Higgins's owner-operated shop has been in business for 22 years in what's increasingly becoming a company town now that Vail owns Specialty Sports Venture (SSV) and its Vail Sports and RentSkis.com businesses. And he's established a niche for himself with top-quality product, an experienced staff and a vast knowledge of the mountain.

"The single best piece of advice I can give is to get on the chair before 9 a.m.," Higgins says. "Get your gear sorted out the night before and get on the hill early, and you'll beat the ski-school rush and most of the commuters from Denver."

Higgins likes North Star and North Woods on an average day, and Straight Shot, Headwall or Genghis when the snow is piling up. The big news at Vail this season is the new high-speed quad replacing the High Noon Express lift (Chair 5), which will increase capacity on the mountain and cut the ride down to six minutes. "Wherever you go and whatever kind of skier or rider you may be, you're likely to end up having a good day at Vail," Higgins says. "It's probably the most user-friendly mountain in the world. I think if you want to show off Colorado skiing on a powder day and you could ski any mountain, Vail's pretty tough to beat."

As for Vail's new EpicMix social-media app — which allows skiers to track their physical performance and how many vertical feet they've skied, plus message other people on the mountain and share all of it on Facebook and Twitter, among other things — Higgins says he doesn't much go in for bells and whistles. "You always get some people who want to use the latest technology so they can boast about how much vertical they got or whatever, and I guess, like any amenity, you're welcome to use it if you want to use it. I wouldn't get too caught up in all that, though. Come here to ski, and ski your little heart out. Your friends will be plenty jealous without you going and shouting all about it all over the Internet."

 

General Information: www.Vail.Snow.com; 970-476-5601.

Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 173, 176 or 180.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-476-4888.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 5,289 skiable acres with 193 trails; 18 percent beginner; 29 percent intermediate; 53 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,120', with a 3,450' vertical rise; summit: 11,570'.

 

******

Winter Park Resort

Pro snowboarder Pat Milbery says Winter Park is his favorite place to ride: "I love Winter Park because of the diversity that Winter Park and Mary Jane offer as a complete mountain. I love the fact that within fifteen to twenty minutes, I can be riding the park and then cross over to Mary Jane, get a couple of powder runs, and then head up to the Panoramic Express and get into the bowls and the trees." Winter Park is expanding its terrain-park offerings with twenty new features this season, and Milbery says it's indicative of the resort's commitment to freestyle skiing and snowboarding and helping push the sports forward. "We're seeing a great diversity in the parks and a really progressive approach to making parks that are fun for riders at all levels."

And although he wants to be an ambassador for the ski area, he's hesitant to give out his secrets. "I like to take laps through the parks, and I also love to get on the Eskimo Express, which services a lot of fun steeper tree runs. The other lift I'm fond of is the Super Gauge Express, which is the connector to all of the bowls. And Panoramic Express is amazing for tree riding. If you're hungry enough, you can find good snow back there just about any day of the season, because it blows around quite a bit. A lot of people are intimidated by it because its gets really cold up there at the top, so button up and tough it out and you'll be rewarded.

"I ride Winter Park like four days a week," he adds. "I have nothing against Breck, nothing against Keystone, nothing against any of the other Colorado ski areas, but there's definitely a scene at those places, you know? It's like a fashion show mixed with a proving ground, which can make for a really strange energy I'm not usually feeling. I don't ever feel that at Winter Park. Here it's more like, 'Just do your thing.'"

 

General Information: www.SkiWinterPark.com; 970-726-5514.

Location: 67 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west to U.S. Hwy. 40 (exit 232) over Berthoud Pass.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays.

Snow Report: 303-572-SNOW.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 3,060 skiable acres with 143 trails; 8 percent beginner, 17 percent intermediate, 19 percent advanced, 53 percent most difficult, 3 percent expert. Base is 9,000', with a 3,060' vertical rise; summit: 12,060'.

******

Wolf Creek Ski Area

"I'm a follow-the-snow kind of guy, so I end up at Wolf Creek all the time," says Adam Schmidt, founder of the 1,500-member Boulder Snowboarding Group and editor of the new Colorado Snowboarding magazine. "I'll plan on going for a day or two and end up staying for a week or more, because the storms down there are just amazing. That place gets the most snow in Colorado, and it's almost always epic."

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