Bottom line on Beaver Creek is that you can still find powder several days after a storm. And if it hasn't stormed, you can find some of the best-groomed terrain around.
For those into luxury, Beaver Creek still has its high-end vibe. This season, The Ranch — a 4,000-square-foot home for the children's ski school — opens complete with picture windows, a yogurt bar and wireless touch screens at each table. The adjacent Osprey at Beaver Creek — the closest hotel to a chairlift in North America — just underwent a $7 million transformation, and the new Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa is part of a $500 million development that has its own Riverfront Express Gondola.
As always, every ski day at Beaver Creek ends with free, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.
General Information: www.beavercreek.snow.com; 1-970-845-9090.
Location: 110 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 167.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. through Dec. 19; 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Snow Report: 1-800-427-8308.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 1,815 skiable acres with 149 trails; 19 percent beginner, 43 percent intermediate, 38 percent advanced and expert. The base is 8,100', with a 3,340' vertical rise; summit: 11,440'.
The Basin was one of the first places Jeremy Dobish skied when he moved to Colorado three years ago. Ever since, it's been the place he goes to most often. Coming from Vermont, there was something familiar about the ski area. "It feels like it's a very small family," he says. "It's always the same locals and people you recognize on the A-frame and on the lift. Everybody there is super-friendly. That, and the skiing. There's just a really good balance of technical skiing and good groomers and wide-open stuff."
Dobish felt that way even before last season, when the Montezuma Bowl debuted, making A-Basin 80 percent bigger. "It really opened up the mountain and got people off the front side and back there. You could find fresh powder stashes even three or four days after the storm," he says. "You can always find somewhere fun to ski, whether it's a nice, gorgeous spring day or a mid-winter day with only a few people out and good snow."
Some of those fun places are the famous steeps off Pallavicini on the front side. Dobish likes to start there, head down Turbo, Pali Main Street or Pali Face, then over to West Wall; after that, he scoots back to Montezuma, into the trees or chutes and then back to North Pole for more chutes.
And like everybody else, he loves to end his day on the beach, hanging out in the parking lot with friends while they let their dogs run around. He also makes a stop into the bar for a Bloody Mary, since A-Basin has the best ones around. It's actually his Christmas day tradition, and this season he'll have another place to sip his spicy drink in the sun should he choose: the new, 1,754-square-foot south-facing sundeck, made of recycled materials, that can seat 100 people outside the Black Mountain Lodge.
But even if Dobish and his friends can't score one of the coveted spots in the main parking lot next to the beach, parking should be more convenient now that A-Basin has built a new lot, with 300 spaces, that's connected to the resort via a pedestrian tunnel under Highway 6; parking shuttles will also be added for the upper lots.
General Information: www.arapahoebasin.com; 1-888-ARAPAHOE.
Location: 68 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 205, then 12 miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends.
Snow Report: 1-888-ARAPAHOE.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: early season $49, regular season TBA.
Terrain: 900 acres with 105 trails; 10 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 37 percent advanced, 23 percent expert. Base is 10,780', with a vertical rise of 2,270'; summit: 13,050'.
A few things always annoyed me about Keystone, especially when I was totally green. First was lugging my skis through River Run, over two bridges and up the hill to get to the gondola (yes, I'm lazy). Then, once on the gondola, I waited while it crawled ever so slowly up the mountain and the adjacent lift whizzed by. And finally, I always dreaded the end of the day, when everyone on the mountain had to come down the same narrow, icy patch of run, trying desperately not to hit or be hit.
This season, all that is changing. A faster, eight-passenger River Run Gondola has replaced the old six-man one, and the loading terminal is now right in the heart of River Run Village. That means less walking, shorter lines and more skiing. Since people can choose to download at day's end, it could also mean less of a cluster at the bottom.
So with more time to burn, I'm hoping to see more of Keystone this year, and there's no better person to give me the lowdown than assistant ski patrol director Craig Simson, who's worked for the resort since 1991.
"The thing I like about Keystone is that it's spread front to back, not side to side," he explains. Keystone is made of three mountains, and the farther back you go, the more remote and extreme the terrain. Everybody starts at Dercum Mountain, or the front side, which is all beginner and intermediate skiing, including some of Simson's favorite groomers. "The Wild Irishman has all kinds of really cool pitch changes in it and different fall lines through it, and as you go down, at both skiers' left and right are really cool shots through the trees," he says. Spring Dipper is a great early-morning warm-up trail because it's nice and wide, with one steeper pitch. "You could carve that one edge to edge and get your wheels in before you start hammering your legs," he says.