its community and the climate that brings amazing snow coupled with mild, temperate conditions. It's nice, too, the broker says, that locals can still afford to live in town. "In other places, a lot of locals have been driven down the valley because of housing costs," he says. "Granted, prices have gone up, but there is still attainable real estate for locals."
One of Robinson's other favorite places to hit after a storm is the nicely spaced trees of Shadows. He also recommends the bump runs off the Storm Peak Express, which has great tree skiing as well. Higher up are the steeps of Chutes 1, 2 and 3.
"It's just a fun mountain," he says. "It's got nice, long runs and a good amount of vertical. It's just a real fun mountain to ski."
General Information: www.steamboat.com; 1-970-879-6111.
Location: 160 miles northwest of Denver via I-70, exit 205; north on Colo. Hwy. 9 to Kremmling, west on U.S. Hwy. 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-970-879-7300.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 2,965 acres with 165 trails; 14 percent beginner, 42 percent intermediate, 44 percent advanced. Base is 6,900', with a 3,668' vertical rise; summit: 10,568'.
Karl Walker was three years old when he first went to Sunlight, and he's been hooked ever since. "It's a great little mountain," he says. "It's a throwback to what I think skiing used to be thirty or forty years ago. It has a lot of character. It's small, but it has all the terrain that you would expect a larger mountain to have, just on a smaller scale."
The tree skiing is great all over the mountain, he says, with fresh powder stashes that last for days. His favorite area is East Ridge, which opened over a decade ago. "It's an extreme section, with steeper faces," Walker says. In fact, in the days before it was opened by the resort, he remembers someone being killed in an avalanche there. Now it's well-monitored, but still much more challenging than anything else on the mountain.
This season, skiers will have access to another extreme spot that Walker has already known about for years. Sunlight will offer backcountry guided ski tours for alpine, telemark, cross-country and snowboarding on its next-door mountain, Williams Peak, which gets 300 inches of dry powder snow each winter and has everything from steep mountain ridges to Aspen glades and broad powder bowls.
"That way, we can show off a little bit more of what we've got up at Sunlight outside our normal ski boundaries," says Sunlight spokesman Dylan Lewis. "People who wouldn't normally ski over there are paired with one of our experienced instructors who knows the mountain really well."
One of those instructors may be Walker. He's a land surveyor but works at the ski school part-time in the winter when he's needed, and he knows Williams Peak. In the summer, he does the 45-minute hike to the top regularly with his dog, often multiple times in one day. When he comes to Sunlight, it's as much for the atmosphere as the skiing. Even the older, slower lifts are a bonus in his book. It keeps the terrain from getting tracked up too quickly, he says, and allows for plenty of time to talk to the friends he knows he's going to run into. "It's what gives it its character," he says. "It feels like a mom-and-pop, real-deal ski area. It's all part of the experience."