"White Kitchen is my favorite in the bowl," Smith says. "But the best tip I can offer in the meat of the snow season is to really examine where everyone else is coming down and then go somewhere else. People tend to be followers, and some areas will get tracked out, but there are always ribs and deltas that people miss, and you can almost always get some fresh tracks up there. The farther you hike along that ridge holding out for something better, the more fun you're going to have coming down. It's worth exploring."

Another insider's tip from Smith: Ask a ski patroller for recommendations. "My guys are animals, and from November 1 through Christmas, they'll have had their feet on every inch of this mountain, stapling it down so we can have a base to ski on," Smith says. "The snow blows around quite a bit up here and comes in from a lot of different angles, and these guys will know exactly where it's piling up on any given day."

General Information: www.AspenSnowmass.com/Highlands; 800-525-6200.

Location: 219 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.

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

Snow Report: 970-925-1221.

Lift Rates: TBA; book seven-day advance multi-day visits online for best discount.

Terrain: 1,029 skiable acres with 119 trails; 19 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 15 percent advanced, 36 percent expert. Base is 8,040', with a 3,635' vertical rise; summit: 11,675' (lift-serviced), 12,392' (hike-to).

******

Aspen Mountain

Despite its reputation as a playground of the rich and famous, there's no beginner terrain at Aspen Mountain, and most of the posers never even make it on the hill. So if you're up to it, get to the best of Aspen Mountain from the Silver Queen Gondola. Hold out for a red cab (every fifth one) if you want to rock out: Each one now comes with an iPod dock and speaker system.

To get the lie of the land, find an Aspen Ambassador at the guest services center and ask for the free Ambassador's Tour. "They'll take you anywhere you want to go, and it's worth doing to find the terrain best suited to your skiing or riding ability," says Aspen/Snowmass spokeswoman Meredith McKee. "They'll even take you to see the shrines hidden in the woods if you want." The shrines are dedicated to fallen ski heroes, historic Aspenites and beloved celebrities like Jerry Garcia and Elvis Presley.

You can also live like a rock star yourself — this is Aspen, after all — and book a luxe trip with Aspen Mountain Powder Tours (call 970-920-0720 for reservations; rates fluctuate throughout the season) to get into the Elk Mountain backcountry and find out why Aspen likes to keep some things exclusive. "The Powder Tours operate outside of our boundary area with a special permit, and it's an amazing experience," says ski writer Greg Fitzsimmons. Snacks, drinks, and a "hearty" gourmet lunch are included.

For free freshies in-bounds, call 970-925-1220, ext. 3543, on the night of a storm to sign up for the next morning's Fresh Tracks experience: As a job perk, Aspen lets its Ski & Snowboard School pros take a warm-up lap before lessons start, and you'll get on the mountain with them before the lifts officially open. "On a powder day, Bell Mountain is a real good place to start," Fitzsimmons says. "The key to skiing Bell Mountain like a local is to follow the sun: You start on the east side on the back of Bell, move up to the ridge at midday, and end on the face and in the trees. Another good spot to hit after a storm is Walsh's, which requires a short boot pack but is absolutely worth the hike. It's the steepest terrain in Aspen, and you'll have some really fun stuff all to yourself in there." Make a few days of it: Aspen's lift tickets are good at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, with free shuttles between mountains. Order multi-day tickets at least seven days in advance at AspenSnowmass.com to save big.

General Information: www.AspenSnowmass.com/AspenMountain; 800-525-6200.

Location: 219 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.

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

Snow Report: 970-925-1221.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 675 skiable acres with 76 trails; 48 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced, 26 percent expert. Base is 7,945', with a 3,267' vertical rise; summit: 11,212'.

******

Beaver Creek Resort

Beaver Creek, the story goes, is all about pampered guest services and nice touches like complimentary slippers at the mid-mountain restaurants and free chocolate chip cookies, not steep extreme skiing. Big-mountain skier Chris Anthony says that's all part of a veil of secrecy he'd like to keep. "People from Denver seem to think Beaver Creek is this posh place for the hoity-toity, and that's great. Go ahead and let them think that. Meanwhile, we're blasting down Birds of Prey, Grouse Mountain and the Alta Chutes, keeping some of Colorado's best runs to ourselves," he explains. "People in Denver just can't seem to get past Vail; it's a habit they just can't break. Even when Beaver Creek has ten more inches of snow, all the traffic will still turn off at Vail. It's only nine more miles to get to Beaver Creek."

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