The best spot for powder and high alpine skiing, Evans says, is off of Chair 9, which accesses every aspect, so whether you want to face the sun or be sheltered from the sun and the wind, you can find the spot. Because Chair 9 doesn't open immediately with the rest of the ski area, Evans starts at Chair 4 or 8, where he can usually find fresh snow. If he has friends in town who are more beginner or intermediate, he takes them over to Loveland Valley, where they can get away from the faster skiers and not feel intimidated.
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: Adult day pass: early season $44, regular season $56, late-season TBA.
Terrain: 1,365 skiable acres with 70 trails; 13 percent beginner, 41 percent intermediate, 46 percent advanced. Base is 10,600', with a 2,410' vertical rise; summit: 13,010'.
Annie Ruiter has been going to Monarch for ten years, and it's still one of her favorite ski areas in Colorado. "The snow is always good; great tree skiing and hike-to terrain; the people are fantastic; the staff is more than helpful," she says. "It truly is like your hometown mountain."
It's small enough that you never get lost or lose your friends, because everything dumps out into the same base, but it's got the terrain of a bigger resort. Ruiter loves the trees off Panorama, and she could ski off the Garfield lift all day, hopping from groomers to powder in places like the Gun Barrel trees. The Mirkwood Basin, which opened a few years ago, is about a fifteen-minute hike off the Breezeway lift, and then she's up in wide-open terrain with steep chutes that never get crowded.
And Sidewinder Saloon — the one and only bar at the base — always has great food and people, she says.
New this year are 200 acres that have been added to the snowcat area, while Monarch continues to work with the U.S. Forest Service on its plan to add a lift to the No-Name Bowl. The ski school and rental center has been remodeled, with additional kiosks, a new boot-drying system and an expanded rental and demo fleet. At the bottom of the Panorama Chair is a new kids' terrain park, Tilt, as well as new features on the Aftershock and K2 Organic terrain parks. In fact, logs being used for features on K2 have been cut down from Sleepy Hollow, which is being widened.
In honor of Monarch's 69th anniversary this season, the ski area is letting seniors 69 and older ski free.
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.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $54.
Terrain: 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'.
Worth checking out for the views alone, Powderhorn is a laid-back, family-friendly ski resort that sits on the edge of the Grand Mesa — the world's largest flat-topped mountain. There are no lines or crowds, the powder is abundant, and there are two new runs, Hooligan and Bear Claw on the West End, to find stashes on.
For beginners, there's also a Magic Carpet opening, and everyone will enjoy having one more place to warm up over coffee or a snack at the new Alpine Trader Cafe.
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: $53.
Terrain: 1,600 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'.
Drew Chandler had been contemplating moving to Colorado from Alta, Utah, but he kept putting it off because he didn't think the skiing would compare. He liked Durango for the kayaking and mountain biking, but Purgatory wasn't advanced enough for him. So he waited, and then he heard about Silverton. "It was pretty much the reason I moved to Durango," he says. "Silverton is 100 percent advanced. It's very similar to skiing Alta or Jackson or Whistler, except without the crowds.
"At times — I'm not exaggerating — I've been in bowls and myself and my skiing partner are the only ones out there. Two people on top of the ridgeline, and that's it. You really are in the backcountry except everything's controlled. It's amazing."
With one lift, mandatory hiking and conditions so extreme that all skiing is guided-only from January 15 to March 29, Silverton only attracts the most serious skiers, like Chandler. "I've taken several friends who are advanced/intermediate, and they're intimidated the first day," he says. "You have to show you have a probe and beacon and shovel before you even buy your ticket. That's intimidating for a person who's not doing the backcountry that much. But you get up there, and they have gates to tell you what's open and what's not. In that way, it's no different than skiing in the advanced areas of most major resorts, except there's not many people there and there's fresh snow to be found."