Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 2,965 skiable 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'.


Sunlight Mountain Resort

At least once this season, do yourself a favor and book the Ski/Swim/Stay package at Sunlight in Glenwood Springs, starting at $90: For less than the cost of a lift ticket at some other nearby mountains, you can leave the kids on the bunny slope (kids ski free as part of this package) while you take on Heathen — at 52 degrees, it's one of the steepest runs in the state. Afterward, the whole family can soak their moaning muscles in the Glenwood Hot Springs pool and crash in town at one of the resort's partner hotels.

"A lot of people think because we're so small and off the beaten path, we must be just for beginners," says guest services manager Ken Murphy. "But our East Ridge has some of the best expert runs anywhere, and we have a good portion of gladed terrain with some great lines down Compass Mountain. It doesn't get tracked out like it does at the bigger resorts, either: You can still be making powder turns here three days after a storm."

Get into the double-black glades for the good stuff: You can do top-to-bottom tree runs at Sunlight, hitting Tom's Glades, Zephyr Glades, Gibson Glades and Sundown Glades to the east, or Joslyn Glades, Cassandra Glades and Charlie's Glades to the west. 

And, yes, Sunlight's also a great beginner mountain. "I've been bringing my girls up here since they were wee," says Murphy, who moved to Colorado from Ireland after getting hooked on a skiing trip. "Here I am now with a six-year-old who's loving the groomers and a nine-year-old who's ripping it all over the mountain."

For a taste of Sunlight's small-town flavor, check out the annual Ski Spree event on February 5, 2011, featuring a broomball tournament, fireworks, chili cook-off, torchlight parade and live music. "It's a friendly mountain with that Cheers mentality, one of those places where everybody knows your name," Murphy says. "The lifties will be calling you and your kids by name by the second time they see you."

General Information:; 800-445-7931.

Location: 160 miles west of Denver via I-70, Colo. Hwy. 82 and Four Mile Road (County Road 117).

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-945-7491;

Lift rates: Adult day pass: $50.

Terrain: 470 skiable acres with 67 trails; 20 percent beginner, 55 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced, 5 percent expert. Base is 7,885', with a 2,010' vertical rise; summit: 9,895'.


Telluride Ski Resort

Chason Russell coaches the All-Mountain Freeride Team at Telluride and got to show off some of the resort's newest terrain in Wintervention, this year's installment in the Warren Miller Entertainment legacy, along with Telluride locals Brian and Hillaree O'Neill and Galena Gleason. Telluride's been doing some winterventions of its own, and the twenty-minute hike from the Revelation lift to the Palmyra Staircase — a pair of steel staircases flown in by helicopter last season to connect Gold Hill Chutes #8 and #9 — makes for some impressive footage.

"It's pretty sweet," says Russell. "You just ride the Revelation lift up, take a little stroll, and suddenly you're on top of some seriously big terrain. It's almost too easy: If you've never been here before, I'd definitely recommend working your way up to it." Telluride also doubled its snowmaking capacity for this season and spent the summer aggressively cleaning up its tree-skiing areas around Silver Tip, Henry's Run, Stella, Upper Magnolia, Log Pile and Joint Point to clear out some dead wood and open up some glades. 

"Telluride is pretty expansive, and when it's good, it's really good," Russell says. "For the full Palmyra Peak experience, you'll want to commit to the one-hour hike to the summit at 13,251 feet. If you can get Palmyra in good conditions, it'll be your all-time best run."

Russell's a professional photographer in his rare moments of downtime, and tells visitors to get as much elevation as possible and soak up the views. "I like to haul my camera up on the mountain whenever I have the opportunity, and I'd recommend bringing a camera when you come to visit. Otherwise nobody's going to believe you when you tell them how magnificent it is out here." He'll be snapping shots of his freeride team at events across the country and says Telluride's the ultimate training ground. "Our objective is to get out there and ski a lot and have as much fun as we possibly can. It's good work if you can get it."

General Information:; 970-728-6900.

Location: 335 miles southwest of Denver via I-70 to Grand Junction, Colo. Hwy. 50 south, Colo. Hwy. 550 to Ridgway, Colo. Hwy. 62 and Colo. Hwy. 145 to Telluride.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-728-7425.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $98. Discount tickets available online.

Terrain: More than 2,000 skiable acres with 120 trails; 23 percent beginner; 36 percent intermediate; 41 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,725', with a 3,845' vertical rise; summit: 12,570'.



"This is a beautiful mountain — it really is," says Tom Higgins, owner of the American Ski Exchange at the base of Vail's Vista Bahn Express. "What sets Vail apart is the open terrain and the back bowls, all of them. You can make your days as easy or as tough as you want here."

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