"Find where the kids ski, because they always know where the fun stuff is," Fisher says. "Skiing with my five-year-old is bringing back those memories of finding all these new nooks and crannies, little tree runs, little jumps, stuff the kids love — and I find I'm skiing like a kid again myself. It's changed the way I ski the rest of the mountain, too."

Fisher knows the mountain as well as anybody, from beginner runs fit for a three-year-old to Crested Butte's famed chutes and couloirs, and she offers ski clinics the first and second Wednesday of the month (book online at www.FishSki.com). "Hire an instructor, hire me, hire somebody," Fisher says. "It's a good idea, partly because Crested Butte can be a technically challenging mountain and you'll want to learn some new skills, and partly because you'll never find all the best runs here on your own. Here's a free tip if the snow is good: Take the Silver Queen and then the High Life lift, and then either get off halfway and ski one of the big chutes for a nice, quick, steep run, or go all the way to the top and ski the headwall. That area was closed for ten years and just got reopened, and it's beautiful in there."

In the past six years, Crested Butte's new owners, Tim and Diane Mueller, have invested $316 million in capital improvements. Look for even more spectacular new terrain — and Crested Butte's biggest terrain park ever — as the resort heads toward its fiftieth-anniversary celebration in January.

General Information: www.SkiCB.com;

800-810-SNOW.

Location: 231 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285, U.S. Hwy. 50 and Colo. Hwy. 135.

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

Snow Report: 888-442-8883.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: Nov. 24-Dec. 17, $59; after Dec. 18, $87.

Terrain: 1,167 skiable acres with 121 trails; 23 percent beginner, 57 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. Base is 9,375', with a 2,775' vertical rise; summit: 12,162'.

******

Echo Mountain

"What's cool about Echo is, it's a great place for city folks," says Lakota Sage, a team rider for Denver-based Never Summer Snowboards. Sage is sponsored by Echo Mountain and filmed some of his parts for Never Summer's snowboard film Made in America at Echo's terrain parks. "It's the closest to Denver, has the cheapest tickets and the cheapest season pass, and it's a great mountain for the working class. You get off work at 5 p.m. and you can still get up here in time for three or four hours of riding before they turn the lights out."

Echo's also a great place to learn, with Magic Carpet rides and bunny slopes for absolute beginners and smaller terrain parks for when they're ready to work their way up.

"People always like to talk about the level progression in skiing and snowboarding and how fast it keeps moving forward," Sage says. "Well, come here and you'll see where it all starts. Kids come up to Echo Mountain and, with the terrain park stuff all around, they see it and want to get on it. You'll see kids up here learning how to stop and turn in the morning, and by the afternoon they're hitting jumps and rails. It's so fun to ride with these little kids who just come out and kill it. They have all these new ideas about how to ride, and it's really inspiring. Everybody watches each other and just feeds off of each other."

To ride with Sage, check out the Never Summer Demo Day on December 29 or one of Echo's rider workshops (dates TBA), or just look for him on the mountain. You can also see Sage and other Echo team riders in action in the Echodemic videos featured at www.EchoMt.com for some new ideas about what's possible in the terrain parks. "Echo's a great little all-around mountain for freestyle skiing or snowboarding and the whole vibe up there is super cool," Sage says. "We've got small features for beginners, medium stuff for everybody to have fun on, and the big stuff for people who really want to throw down."

General Information: www.EchoMt.com; 303-325-7347.

Location: 35 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 103.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday.

Snow Report: 303-325-7347.

Lift Rates: TBA; check www.EchoMt.com for the best discounts.

Terrain: 85 skiable acres with 15 trails and four terrain parks. Base is 10,500', with a 660' vertical rise; summit: 11,160'.

******

Eldora Mountain Resort

"Eldora's the hidden secret on the Front Range," says Kim Walker, owner of the Outdoor Divas shops in Boulder and Cherry Creek. "There's no traffic, the parking is free — you just step out of your car and walk right up to the lift — and it's got a really great local feel. The mountain is a lot bigger than people think it is, too."

The Outdoor Divas shops sponsor Eldora's Women's Days, a series of programs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from January through March aimed at improving alpine, cross-country, telemark and snowboarding skills for women. The Women's Days include on-mountain instruction plus meals, with a choice of four- or six-week sessions. "It's a great way for women to commit to some skiing or snowboarding and get out and meet a lot of great people to ski with," Walker says. "Eldora has a great kids' program, too, called Eldorables, and a lot of moms like to drop their kids off and come join us."

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